Erica & Matt Chua: Eat Like An American

What did I most want to eat after almost eight months in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka?  Some old-fashioned American fast food.  OK, it’s not that I wanted fast food, it’s that the UAE offers such a wide selection of the stuff that got me. In the rush to “modernize” the UAE seems to have lost all sense of itself in a wash of North American craptacular foods.  While we in the West try to limit our consumption with public health campaigns, taxes and regulations, the Middle East rejects such beliefs with each trans-fat filling station they build in the desert.  Sadly, after so long on the “sub-continent” of Asia I too fell victim of, “taste over common sense”.  Let’s take a food tour of the UAE…

It started with Tim Horton’s.  Not really American, it’s a staple of our Northern Territories (AKA Canada), offering the cliche police staples of donuts and coffee.  For me it was a welcome change from dosas for breakfast.

I could have stopped after Tim Hortons, but then I discovered the food court upstairs…featuring such artery clogging favorites as McDonald’s and Burger King among other mall food court stalwarts…I went healthy with a double stack from Wendy’s as my breakfast dessert.

Leaving Abu Dhabi behind for Dubai I planned to change my ways, I really did.  Then I discovered that there is a Shake Shack in the Mall of the Emirates.  As the burger connoisseur I am, I had to have one.  From Anthony Bourdain to more amateur eater-drinkers, I’ve been told that this is the very best chain burger in existence.  Can a mall, thousands of miles from the USA, make one of the world’s best burgers?

We had one for lunch…then came back to have one for dinner.  I would have had one for breakfast…if only they opened early enough…Shake Shack burgers are that good.

Really, I went on an American food bender.  What surprised me most though was not that I chose to do such a thing to myself, rather that these fast food chains were such prominent fixtures in the UAE life.  They are everywhere and people are standing in line to enjoy the things we Americans have a tortured relationship with.

It was sad to find how limited “local” food offerings were in the major “modern” areas of the cities, basically implying that modern is eating a 1200 calorie value meal.  While many countries have managed to maintain their ways while modernizing, it’s clear that on dietary issues the UAE is missing the boat.  Instead of investing in public health campaigns and providing healthy foods, the country, funded by their sovereign wealth funds , seem to be promoting the unhealthy at their own, and my, detriment.

(Cross-posted from


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