The MENA's 50Best: the first global showcase for restaurants from the Middle East and North Africa. A preview

On Tuesday in Abu Dhabi, in the Arab Emirates, the 50Best is celebrating the 50 best restaurants from 19 countries outside the usual routes. Here are the protagonists on the eve of the event

07-02-2022
by Gabriele Zanatta
Giulia Sgarbi, Izu Ani, Raz Rahav, Tala Bashmi,

Giulia SgarbiIzu AniRaz Rahav, Tala BashmiMoustafa ElrefaeyWill GoldfarbKamal Mouzawak and William Reed, the protagonists of the first edition of the MENA's 50Best, in Abu Dhabi, in the Arab Emirates. The winner? We'll find out on Tuesday

The top of gastronomy is summoned in Abu Dhabi for the first edition of the MENA's 50BestMENA is the acronym for Middle East and North Africa, a macro-region that includes 19 countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Two hundred and fifty voters from the area that includes Africa and Asia voted 7 preferred restaurants each: the total of these votes will make the list of the “50 Best Restaurants of the Middle East and North Africa” including the very best, on Tuesday 8th at 5.30 pm CET.

The mechanics are the same of the World’s 50 Best, which for the past 20 years has been making a very delicious global list (next event in Moscow in July 2022) but also two continental 50best50 Best Asia (9 editions) and Latin America (8). Now there's this fourth chapter, the third branch that perhaps is even more interesting than the previous two for two gastro-political reasons: none of the 19 countries in the MENA region was ever considered by the Michelin guide. Hence the effort of giving a global showcase to these countries with a much lower GDP, which have found it hard to stand out in the global fine dining scene, compressed as they are between the East and West, is even more admirable.

Clearly, among the stories of the 380 million people inhabiting the area between Rabat and Dubai, there are some magnificent ones, of patrons, cooks and waiters. And many of them are here now, in the most discreet and relaxed capital of the 7 United Arab Emirates, a very young country (they became independent 50 years ago), populated by 80% foreigners and led by the economic and media power of Dubai, which is also the current location of the World Fair (which went below expectations, due to the pandemic).

Tala Bashmi, chef from Bahrain at Fusions by Tala

 

Tala Bashmi, chef from Bahrain at Fusions by Tala

 

Israeli Raz Rahav, Ocd, Tel Aviv

Israeli Raz Rahav, Ocd, Tel Aviv

Izu Ani, from Nigeria, at the helm of Gaia, Greek-Mediterranean cuisine in Dubai

Izu Ani, from Nigeria, at the helm of Gaia, Greek-Mediterranean cuisine in Dubai

Lebanese Kamal Mouzawak

Lebanese Kamal Mouzawak

Who are we going to find, and who will win the MENA’s 50Best? Forecasts are harder to make than usual, because there are no previous editions and because we don't know much about the area in Europe. Among those with the highest odds, there's surely Tala Bashmi, chef from Bahrain at Fusions by Tala, inside the 5 star luxury Gulf Hotel Bahrain. Particular signs, talent and tenacity that could bend a windmill: «I'm a woman, I'm Arab and I'm a Muslim», she says, «this has upset many cooks but I keep going». The other sensation is Himanshu Saini, the whimsical Indian at the helm of Tresind and Tresind Studio in Dubai (the latter, the more fine dining establishment, is moving these days to hotel Voco on the outskirts of Palm). And Raz Rahav, the Israeli not-yet-30 cook who is already the king of the fine dining scene in Tel Aviv (Ocd): «There is no such thing as Israeli cuisine», he explained peremptorily, «this country is still very young…».

There were many voices entwined in the two pre-event press conferences, the first in the press room of the Formula One Yas Marina circuit; the second in the vertiginous Conrad Hotel Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, the location of the finals on Tuesday. There was Kamal Mouzawak, a passionate supporter of small producers from Beirut, in Lebanon («For me, food is about joining communities»); the very popular Will Goldfarb, an American based in Bali. He quoted Ernst Gotsch: «Every relationship is based on unconditional love and cooperation». Catalan Joan Roca said: «I'm here to support the MENA's 50Best because the 50Best has changed the destiny of our small family-run restaurant: when we were 1st, 8 years ago, our booking system collapsed. To this day it's still struggling».

Random thoughts to which we add one more: «The nice thing about food», it was said, «is that it sets a universal language, capable of breaking any form of racism». Who knows if it won't help in pulling down the wall (the culinary one too) that separates the European Mediterranean region from North Africa and the Middle East. We would all win from this.

WHEN IN ABU DHABI
The fortress of Qasr al Hosn, Abu Dhabi. Built in 1790, it is now the location of an interesting museum that retraces the foundations of the United Arab Emirates, 7 independent regions since 1971

The fortress of Qasr al Hosn, Abu Dhabi. Built in 1790, it is now the location of an interesting museum that retraces the foundations of the United Arab Emirates, 7 independent regions since 1971

A detail of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi: thanks to an agreement with the French, it now hosts 600 artworks from the French museum

A detail of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi: thanks to an agreement with the French, it now hosts 600 artworks from the French museum

A detail of the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque, an impressive architectural crossing established in 2007, after 11 years of work. It's a hymn to dialogue among cultures, whether Muslim or not

A detail of the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque, an impressive architectural crossing established in 2007, after 11 years of work. It's a hymn to dialogue among cultures, whether Muslim or not

King prawns, coconut, curry and mustard seeds, a delicious tasting at Punjab Grill in Abu Dhabi

King prawns, coconut, curry and mustard seeds, a delicious tasting at Punjab Grill in Abu Dhabi

Raw lobster from Zuma Abu Dhabi, an infallible "Japanese fine dining chain"

Raw lobster from Zuma Abu Dhabi, an infallible "Japanese fine dining chain"

French-style escargots. Where? At Petit Bateau

 

French-style escargots. Where? At Petit Bateau

 

Ethereal pain au chocolat for breakfast at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers

Ethereal pain au chocolat for breakfast at Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers


 

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso