I’m hungry…let’s go to the gas station!

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By all means Dubai is no different than any other buzzing metropolis that boasts 100s of enticing and diverse eateries.  Time Out Dubai has a listing of over 900 restaurants alone and there are a reported over 90 food bloggers.  A food lovers’ paradise indeed where you are bound to find cuisine from every corner of the world.  And, of course, being the food lover that I am, if you leave it to me I’d try them all!

But lately, I’ve taken fancy to …drumroll…gas station food. Yep, you heard it right – the place where one stops to buy gas, run in for a bag of Doritos and a slurpee and high-tale out of the highly explosive place with a stench of diesel and oily attendants (back home in the USA).  Petrol stations (as they are called in these parts) are not traditionally known to have palate-pleasing food, but in Dubai… gas stations take on a whole new meaning.  A decent meal does not always have to be from a place with a tablecloth.

From the moment I first arrived here years ago, I’ve always been amused by the gas stations here. They are well-lit, super-clean, pretty, duly organized, attendants uniformed, and best of all – you don’t pump your own gas…ever!  And the number one reason I like gas stations here is the grub they offer.

No day-old pastries or stale-looking hot dogs rolling on a spinner grill that look like they’ve been twirling for days. Here, you’ll find a full-fledge coffee station with stately giant espresso machines you’ll normally only see in any hoity-toity  gourmet coffee shop, a gazillion assortments of nut, chips, dates, Turkish delights, chocolate, juices, coffee drinks, cardamom and date milks, fizzy sodas, candies and our latest sighting – cute coconut waters in a plastic coconut that have a two year shelf life. We took a pass on those. It’s almost insulting since we have those in our back yard back home abundantly.

Holy Mother-of-Hyper-Caloric foods!

The best part is the hot sandwiches (all sorts), hot baked fatayars, zataar croissants, and packaged fresh fruit and veggie cups. And then there are those delectable ice creams cups…all flavors…local, traditional…pappadum chips, labnah & zaatar potato chips, Alrifi nut mixes, shawarmas, those road trip impulse items we must have…like Arabic-perfume scented wipes and chewing gum, oh yes gum…can’t forget that. And Du mobile minute cards. And just recently debuted: Dubai Cola! Yeah, you heard it right. It’s the Prada of all colas. Produced by a German company, the date and honey beverage is packaged in a pretty white can with gold Arabic calligraphy and topped with a gold lid and tab. I wonder if they’ll start a trend with a special “top shelf” for this and the likes of $14 bottles of glacier water. That’s when I’ll know that gas stations here have gone wild!

Gas station grub has never tasted so fine!

But I have yet to see the iconic gas station stop snack food bound to be seen at any American stop: dill pickles in a pouch and Hostess Fruit Pies. I have to admit, nothing beats the sugary, short-term energy derived from a Hostess Cherry Pie! What I REALLY do miss, though, are the hot saltish and beef pates, Ting (grapefruit) soda, Vitamalt (ginger is my fav!), hot (locally made) popcorn, ice-cold Presidente beers, guava tarts, and those hard ginger candies that always making stopping at the gas station back home such a treat. Oh, and the St. Croix Avis which is so thin you wonder how they even get any news in there.

Just like the US Virgin Islands, where diabetes soars through the roof, the UAE ranks among the top ten countries in diabetes, with diabetic population of 18.7 per cent, and a high percentage of pre-diabetics. Holey-Dooly! That’s a good chunk of the population here! There are several reasons attributed to this. For one, the life here is sedentary.  A good portion of the population (both locals and expats) has hired help at home. Services are cheap. You can get your car washed just for a few dirhams and your entire household moved for about 100 USD. Living here, we do much less. Everything is done for us. Back home, I washed my own car every week, mowed my own lawn, and even got on the roof to power-wash sometimes.

Then there’s the food. Like in most other cultures, just about every social event involves food. Local and expats are no different and enjoy lavish meals alike. There is a universal joy in the sharing of meals socially and here it is even more prominent since we have such a hugely diverse population where everyone is always ready and willing to show off one of their dishes from “back home” at any gathering. This abundance of fast-food options everywhere that deliver for just 5 dirhams (or free!) makes us more tempted to eat out – and eating out is almost always not healthy!

Added to these factors, the country is affluent and there is a ton of money spent on advertising. The giant billboards and ads in the UAE create an environment that is fast-food friendly. Obesity and chronic illness such as diabetes and high blood pressure is said to be on the rise here. In just over 40 years, the locals have gone from their humble native foods to the assault of Western fast food chains much to their health’s detriment. The line at KFC at the gas stations is usually absurdly long, more frequently by locals.

So there you have it! That’s my Dubai gas station food review and tale. In sum, despite them being an open invitation to a myocardial infarction, I think they are all that and a bag of chips! 🙂

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