The gleaming new industrial kitchen on the grounds of one the Arab world’s busiest airport wouldn’t be remarkable except for one fact: it’s kosher.
Kosher Arabia at Dubai World Central (DWC) airport is a registered producer of kosher food in the United Arab Emirates, set up in partnership with Emirates Flight Catering and CCL Holdings.
Inside the 20,000 square-foot facility, a team of just 20 chefs—none of whom are Jewish—work to prepare a variety of innovative kosher meals. Hailing from New Zealand, Syria, Morocco, Egypt, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, the chefs work in unison in Kosher Arabia’s sleek kitchens, moving between variously sized pots and pans, sizzling and simmering with different parts of a variety of meals.
The opening of Kosher Arabia, which was launched on April 12 in the presence of H.E. Marcy Grossman, Canadian Ambassador to the UAE and H.E. Ilan Sztulman, Israeli Consul General, is the latest sign of the lifestyle and cultural changes resulting from the UAE’s normalization with Israel in September 2020—a deal that has propelled other Gulf countries, such as Bahrain, to follow suit or warm to the idea of strengthened ties with a former foe.
However, plans for Kosher Arabia had been in the works for several years, catering to the growing demand for kosher food in the Emirates even before normalization took place, said Ross Kriel, founder of CCL, the joint venture partner for Kosher Arabia.
“It’s extraordinary to see it come alive after all of these years,” he said.
While discussions over the idea actually began in 2016, the accords turbocharged the opening.
“The accord sped things up,” said Matt Rickard, general manager of Kosher Arabia, “but I think there was already a big demand for Kosher in the region.”
Kriel said that producing Kosher food in the Gulf echoes the region’s past— a reminder of the Jewish communities that were once prominent in Gulf countries such as Kuwait. Jews began coming to Kuwait during the last decades of the 19th century, lured by the bountiful prospects for business that Kuwait offered at the time. Many also came from Iraq where Ottoman rule had stifled the Jewish industry there. The community, however, dwindled in number post 1948 after the creation of the state of Israel.
Kosher Arabia has also been certified by the Kashrut Division of the Orthodox Union (OU) which works in partnership with the South African Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS).
For now, Kosher Arabia has the capacity to produce up to 2,000 meals per day. With Dubai’s relentless string of social events, not to mention the upcoming Expo 2020 that opens to the world in October 2021, providing kosher meals for the increasing influx of Jewish visitors to Dubai is key.
As direct flights to Tel Aviv from Dubai kick off on flydubai, Dubai’s government owned budget airline and soon, on Emirates, Kosher Arabia expects business to increase.
Rickard said the facility, which is billed as using state-o-the-art eco-friendly and energy-efficient technologies, will be able to cater 4,000 meals per day.
As for the meals, they are as colorful as the ingredients used. Rooted in Sephardic cuisine, which is very close to Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Mediterranean flavors. Popular meals include vegan Shakshuka which Kosher Arabia makes with soft miso polenta rather than egg; cauliflower shawarma salad that is topped with tahini dressing; chicken and fish tagines, which are served with olives. They also serve arayes, meat-stuffed Lebanese pitas. And for dessert, Kosher Arabia’s signature dish is a succulent halva brownie.
Mostly Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Sephardic and Mediterranean, he said.
“It has lots of bright flavors and energy,” said Rickard. “When you are sitting on an airplane, isn’t great to have something bright, zesty and zingy to look forward to?”
Rebecca Anne Proctor is the former editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Art + Harper’s Bazaar Interiors. She has written for Artnet News, The Forward, Al-Monitor, Arab News, Wallpaper, Frieze and Vogue.
The UAE’s first major kosher kitchen opens for business