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This is why this humble fish shack attracts Dubai’s high rollers

One humble fish restaurant in the shadow of the luxury Burj Al Arab skyscraper hotel bucks the trend, according to CNN.

Bu Qtair boasts simple seafood and fresh fish cooked in its famous “secret recipe,” attracting the city’s highest rollers to its headquarters. “Some of the tourists who visit us stay in the Burj Al Arab,” says owner Matar Al Tayer. “But they tell me they prefer the taste of the fish here over anywhere else in the city. It is the flavor that has remained the same for 30 years.”

Al Tayer opened his first fish shack overlooking Jumeirah beach in the 80s, catering for the growing expat population coming from South Asia and the Middle East when oil boom money was starting to change the UAE.

His family once made a tough living through fishing and pearl diving, rubbing shoulders with fellow fishermen on the then-undeveloped stretch of coast. As the number of outsiders grew, the local Bedouin and fishermen found themselves sharing their land with others. That’s when Al Tayer had his “lightbulb” moment. “There was not a single café or restaurant dedicated to those fishermen, so I thought to fill that gap by opening a small shop in which I serve Indian chai karak and paratha,” he explained.

Back then, Al Tayer opened a small kitchen serving special Indian tea and bread on an empty yard overlooking the beach near the fishermen’s dormitory. He named the place “Bu Qtair,” a local term that Emirati pearl divers used to name the spots where sweet water gathered naturally and where they used to wash themselves after a rigorous day of diving. His venture proved to be a failure. “For four years, I did not attract any customers. Fishermen were used to preparing their food themselves,” he says.

Everything changed when he asked his part-time Indian cook Mousa to prepare food for his family’s fishermen after a long day at work. Mousa took some of their fresh catch and served it to the hungry fishermen. Not a single one of them would have guessed that would be the start of Bu Qtair’s journey to success, at first among Indian expats and later among all of Dubai’s residents.

Despite its reputation, the restaurant kept its modest location for more than three decades, while the area around it was swallowed up by the desert megalopolis. However, Bu Qtair managed to keep and expand its fan base, becoming a sought-after tourist destination. Nowadays, the area surrounding the restaurant is often filled with Range Rovers, Mercedes and other sparkly SUVs parked up while their owners sit on plastic chairs on the sandy lot to enjoy the same few menu items since 1986.

The only difference between today and the 80s is that the fish does not come straight off the boats. “Today we cannot buy fish straight from fishermen,” said Haroun Rasheed, Mousa’s 36-year-old nephew, who joined his uncle in the UAE in the early 2000s and has been managing the restaurant for the last 15 years. “The municipality requests from us buying it from the fish market in Deira (in old Dubai).” Despite this, the restaurant remains true to its origins, oblivious to the city’s transformation around it and still very protective of the “secret recipe.”

Daisy Wilder

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