Popular Pakistani restaurant stands the test of time in Dubai

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — In a city of champagne brunches overlooking the sea, Michelin-starred restaurants and endless high-end Asian cuisine, a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant with plastic chairs and metal tables is one of the favorites places of Dubai.

Restaurant Ravi, a small Pakistani family business, is rooted in the community of South Asian workers who helped build Dubai. But over the decades, it has become a staple of the food scene in a city usually drawn to everything glitzy and over-the-top.

The restaurant opened in 1978 in the United Arab Emirates in the Satwa district of Dubai, at a time when it was a sandy area full of large trucks and small construction shops. The emirate was largely a desert region in the 1970s with a meager, low-rise skyline overlooking the Gulf.

Ravi served home-cooked food, mainly to South Asian construction workers.

Its founder, Chaudary Abdul Hameed, wanted “to find a way to serve better food to the working class,” said his son Waseem Abdul Hameed, who is also the restaurant’s operations manager. That meant keeping prices affordable, with meals costing an average of $7.

Over the years, as Dubai boomed, it became a hit among the Emirates and the Western and Asian expatriates that flooded the emirate.

Famed food critic Anthony Bourdain helped put Ravi on the map when he visited it for one of his TV series in 2010. A few years later, rapper Snoop Dogg dropped by and Ravi was elevated to a must-see attraction.

Ironically, besides the portions, prices and flavors, it’s Ravi’s lack of pretension that gives it cachet.

Customers wearing everything from suits to traditional saris or sneakers crowd the restaurant for large meals or late-night snacks. It is common to see lines of people outside the door, or people grabbing their food and eating it at the curb.

Inside, customers sit at plastic-covered tables under flickering neon lights. Chatter mutes the sound of ceiling fans. Chicken biryani, chicken tikka, daal and naan are flung from the kitchen, and as waiters rush the plates to the table, the smell of curry and grilled meat wafts through the air.

Last week, the low-key eatery was the scene of a Dubai-style splash: a gathering of social media influencers to promote the launch of shoemaker Adidas’ branded collaboration with Ravi.

Adidas produced a specially designed limited edition Superstar Ravi sneaker – green and white, decorated with the name of the restaurant and the year it opened, and a list of the menu’s six most famous dishes on the inside of the tongue of the shoe.

Both Ravi and Adidas declined to disclose the terms of the deal to The Associated Press, or to answer questions about whether the restaurant will monetize the sale of the shoes.

Waseem Abdul Hameed said it reflects how the restaurant is part of Dubai’s cultural fabric. “You have to go to restaurant Ravi for a meal, that’s why they chose us.”

It is in stark contrast to other recent lines released by Adidas such as Gucci with sneakers selling for $899 in Dubai and other cities. But the partnership shows how brands like Adidas are looking for new ways to connect with consumers seeking uniqueness.

On a recent hot summer day following the shoes’ launch, customers lined up outside Ravi.

“It’s authentic, it is, that’s why I like it,” says 32-year-old Dubai resident Dana, who has been coming to Ravi with her friends for years.