At Dubai eatery, 'ship of the desert' makes burger the king

"Don't miss yummy camel burger" reads the Dubai restaurant's sign, putting a Western twist on a traditional fare to entice adventurous tourists into giving camel meat a chew.

Camel meat is eaten throughout the Gulf, but Dubai's Local House restaurant targets visitors who may never have bitten into this edible form of desert transport.

"Most of our guests are tourists from different parts of the world," says Ramesh, a 44-year-old Indian national who has managed the restaurant since it opened in 2004. He says the restaurant was the brainchild of the owner, a local from Dubai who grew up on camel meat and milk.

"With this restaurant (the owner) wanted to (introduce) that to the world as well. That's how it all started," said Ramesh, who gave only one name.

Camels, sometimes called "ships of the desert", are a big part of culture in the Arabian Peninsula. In the United Arab Emirates, there are camel races, camel beauty contests and competitions for the tastiest camel cuisine.

Camel meat is cooked many ways and sometimes served as a "shawarma" - grilled meat wrapped in flat bread.

Local House prides itself on its novel burger, but the menu boasts an extensive camel-based offering.

"We have... camel soup, camel salad, then we have the camel burger, camel kebab, camel steak, then we have camel biryani - that is a mixture of rice and camel meat," says Ramesh, as he rattles off still more menu items.

The restaurant also offers a camel curry dish, grilled camel ribs and the camel special, which is cooked in oyster sauce. Camel sausage, bacon and pizza are in the works, Ramesh says.

"Camelicious" brand camel milk, milk chocolates and milkshakes made with camel milk are some of the other offerings.

Local House customers described their first taste of camel meat as positive.

- 'I wanted something unique' -

-----------------

"Excellent," says Anna, a 38-year-old Canadian who tried the camel soup after hearing about the restaurant and happened upon it during her vacation to Dubai. "I wanted something of the region, something unique," she says.

Alanen, a 60-year-old from Finland visiting Dubai with his wife, described the camel burger as "good".

He tried it because "my friends say that this place (is) the only place where we can eat a camel burger."

Karine, 39, a French national living in the UAE, says that she tried the camel biryani and the camel special "because I lived here for four years now, and I thought it would be interesting to know how a camel tastes."

"It was nice," she says with a laugh. "The texture is like mutton, a bit... without the strong taste of the mutton," but "it's a bit hard."

Out of all the restaurant's camel-based offerings, the camel burger is king.

"The most popular is the burger, and (then) the camel special, then comes the steak," Ramesh says.

The burger comes with onions, tomatoes, cheese, mayonnaise and ketchup, sandwiched between two pieces of khameer, a thin, round bread topped with sesame seeds.

The meat is similar in texture to beef, but a bit tougher. It has a slightly smoky flavour with a tangy aftertaste, but its taste is mostly obscured by the ketchup-mayonnaise mix. Camel meat, Ramesh says, generally has a sweet taste.

The burger costs 35 dirhams (about nine dollars), while other dishes range in price between 20 and 72 dirhams (about six and 20 dollars).

Local House, in the Bur Dubai area, is housed in a drab-brown building that would be fairly nondescript, were it not for the exterior decorations.

In addition to the "yummy camel burger" sign, a poster shows a cartoon Emirati man holding the reins of a camel that is clutching a burger in its teeth.

There is currently only one branch of the restaurant, but Ramesh says there are plans to expand to other emirates in the UAE, and also to open a branch in Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.

Opening branches in other Gulf countries is also a possibility, he says.

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