Nigerian Restaurants Worldwide: A Research Agenda Part 2

Nigerian Restaurants Worldwide: A Research Agenda Part 2

Following up on my earlier post entitled Nigerian Restaurants Worldwide: A Research Agenda Part 1, my focus this time is on Dubai, the acclaimed preferred travel destination for Nigerians (aka Naija). 

Although there’s never any verifiable evidence of population numbers for this group, even the country’s population relies on estimates of anything between 170-200 million, various sources tend to suggest that there are at least about 5000 Nigerians resident in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with most of them based in Dubai. This seems to exclude the number of Nigerians studying in the country.

UAE Population Infographics 2018 - FULL

My point now is this. If Nigerians really love their food that much, as I pointed out in my last post, are they really being served? And yes I ask this literally if you are wondering. 

I have posed a similar question many years ago in my 2007 paper on Nigerian Restaurants in London, which I have only recently tried to reconcptualise in a post highlighting  the challenges of African Caribbean restaurants in London 

Returning to the matter at hand, I am wondering just how Nigerian restaurants are faring in Dubai and its environs (e.g. Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and even Ajman)? 

Not very well I dare say. These emirates (or city states with the UAE) seem to be the forte of South Asians (notably India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). Going further down the pecking order and even from those areas geographically defined (the socio-political definition seems to be somewhat different as many of these nationals tend to see themselves as Arab) as African e.g. Comoros, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia. 

As for Nigerian restaurants, they seem to be operating at the lowest rungs of ambience. Sometimes one would wonder whether to tuck in at all after a site visit to places like the Gold Souk, Deira, Al Nahda and Al Sabkha (a small community between Al Rigga, Naif, Al Dhagaya and Al Buteen) in the Deira region of eastern Dubai.  

Is it really surprising that no “African” restaurant comes close in the top-10 listing. Not even the much celebrated KIZA that claims to be Pan-African (with Swahili undertones). Obviously not Nigerian!

Shall we try another one? Tribes?
Is that Nigerian, Kenyan or African? No one really knows, and that’s where the confusion lies:
Tribes is a fun, casual dining restaurant located in Mall of the Emirates and The Dubai Mall. The menu has been inspired by the amazing food and flavours of Africa, an extremely diverse continent, with numerous tribes, who not only speak different languages, they also have very different foods, which they prepare and serve to their family and friends with a lot of pride.
Still on the upmarket offerings, here’s another one, Africana Home, which claims the following history:
Africana Home restaurant is UAE’s first African kitchen.The Restaurant first opened it doors in 1993 to the delight of customers craving for tasty African Cuisine and has continued to provide a home away from home feeling.
Why is it that Nigerian restaurants continue to operate from one bed room apartments? I’m not making this up, I lived in the country for nearly a decade and besides this personal first-hand experience, you may wish to read the message of the Managing Director a notable player, Africana Home, whom I assume to be the founder below:

When I first came to the UAE, I was unused to the taste and flavor of the food, although many tried to be as hospitable as they could but a lot was lacking, I just couldn’t stand it, And so the Vision for Africana Home was birthed.

From a one bed room apartment, cooking for friends, colleges and neighbors , to a small restaurant space with just 3 employees, to a thriving chain of restaurants, we truly have come from humble beginning.

Regrettably, only a few seem to have transitioned from such “humble beginnings”, as numerous other Nigerian “restaurants” (deliberately in quotation marks) are still operating under the radar in the most squalid of conditions.

What’s more? Filipino restaurants have started making inroads in the country with the recent announcement by the Al Ahli Holding Group for a new chain of Filipino restaurants, Little Manila restaurant in September at Al Muraqqabat Street, Deira, offering a variety of Filipino dishes from Fruitas, Mochi Créme, Zagu to the popular dish Binalot, grilled meat and rice on banana leaves.

“The idea behind Little Manila was to give the third largest expat community in the GCC an exposure to experience the flavors of their home country while staying in the Middle East and to give them a chance to come together as a community to call a place their own.”
Ok, I must admit I have recent heard of Gbemi Giwa’s new health-orientated African restaurant, Catfish, which operates out of the Kitchen Nation incubator space in Business Bay, but is this really bespoke? Why are Nigerian restaurants in Dubai still very few and far between?

Wake up Naija! “Carrying last” has never been part of your DNA.

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