One of the most unusual aspects of Dubai is its demographic makeup. Native-born Emiratis make up less than 20% of the population, while the clear majority of Dubai’s inhabitants are actually expatriate workers from South Asia – Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
Without them, Dubai simply wouldn’t function, but this huge portion of the population also makes its presence felt in other ways. It’s there in the annual Diwali festival of lights, the crowds that flood the DSC Cricket Stadium whenever India or Pakistan play, and to the constant stream of Bollywood stars jetting in to promote their latest films. And Dubai’s relative openness means non-Muslim South Asians have places to worship, including a Hindu temple in Bur Dubai. A Sikh temple currently shares the same premises, but they will be moving into a lavish new purpose-built complex later this year.
The sights, sounds and smells of the subcontinent are within reach of the visitor amongst the city’s orgy of real and counterfeit designer fashion. Hindi Lane, in the shadow of the Great Mosque, is a true slice of India, selling religious items, garlands and tropical fruit. The nearby textile souk has sari fabrics in every shade imaginable.
And then, of course, there’s the food. The vast range of South Asian cuisine is well represented here, with presentation ranging from jaw-dropping shrines to gastronomy to tiny bistros where all the ingenuity is saved for the food. Quality is generally very high, with Aangan considered one of the finest Indian eateries in a city spoilt for choice. There is a nuanced appreciation of various regional cuisines; try the Rajasthani flavors of Kebab Manvaar or North-Western Indian at Asha’s, owned by singer Asha Bhosle, the world’s most prolific recording artist.