For many, UAE’s din­ing scene starts at the plas­tic chairs of this restau­rant in Satwa. The se­cret lies in stay­ing hon­est, says the owner. Yes, we’re talk­ing about Ravi Restau­rant.

You know the leg­endary Ravi Restau­rant and the de­lec­ta­ble dishes served there. Esha Nag now takes you be­hind the scenes to in­tro­duce you to the man be­hind the leg­end


Twelve years ago, on a hot sum­mer evening, a friendly cab­bie dropped me at Ravi restau­rant in Satwa. I was new in the city, tired of take­aways, and longed for some com­fort food. ‘Go on,’ he said, ‘try the chicken tikka. You’ll thank me for bring­ing you here.’ I was a tad ap­pre­hen­sive, eye­ing the sim­ple but prac­ti­cal ta­bles that lined the pave­ment with sus­pi­cion and won­der­ing whether the food would be palat­able. I didn’t have to. The food was de­li­cious. Ever since, Ravi has been an ex­ten­sion of home. I’ve never grown tired of the fare here, spend­ing count­less evenings rel­ish­ing the dal fry and mut­ton ke­babs, cel­e­brat­ing life goals over a sweet lassi or an even sweeter chai, tak­ing along friends and vis­it­ing fam­ily mem­bers to rel­ish a plate of biriyani, and some­times just stop­ping by for that com­fort­ing aroma and taste of freshly­baked naans, crispy on the out­side and soft in the mid­dle, just per­fect with a plate of curry.

There is some­thing con­stant and com­fort­ing about Ravi that has ac­quired near cult sta­tus among emi­ratis and ex­pats alike of Dubai. Like the taste of its tikkas and ke­babs that have re­mained un­changed over the years. Like the man be­hind its old-fash­ioned till, non­de­script and in con­trol of ev­ery­thing at his leg­endary restau­rant for the last 39 years. You will find him at the restau­rant, ev­ery day with­out fail, keen eyes mea­sur­ing cus­tomers, talk­ing to them, tak­ing or­ders, re­turn­ing the change with a smile... Chaudary Ab­dul Hameed’s quiet man­ner­isms are by no means an in­di­ca­tion of a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian who has slowed down in life. He still pulls dou­ble shifts, usu­ally from 12.30pm till three in the af­ter­noon and then again from around 8.30pm un­til mid­night. ‘I used to put in 18 hours of work ev­ery day. Now I clock eight to ten hours,’ he says, with a laugh.

Hameed ar­rived in Dubai in 1971 from Wazirabad in Pak­istan’s Pun­jab prov­ince. ‘I came with my brother and a few other men. I didn’t know why I left home. Back then ev­ery­one was com­ing to Dubai so we de­cided to join the crowd and landed here to start life afresh,’ he re­mem­bers. Back then, in his early twen­ties, Hameed worked odd jobs but fi­nally took a loan from his brother to start Ravi in 1978. ‘There were very few places to eat in Satwa in the Seven­ties. I had no idea about food, but some­one told me that start­ing a restau­rant would be a good idea and I jumped at it. It was my des­tiny, I guess,’ says Hameed.

He started small, with 15 staff. The chefs came mostly from Pak­istan, some from In­dia, and the best­seller right from the be­gin­ning was the chicken tikka. ‘My tikka is the best in Dubai,’ Hameed claims proudly, although he is quick to add that there has never been a set recipe. ‘We per­fected the

pro­por­tion of spices with time.’

Hameed cred­its his suc­cess to hard work, a bit of luck, but more than any­thing to Dubai, the city that has nur­tured him and his dreams. ‘Wher­ever in the world I go, I long to get back to Dubai. It gives me my peace of mind.’ He is aware of the near leg­endary sta­tus of his restau­rant but has no idea of the kind of pub­lic­ity it gets. ‘Do you know that you were fea­tured in the Lonely Planet and on BBC?’ I ask him. Hameed nods non­cha­lantly. ‘My cus­tomers are my big­gest good­will am­bas­sadors. I know that the first thing most food­ies will do when they come to Dubai is have a meal at Ravi’s. You know, the rap­per Snoop Dog came look­ing for our special biryani when he vis­ited Dubai,’ he says.

From Emi­ratis and west­ern ex­pats to those from the sub­con­ti­nent, just about ev­ery na­tion­al­ity can be seen en­joy­ing a meal at his restau­rant. ‘When I was young I used to won­der how peo­ple of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties look? Now I have the whole world at my doorstep. I feel blessed,’ he says, and then adds with a touch of hu­mour, ‘My cus­tomers from In­dia and Pak­istan are al­ways ar­gu­ing about the name Ravi. They ask me is this the river Ravi of In­dia or the Ravi of Pak­istan? To the In­di­ans I main­tain it is the one in In­dia, and to my coun­try­men I tell them it’s the river in Pak­istan. What dif­fer­ence does a name make? I don’t think many know that the same river flows in both the coun­tries.’

For Hameed, there are five must-haves in his restau­rant. ‘The chicken tikka, but­ter chicken, mut­ton pe­shawari (spicy ten­der meat full of flavour), chicken biryani and the lassi (sweet yogurt drink) from Pun­jab. But for the Ravi die-hard fans, equally ir­re­sistible is the dal fry (gen­tly spiced tem­pered lentils), mut­ton ke­babs, chicken achari (chicken cooked in home-made mango pickle) and Bi­hari ke­babs (soft suc­cu­lent pieces of beef, freshly grilled).

For Hameed and his fam­ily, food at home comes from the kitchens of Ravi. ‘I never eat any­where else,’ says Hameed. ‘And there is ab­so­lutely no food cooked at home. From fried eggs to chicken curry and even noo­dles, we or­der ev­ery­thing from Ravi’s kitchens.’ On rare week­ends Hameed will give into the de­mands of his grand­chil­dren and cook the odd pasta, but he ad­mits, he is no great cook and would pre­fer the biryani and chicken kadai any day from his restau­rant.

Hameed’s fam­ily in­cludes his wife, seven chil­dren and six grand­chil­dren. ‘I have been very par­tic­u­lar that my daugh­ters get the right ed­u­ca­tion, and to­day all four of them are in­de­pen­dent,’ he says. His el­dest son Wa­heed Ab­dul Hameed man­ages the op­er­a­tions of the Karama branch of Ravi, while the restau­rant has an­other branch at Al Nahda in Qu­sais. Fri­days are meant for the fam­ily and Hameed in­sists that the whole brood, in­clud­ing the daugh­ters with their hus­bands and the grand­chil­dren, have lunch to­gether.

Hameed trea­sures the sim­ple things of life. Even now, the restau­rant at Satwa uses ba­sic ta­bles and chairs, a plas­tic ta­ble cloth, sim­ple white plates and poly­styrene cups. The fo­cus is on food. And on qual­ity. ‘I have never used any­thing but freshly-ground spices,’ says Hameed. He calls it ‘chakki fresh’ which lit­er­ally trans­lated means ‘fresh from the mill’. ‘And the meat I use is fresh too. Any­thing that is left over is ei­ther trashed or given away. I don’t go into the kitchen to man­age the op­er­a­tions, but I have peo­ple I trust. I know what we serve on the plates of our cus­tomers will re­main on their tongues for­ever. When the food is full of flavour, what more do I need.’

So what’s the best com­pli­ment he’s re­ceived? ‘So in­ex­pen­sive and yet so tasty?’ an­swers Hameed, who even to­day waives off 10 to 15 per cent on the to­tal bill for cus­tomers who are on a visit visa to Dubai.

Known as a man with a golden heart, Hameed makes it a point that ev­ery­one can af­ford to eat at his restau­rant. A break­fast of channa-roti (bread and chick peas) would cost any­thing be­tween Dh2 and Dh4. The restau­rant opens at 5am and blue col­lar work­ers who grab their break­fast get a por­tion of halwa-puri (semolina dessert with deep-fried bread) free. Pop­u­lar break­fast of­fer­ings in­clude channa, keema (minced meat curry), dal (lentils), ni­hari (slow cooked meat with mar­row) and Haleem (slow cooked wheat, bar­ley with meat, lentils and spices) and of course puri and parathas (breads).

In an age when the food you eat is as good as it looks on your In­sta­gram feed, Ravi stands out as a suc­cess story that has re­lied on noth­ing but qual­ity and sim­plic­ity. Very much a part of Dubai’s culi­nary map, the restau­rant bridges the so­cioe­co­nomic gaps where a cab­bie and a CEO would be en­joy­ing a meal at the same ta­ble. ‘I have plans of opening an­other branch at Jumeirah,’ says Hameed. But ask him where he is the hap­pi­est and he’ll point to the place where it all be­gan – Ravi in Satwa, en­joy­ing its busy mashed-up feel-good life.

A man with a golden heart, Hameed makes it a point that ev­ery­one can af­ford to eat at his restau­rant. A break­fast of channa-roti ( bread and chick peas) would cost any­thing be­tween Dh2 and Dh4

Whether fam­ily din­ners or host­ing guests Chaudary Ab­dul Hameed al­ways en­sures the food is from his restau­rant

With his wife Fehmida just af­ter their mar­riage. BE­LOW: With his daugh­ter Na­heed Akhtar in 1979

Chef Li­aqat has en­sured that the flavours of Ravi’s fa­mous cur­ries re­main un­changed

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