Camel encounters in Dubai
From camel racing to camel milk chocolate, these ships of the desert are an integral part of Dubai life
It is easy to forget sometimes that Dubai is a city built in the desert – especially when driving through the urban jungle of Downtown, relaxing in one of the city’s green parks or sunbathing in the confines of a luxurious beach club. However, behind the facade of the glistening towers, the emirate is full of little reminders that it is, in fact, in the desert, and its roots are very much aligned with the Bedouin culture of a bygone era.
Of course, where there is desert, there are camels – from weekly race meets to chocolate made from camel milk, there are so many ways to encounter these ships of the desert in Dubai:
These days, camel racing is a drawcard for both Emiratis and visitors. The racing season runs between October and April, and races tend to take place early on Friday and Saturday mornings.
There are several tracks around the emirate, but Dubai's biggest one is the Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack, the home of Dubai Camel Racing Club, located half an hour’s drive from the city, near the Sevens Stadium. It attracts camel owners from across the UAE, and even some from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Changes have been made to the sport to bring it up to date without losing its traditional core. Robot jockeys controlled by operators who drive alongside the racing camels in SUVs were introduced in 2002 – with the driver usually honking the horn loudly and continuously, so as to spur on the camel to greater speed. Today's races offer prizes running into the tens of thousands of dirhams; special prizes such as luxury SUVs may be given to the winners of big race meets.
Camel meat, milk and chocolate
While you won’t find camel meat served in many restaurants, there are a few eateries where camel can be found on the menu. One of the original purveyors of camel meat in the country is Local House, a tiny cafe in the historic Al Fahidi District of Dubai. The restaurant claims to be the first in the UAE to serve camel burgers.
For those who are not quite so adventurous, there are camel milk milkshakes and cappuccinos. Camel milk is said to contain ten times the amount of iron and three times the vitamin C of cows’ milk. It is also said to be low in fat, more digestible than cow milk and lower in cholesterol, and more suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. The Majlis is a chic, Arabic-inspired outlet in Dubai Mall where you can sample ice-cream and chocolate made with camel milk, while nearby restaurant Switch serves up camel tenderloin with new potatoes and mushroom sauce.
For camel milk chocolate souvenirs, it is hard to go past Al Nassma, which blends rich camel milk with exotic ingredients such as bourbon vanilla and fine acacia honey. You can purchase solid blocks, praline boxes or hollow chocolate camels from The Dubai Mall, Burj Al Arab and Dubai Duty Free at Dubai International and Al Maktoum International airports.
The Camel Museum
Learn everything you need to know about camels, from their biological makeup to what they like to eat and drink, at The Camel Museum, built in the 1940s in the Al Shindagha area, on the banks of Dubai Creek. The museum was originally a camel stable, now a space that blends technology, heritage and history, even allowing visitors to participate in a virtual camel race. The museum is open from Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 2pm.