Dubai, United Arab Emirates — In a city of champagne brunches with sea views, Michelin-starred restaurants and endless upscale Asian dishes, a small, holey eatery with plastic chairs and metal tables is one of Dubai’s must-haves. .
Ravi’s Restaurant, a small family-run Pakistani restaurant, is rooted in the community of South Asian workers who helped build Dubai. Yet over the decades, it has become a staple of culinary culture in a city that typically revolves around all things glitzy and over the top.
The restaurant opened in the United Arab Emirates in 1978 in the Satwa district of Dubai, at a time when it was a sandy area full of large trucks and small construction workshops. The emirate was mostly a desert land in the 1970s with a skinny, low skyline overlooking the gulf.
Ravi served home-style food, mostly to South Asian construction workers.
Its founder, Chaudary Abdul Hameed, wanted to “find a way to serve better food to the working class”, said his son Waseem Abdul Hameed, who is also the restaurant’s operations manager. This involved keeping prices affordable, with meals costing an average of $7.
Over the years, as Dubai boomed, it became a hit among Emiratis and Western and Asian expats who flooded the emirate.
Renowned food critic Anthony Bourdain helped put Ravi on the map when he visited it for one of his TV series in 2010. A few years later, rapper Snoop Dogg also came and Ravi was raised to the rank of unmissable attraction.
Aside from its portions, prices and flavors, it’s ironically Ravi’s lack of pretension that gives it its cachet.
Patrons dressed in everything from business suits to traditional sarees or sneakers throng the restaurant for big meals or late-night snacks. It is common to see lines of people at the door or people taking their food and eating it on the sidewalk.
Inside, patrons are seated at plastic-covered tables under twinkling neon lights. The chatter dampens the sound of the ceiling fans. Chicken biryani, chicken tikka, daal and naan hang out of the kitchen above the serving counter, and as waiters rush the plates onto the table, the smell of curry and grilled meat floats in the air.
Last week, the low-key restaurant was the scene of a very Dubai-like splash: a gathering of social media influencers to promote the launch of the cobbler’s Adidas brand’s collaboration with Ravi.
Adidas has produced a specially designed limited-edition Superstar Ravi sneaker – green and white, emblazoned with the restaurant’s name and the year it opened, and a list of the six most famous dishes on its menu inside the tab of the shoe.
Both Ravi and Adidas declined to disclose terms of the deal to The Associated Press, or answer questions about whether the restaurant would make any money from the sale of the shoes.
Waseem Abdul Hameed said it reflected how the restaurant was part of the cultural fabric of Dubai. “You have to go to Ravi’s restaurant for a meal, that’s why they chose us.”
It’s a stark contrast to other recent lines released by Adidas, like the one with Gucci that includes sneakers that retail for $899 in Dubai and other cities. But the collaboration shows how brands like Adidas are looking for new ways to connect with consumers looking for uniqueness.
On a recent hot summer day after the shoe’s launch, customers lined up in front of Ravi.
“It’s authentic, that’s what it is, that’s why I love it,” said Dana, 32, a Dubai resident who has been coming to Ravi for years with her friends.