The street food revolution @ Wok Boyz.

What is so experimental about a noodle house that cooks everything in a wok, you may ask? There must be at least a hundred in Dubai, you may say?  Well, the fact that it is basically just a kitchen with roadside seating, makes it a little unique but that is not what differentiates Wok Boyz from everyone else.  

Wok Boyz Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I absolutely love it when a restaurant dares to do something different. It doesn’t necessarily work every time because we the customers, are stuck in our old eating habits and even if the restaurant has taken a bold step in order to provide us with a fresh experience or type of cuisine; we are not ready to step out of our comfort zones.  

Sometimes, the gamble does pay off and when it does, big or small – the restaurant becomes talk of the town. Case in point is Wok Boyz on Sheikh Zayed Road. What is so experimental about a noodle house that cooks everything in a wok, you may ask? There must be at least a hundred in Dubai, you may say?  Well, the fact that it is basically just a kitchen with roadside seating, makes it a little unique but that is not what differentiates Wok Boyz from everyone else.  

At the heart of this success story is the concept. Once this catches on, it will be a game changer for the whole industry. Next time you want to grab a shawarma after the club, you may choose to grab a noodle box instead. No, it is not the first time someone is selling noodles out of a box but very few places have been able to deconstruct the noodle box in Dubai. Think of it like the Subway of noodle boxes. You choose a base like egg or wheat noodles, choose a protein (chicken, beef etc), add some shitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots or whichever veggies your heart desires and finish it off with your Asian sauce of choice (six options). You make your own noodle box, just like you make your own sandwich. It’s called giving control back to the customer and that is the direction all fast food concepts will eventually move towards.

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Noodles in a box at Wok Boyz

If you are the indecisive kind and need to be told by others what you should be eating, this place might still be worth a visit. You may have to miss out on the best part of this experience but you will still be able to sample the signature, Spicy Korean wings and wash them down with fresh coconut water, straight out of a chilled coconut. Roadside eating doesn’t get better than this.  

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Fresh coconut water at Wok Boyz

This little hole in the wall does have the heart of a huge fast food giant. It screams out for attention but in its own unique way. The giant graffiti mural, painted on the entire wall of the building this restaurant is located in, gives away its intentions of world domination. Standing out amongst the majestic buildings and polished lobbies of Sheikh Zayed road, it stares directly up at the Emirates Towers building with pride. This fight for the next hit food concept has spilled out into the streets of Dubai and this little restaurant is definitely punching above its weight. It may be the beginning of a new sub-culture within Dubai’s dynamic street food scene.

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Korean chicken wings at Wok Boyz

Nom Nom Asia

As far as restaurants go, I have always rooted for the little guy. Imagine trying to position yourself between the fancy big players and the cafeteria types which can  survive despite selling hot meals for as low as  AED 15. Your prices have got to be lower than the giant food factories but you have also got to try and do something better than them. You need to be more creative, offer new variations and most important of all – have a killer PR strategy.

In my quest for offbeat hidden gems, I ended up at Nom Nom Asia in Barsha. I didn’t just end up there by chance. A sign they had posted outside both their Karama and Barsha restaurants  went viral on social media some time ago. Basically, if you are hungry, unemployed and looking for a job in Dubai, Nom Nom Asia has got you covered. No, they will not let you do the dishes but they will offer you a free combo lunch meal to keep you fueled for the search. How cool is that?

I am sure that many hungry job seekers must have used this to their advantage but I just can’t stop admiring the PR element of this initiative. When designing a CSR campaign, companies try to come up with something good and meaningful that will impact society in a positive way, but they also try to find causes that will get them the most mileage. As far as PR strategies go, this was just brilliant.

INow that I had driven for thirty minutes to get there and they had my undivided attention, it was time to venture inside and see if the food could live up to the PR strategy.  The interior was casual and understated, just the way one would expect a neighborhood joint to be.

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The menu had both a Chinese and Thai section with plenty of variety but I do have a bad habit of ordering the chicken with cashew nut at every Asian restaurant I go to. We did order some Schezwan chicken to go with it. I was pleasantly surprised to see the brown rice option which we ordered as well but to start it all off, we requested some chicken Dim Sum.

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The food was ok but the service was top class. Our waiter was attentive yet not intrusive and he got the order right. I heard they have a Thai chef but the flavour had definitely been dialed down perhaps to please their European clientele. None of the other reviews I have read mention this so it may just have been a one-off thing. The chicken Dim Sum though, were perfectly pungent. I could have easily closed my eyes and imagined being on the streets of Hong Kong.

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Chicken with cashew nut and Nom Nom Asia

I’m not sure if it was because we were taking pictures of our food or if I looked like someone in need of a free dessert but we were offered a free sticky rice with mango after our meal. We most gratefully and graciously accepted of course, because that is what you do when you get offered a free dessert! We were in Thailand this August and this particular dish was at par with the best mango sticky rice we have had there or anywhere else ever before. I think the little tub of coconut cream that accompanied the dessert played a big role in that.

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Mango Sticky rice at Nom Nom Asia

So, our trip to Nom Nom Asia did end on a high note and we would love to return again for the sticky rice. Also, I have a feeling that the Karama branch might be a better option though because most of the customers there wouldn’t mind a little chilli with heir cashew nuts!

Nom Nom Asia Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Noodle House. Dubai’s homegrown international chain.

If you are a fan of Asian food and have been in Dubai long enough, you must have dined at one of the Noodle House restaurants at some point in your life. If you are a fan of Asian Food and were living in or visiting Lahore some time between 2006 and 2009, chances are that you would have either dined at Noodle House Lahore or would have heard someone raving about how wonderfully authentic the Wasabi prawns were. Unfortunately, that is a thing of the past because Noodle House Lahore is no more. The restaurant decided to shut down their operation some years ago.

So when our young friend, Lahore’s design prodigy Hamza Bokhari was in town fresh on the heels of his London Fashion Week showcase, we thought to ourselves, “Where best to take him out than to a restaurant he used to love but can’t get any more of in Lahore?” So that ladies and gents is how we ended up at the Noodle House for the umpteenth time.

We picked the Madinat Jumeirah location and did the customary Souq Madinat stroll before arriving unannounced. After being greeted with the same big smiles we have grown accustomed to we were immediately ushered to our favorite corner of the restaurant. Our waitress patiently answered all our questions before handing us along with the usual order pad, a pictorial menu which I had not seen earlier. I love the order pad because it comes with a cool pen that you use to put a check next to the items you want and then hand it over to your server. It is an efficient process and was one of the unique things about Noodle House. They probably had to come up with a new menu with pictures of food on it because A) Their customers do not have the brain power anymore to imagine what a Peking Duck would look like. B) Their customers enjoy looking at pictures. C) Their customers cannot read. Whatever the case may be, the old order pad is also available and you can order off either of the two.

The lights were bright enough to ensure we could see each others faces and discuss the neck tattoo of the young lady on the table next to ours (Yes I have told you before, we are weird like that). They were also dim enough to act as a conduit between all the different people on all the different tables who seemed to be intimately connected through their love of good food. The background music was loud enough to suppress any sounds from the open kitchen yet low enough to allow us to have a conversation. Mixed with the low rumble of chatter from all the other tables, it created a unique soundtrack to our Asian meal.

The first time I ordered the Thai chicken with cashew nuts was because it had 3 little chilli peppers next to it on the menu. I do sometimes like to burn my mouth till the taste buds go numb but after all the beef Vindaloos, Sombrero chilli bean bombs and Thai chilli papaya salad that I have devoured in my lifetime, this was in my opinion, mildly spiced. A word of caution though; never ever use my judgement on chilli to form your opinion on whether a dish is too hot or not. Everyone has a different threshold for handling chilli and mine is just off the charts by all standards. Having said that, I would also like to say that there is a whole melange of flavors in the dish and the chilli is just one element. All of them compliment each other to create the unmistakably unique Noodle House taste. So, I strongly recommend you sample the cashew nut chicken there at least once while you live in Dubai.

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The Chicken cashew nut is always a part of my order at The Noodle House

We also ordered the Szechuan crispy beef, the wok fried chili prawns & calamari and the Singapore Noodles. Like the cashew nut chicken, the crispy beef and wok fried prawns included a serving of steamed rice. The Singapore noodles were basically rice vermicelli noodles tossed with some chicken, prawns and vegetables. It was the only dish that needed some extra soy sauce to enhance the flavor. The wok fried chilli prawns and calamari were lightly spiced but the chilli did not overpower the taste of the seafood. It was lightly sauteed so the prawns were less rubbery and more creamy. That along with the chewy calamari and steamed rice created a medley of different textures in your mouth.

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Singapore Noodles at The Noodle House

The crispy beef was voted as everyone’s favourite dish of the evening because it was essentially 3 dishes rolled into one. Such experimentation can often result in disaster but this dish was an absolute delight and none of us could stop raving about it. The texture of the dish was that of a dry fried Chinese beef, the unmistakable aroma was like a lemongrass beef stir fry and the final kick was delivered by the Schezwan sauce.

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The Crispy Beef is my new favourite dish at The Noodle House

You never know what life might throw at you next. Before you move on to greener pastures or your time in Dubai comes to an end, if you have not done so yet please do head down to the Noodle House and try the Crispy Szechuan beef and the Chicken cashew nut. This is a home grown Dubai restaurant that has branched out to Doha, Jeddah, Cyprus, Moscow and for a while to Lahore. Unless your next stop is one of these cities, you may never again get a chance to sample 3 recipes being rolled into one.

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The wok fried chilly prawns and calamari

The Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato