Little Manila is a ‘first of its kind’ Filipino themed restaurant in Dubai, and is the global conglomerate, Al Ahli Group’s first venture into the food industry.
The restaurant has officially started business from this Monday 14th September, and I had the pleasure of being invited to the media event on Saturday.
Little Manila is located in K6 Building on Al Muraqqabat Street, Deira, Dubai and looks like a cheerful food-court. It houses six of Philippine’s best-loved food brands offering delicacies including appetizers, main course meals, desserts, beverages, and famous Pinoy street food.
The food brands under the Little Manila umbrella include Binalot, Jay-J’s, Fruitas Group, Mochi Crème, Zagu, Fiftea along with its in-house brands Kwekie Bites and Breadshop.
Binalot is quite an institution in the Philippines when it comes to both traditional and new-age Filipino dishes. Binalot, meaning ‘wrapped’ in Filipino, specializes in treats that are served wrapped in banana leaves, an age-old Pinoy tradition. The brand has been going strong in the Philippines for over two decades now, and is sure to have a big fan following among the Filipino expats in Dubai.
Jay-J’s Inasal is an award-winning Filipino chain that got its recognition for its specialty; the Chicken Inasal. This is a traditional chicken roast that has been marinaded in very special local flavors and is especially popular in the western central region of the Philippines. Apart from the Chicken Inasal, the restaurant also offers a wide variety of Filipino home-style dishes, from seafood, to poultry and meat.
Zagu is a sixteen year-old Filipino brand specializing in pearl shakes, and has over 500 outlets under its portfolio.
Fruitas Group is a Filipino chain that started its operations in 2002, and have over 700 stores across the Philippines today. The brand offers a wide range of fruit-based food and beverages that are made using the freshest of produce.
Mochi Crème introduced the popular Japanese mochi ice cream delicacy to the Philippines in 2011. The dessert, ‘mochi’, is a sweet finger food delight made of sticky Japanese rice cake confection with a soft, doughnut-like shell and an ice cream filling.
Fiftea brought its signature Taiwanese milk tea refreshments to the Philippines in 2013. The ingredients are their pride and every Fiftea milk tea served maintains the high quality and consistency trademark of the brand.
Kwekie Bites is an in-house concept, and as the name suggests, they specialize in quick bites akin to yummy street food treats of the Philippines.
Breadshop is the other in-house concept. This is a specialty bakery offering freshly baked breads, cookies and other oven-baked treats.
Interestingly, the mastermind behind the creation of the Little Manila brand is not a Filipino. Kuwait-born Indian Parvez Naqvi spent 11 months doing his homework on the Filipino food scene. As the International Business Development Head of the Al Ahli Group, Parvez made numerous trips to the Philippines, sampling local cuisines and urging big local brands to join him on his quest of offering home-style, traditional Filipino food to the Pinoy community of Dubai.
A growing base of Filipino nationals is now able to afford eating out regularly. According to our survey, Filipinos still prefer homegrown concepts that offer authentic Filipino taste. That is why we are setting up a restaurant that would fill in the gap in the market, as most Filipinos wish to enjoy food in a cozy restaurant that serves meals akin to what they grew up with. Results of the study have led the company to the whole concept of ‘Little Manila’, what would be the first themed restaurant that offers choicest delicacies from multiple Filipino brands,” – Parvez Naqvi, International Business Development Head of Al Ahli Holding Group.
I had the pleasure of having a chat with Parvez. His enthusiasm at entering the food industry was highly evident, and he tells me he has developed a taste for Filipino food from his visits. When asked what his favorite Filipino dish is, Parvez unhesitatingly says ‘Sisig, chicken or beef!’.
Little Manila is his first venture with the Al Ahli group into the world of food, but will definitely not be his last. Pervez found it quite challenging urging food giants in the Phillipines to move to the UAE. Many of them were quite comfortable staying home! However, given the lucrative Filipino market of the UAE, Parvez has plans on bringing even more brands here, and is also coining the idea of bringing a Korean chain that specializes in Italian cuisine! The Korean concept is called ‘Mad About Cheese’, and will offer Italian fine-dining where everything is related to cheese, even the ice-cream! I am keenly awaiting to know more on that 🙂
All these brands under Little Manila’s roof bring the Filipino expat community closer to home, and the Al Ahli management strongly believe that those who eat out frequently will surely welcome the food choices that are not only affordable, but also satisfy their longing for that distinct Pinoy taste.
From its interiors to the service it provides, the restaurant offers a complete dining experience that ultimately makes the Filipino feel at home. After all, Little Manila is theirs—as the restaurant’s mantra goes, “Atin Ito”, a Pinoy phrase that means “This is ours”.
Little Manila is located in K6 Building on Al Muraqqabat Street, Deira, Dubai. For more information, have a look at their Facebook page.