Food & Drinks

Dampa Seafood Grill for dinner

Even though it’s a weeknight, Dampa Seafood Grill is bustling. This is a slow evening, says Eric, the operations manager at the Deira outpost, and that’s pretty much all there is to know about the place’s legendary standing in the Dubai food scene. You can tell it’s a joyful place by looking at the full tables, the glittering lights coming on and off, and the servers rushing around rubbing shoulders with each other and grinning broadly.

“We don’t refer to this place as a restaurant,” Eric explains. “We refer to it as the happy place.”

Looking around, one would never believe that only a few months prior, this cherished symbol of Filipino cuisine had gone through a terrible incident. A fire that started in August 2023 destroyed much of the restaurant and resulted in its temporary closure. Despite the dire circumstances, the team persevered and kept their positive attitude throughout, as did all of their employees—many of whom they now consider family.

Six months later, both the people and Dampa Seafood Grill have returned. We’re sitting outdoors this evening because the weather is ideal and the decor of the outside space, which includes plain furnishings, neon hoarding, and strings of fairy lights draped over our heads, screams “wholesome neighbourhood eatery.”

We’re excited to try their best-selling item, the seafood bucket, of course. According to Justin Alvarez of Dampa’s marketing team, the Filipino military personnel are the ones who originated the idea of a table dump and the community dining experience.

He says, “It’s the militant way of eating in the Philippines. It’s called a boodle fight.” Troops just pile everything onto a single table and launch a coordinated assault on it. Naturally, they merely use their naked hands, even if we have gloves.

Our seafood selection is as deliciously flavorful as you could dream, marinated in their best-selling cajun sauce, which is spicy and slightly sweet. The dish consists of jumbo prawns that are so fresh they almost taste creamy, crab that melts in your tongue, clams that you can eat indefinitely, and chewy, spicy and delicious mussels. It also includes two litres of mocktails with pop culture allusions and names like “Justin Bieber” and “We Love You Long Time,” served with endless white rice and corn. Surprisingly nice bargain.

The entire experience will set you back Dhs174 and feed two to three hungrier diners. One lot of an offer, if we’ve ever seen one. Additionally, we are given some delicious and large fried mussel (Dhs43) and grilled squid (Dhs42).

Eating with our hands and sharing from one dish is, in the truest sense of the word, humble. We all kneel down in the presence of society, as proved by the reality that every other diner, many of whom are not Filipino, is doing the same.

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