ABU DHABI (AFP) - From camel carpaccio to camel bourguignon and gold-leaf burger, the meat offered traditionally at big festivities of bedouins has become a fancy ingredient in the Gulf's prestigious restaurants.
Under the golden dome of Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace, which bills itself as a seven-star hotel, French chef Sandro Gamba proudly presents his latest: a camel burger bedded in gold-leaf bread, served with onion jam and smoked halloumi cheese.
On the side, the traditional french fries have been replaced by fried hummus fingers.
This dish, priced at around US$50 (S$63), has become "one of our best sellers," boasts Mr Gamba, the hotel's master chef who oversees its 15 restaurants.
"This burger reflects the image of Emirates Palace," the extravagant US$3 billion hotel, he said.
"We have gradually modified some recipes, such as replacing the famous veal burgundy with camel meat," said Mr Gamba, who worked in Paris and Chicago before arriving in Abu Dhabi.
And, he added, camel carpaccio has replaced beef in a dish which also boasts Italian truffles and a vinaigrette.
"In the United Arab Emirates, I found a wonderful camel farm that produces very tender and great-tasting meat. From then on, I decided to add this meat" to the hotel's menus, he said enthusiastically.
In April, Mr Gamba launched a week-long camel meat festival at Emirates Palace serving everything with a touch of camel from soup to steaks and camel rolls.
"The younger the camel, the more tender its meat will be," he said. "For some recipes, we must use the meat of young camels, which is as soft as butter."
"When the animal is older, you must marinate its meat and cook it for longer periods."
Dubbed the "ship of the desert", the camel occupies a significant place in the culture of the Arabian Peninsula. In the UAE, there are camel races, camel beauty contests and competitions for the tastiest camel cuisine.
Energy-rich Gulf states are now trying to promote their favourite animal's meat to the international gastronomic scene, after it has been traditionally eaten with rice by bedouins on special occasions.
This year, The Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products (EICMP), the maker of "Camelicious" camel milk, began exporting its products to Europe and Japan.
It uses camel milk as an ingredient in French desserts or coffees such as the "camel-ccino" and camel-milk lattes.
Dubai investors have also partnered with EICMP to produce chocolate made with camel milk, which contains less fat and three times more vitamin C than cow's milk.
Al-Nassma company now ships camel milk powder to Austria, where it is used to make chocolate that is then sent to Dubai for packaging.
"There are so many chocolates around the world, but they're mostly made from cow's milk. We wanted to present something different and special," said Al-Nassma spokeswoman Kirsten Lange.
"Our largest market right now lies in Japan. We are also focusing on South Asia and Europe," she said.
In neighbouring Qatar, French chef Alain Ducasse came up with a local adaptation of the famous Tournedos Rossini dish using camel meat, which he served at his Idam restaurant in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.
The meat is braised for five days and served with foie gras and black truffle sauce to create a "Camel Rossini", which costs around US$90.
"The camel meat dish is very special. It's the most-selling recipe on our menu," Idam's executive chef Romain Meder told AFP.
"Qataris highly demand the dish, in which we blend together two faraway worlds" - the classic French cuisine and that of the Gulf, said Mr Meder.
At the Emirates Palace, a German tourist in her 60s savours her camel burger. "It's delicious. But I don't think I'll ever get used to the idea of eating this animal's meat."