+ King Fish Biryani

Press The Freaking Publish Button with This Freaking Fish Biryani!

I don’t like looking back. I’m always constantly looking forward. I’m not the one to sort of sit and cry over spilt milk. I’m too busy looking for the next cow.Gordon Ramsay
King Fish Biryani

King Fish Biryani

Hello – Happy New Year to all of you! I had the pleasure of meeting Gordon Ramsay in October last year and found the above quote of his very compelling, specially for the state of mind I am always in. I am telling myself to absolve the essence of the quote into each and every cell that I have in my body. Otherwise, I will be doling out explanations that I think I owe to my readers and and myself… how could I write more than 30,000 words across 60 articles in 2016, but not a single word for my blog? Or why could I post more than 530 posts on my Instagram (@ishitaunblogged) but not a single image in this blog! I travelled to 4 different countries, eaten in more than 30 new restaurants, interviewed more than 20 chefs – a few with the Michelin fame, encountered several delicious moments – all of which deserve a space here. It’s not that I haven’t had the time – writing is all that I have done in the last year. Didn’t a single word or an image make the cut for my blog? I have lost count of how many did actually – all because I have been FREAKING OVERTHINKING! The only thing that I have realised is that the blog is the life line for my all my creative juices and it has to continue, no matter what. It started off being such a fun space depicting my Dubai life, my Bong heritage and my travels elsewhere. What happened? Dear Ishita… be Gordon Ramsay, and look for the next cow – or fish if that pleases your Bong soul! Debbie, my blogger friend (aka Coffee Cakes & Running) and editor at FoodeMag (the food & travel emagazine that I had cofounded and now edit, an oft repeated info in case any of you are joining me in my blog space for the first time), left me with the ultimatum – “Press The Freaking Publish Button before this midnight.” I promised her I will. “So what are you going to write about?” she asked. I answered: “A Freaking Fish Biryani!”

King Fish Biryani

King Fish Biryani during our lunch this weekend. Sadly this couldn’t be followed up with an adequate siesta that it so deserved.

Sniffing into fresh herbs and greens and brightly coloured fruits, I plopped up random stuff in the grocery this weekend. I danced in excitement when I saw a promising loot on the iced shelves of the fish section. I cooked up a few recipes in my head – all in flat thirty seconds of crossing the grocery aisles. The way I tugged at Big Z’s sleeves, it seemed like I was at a fancy grocery for the first time. Well, the first time after many weeks for sure, for the #BeardedBiker (that’s S formerly, but now transformed into this new hashtag permanently, much to my dislike) has taken away the grocery chore from me. Two reasons – One, I was proving to be more expensive and two, there was more wastage. The Z-Sisters of course had a way of manipulating me into buying stuff that we either didn’t need or were so much in excess of our needs that they regularly overshot their expiry dates and had to be thrown. “Please Mummy, please please please, can you buy some….?” Lady M too would tell me to add things randomly at the last minute, or minutes after the bill had been paid. “I forgot to write down…” These things don’t work with the Bearded Biker. No more apparent wastage. The part about my conscientious wife’s dented ego – well, I forgot about it soon as it worked to my advantage – no more last minute tweaks in the grocery list for flavoured gummies – and visibly cheaper grocery bills, fuller tummies, ampler time and more energy for my fingers to type!

Gulf News Fun Drive

Gulf News Fun Drive; Image credit – my friend Sneha

Meditation… Freaking Meditation anyone?

Everywhere I have been reading about the power of Meditation. The more I read, the more frustrated and irritated I become as I stumble on my path to traditional Meditation. That’s where friends come in – they twist and tell you things that’s convenient for you! According to my friend and wellness practitioner Tanuka (aka Soulight Tanuka on Facebook), Meditation is doing any activity which doesn’t make you think of anything. Cooking for me is then, Meditation, otherwise my mind is full of nonstop chatter! Result of my meditation on last Saturday  was this ~ FREAKING ~ Fish Biryani. Although the Bengali soul longed for Hilsa and all I could remember was the taste of the Hilsas from my last Kolkata visit, I have to admit that these King Fish steaks did a remarkable con job. Just because it was still the weekend and just because the Bearded Biker was back home after bashing the dunes in GN Fun Drive and just because he had put in a request for a King Fish Biryani many moons back – it had to be this fish Biryani on the menu. A Fish Biryani request coming from a Biryani loving Bong came as a bit of a surprise, because since time immemorial, a Biryani for a thoroughbred Bengali, had always meant an Awadhi Biryani (here’s a recipe of it from my blog)!

Bengali Hilsa Curry

During my Kolkata visit this time, my Mum-in-law’s ‘Shorshe Bata Iilish’ or the Mustard Hilsa was so subtly spicy and sublime, specially when she poured her love, thick mustardy love! In the last few years that I have visited Kolkata, I felt that the Hilsa didn’t taste quite special. Glad that in my last visit, every Hilsa that I tasted, whether fried or cooked in gravy, had been supreme. And for those who vote for the Kolaghat Iilish, the ones shown here are from Diamond Harbour. The Hilsa is a perfect rainy day companion so, if in Kolkata Let it rain…

Freaking Fish Biryani

  • Servings: 5
  • Time: 1-1/2 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category – Main Course; Cuisine type – Indian

Ingredients

2 cups Basmati rice
5 steaks of King Fish
1/2 tsp coriander powder
4 green cardamoms
2 half-inch long cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
2 tsp garam masala (the Bengali blend – a mixture of an equal proportion of powdered cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaf)
2 tsp fresh garlic paste
1 tsp fresh ginger paste
1 cup low-fat yoghurt
2 tbsp of ghee*
1/2 cup white oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 chilli, chopped finely if you want it spicy
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional – for garnishing)
salt to taste

Method
  1. Soak the rice in water for some time and drain out. Spread the rice grains thin over folded newspaper and let them dry.
  2. Mix coriander powder, turmeric powder, Kashmiri chilli powder, salt, ginger and garlic paste in yoghurt and marinate the fish steaks in the paste for thirty minutes. Heat oil in a flat pan and fry the fish steaks on both sides until the fish is almost cooked. Pour the remaining of the marinade and let it cook for a while.
  3. Heat oil in a flat pan and fry the onions until they become translucent. Set aside.
  4. Heat ghee in a deep, flat bottomed pan. Throw in the bay leaves, cardamoms, cinnamon sticks. Stir in the rice for a while. Add 4 cups of water (exactly double the amount of rice) and salt as per taste and cover with a lid. When the water starts to boil, cook in the lowest seam. Once the rice is cooked al dente, place the fried fish steaks on the surface along with the cooked marinade. Spread the fried onion. Splatter some ghee around the pan and put the lid back. Switch off the cooker by 5 minutes and remove from fire and let the Fish Biryani cook in its own seam.
  5. Garnish with chopped coriander and serve it FREAKING hot with a chilled Raita!

*The ghee that most Bengalis prefer to use is a bit strong in flavour and has an acquired taste (and preferably a brand called Jharna Ghee). It isn’t available here even in most Bangladeshi shops and hence travel back in our suitcases from Kolkata! You may also use any other brands of ghee or butter. Just so that there isn’t any more added confusion or disruption in your gastronomical thoughts, this tried and tested recipe doesn’t really belong traditionally to any region and has been developed in our kitchen – with great success!

Seabass stuffed with Green Peas, Coriander & Garlic Garnishing

Seabass stuffed with Green Peas, Coriander & Garlic Garnishing

At 6:45pm on Saturday, I got a sms from the Bearded Biker that there’s been a 600 Dhs RTA fine… a second one of a similar value within the first half of January in this new year… in the same Oudh Metha road. I couldn’t figure out WHY THE FREAKING HECK? I could have bought myself a new geeky gadget for myself with that money – any that can detect these radars and caution me beforehand? I also missed out the opportunity of a weekend afternoon siesta that the Fish Biryani lunch so deserved as an immediate follow-up. All this because of the ridiculous amount of time spent in MOE to collect my annual acquisition – a new pair of geeky glasses from my regular opticians. This also brought me to the realisation that the amount of money spent on my glasses ever since my childhood, just to make my thick glasses somewhat decently thin (I know similar fate awaits me in other aspects of life too), would probably have bought me a fairly oversized diamond ring, in which case bigger sizes wouldn’t matter. The mushiest and the most touching moment amidst all these unfair interludes of life ? Big Z declaring that she will forego all ECAs in school this term and her thirteenth birthday too that’s due in May end (not very soon but fairly soon, according to her and for which she has been counting days from the very next day after she turned twelve – bless her), in order to compensate the unexpected expenditure arisen from my fines. Her kindness melted my heart and while I have put her offer on hold now for a more pressing emergency in the future, I am seeking the next best and the most economic intervention possible – let my Bearded Biker do the weekly groceries. In the meanwhile, I am concentrating more on the menu to cook something delicious daily – it was a smoking hot Seabass stuffed with Green Peas, Coriander & Garlic Garnishing that I cooked the very next day. But first things first, without much OVERTHINKING (which I am capable of, in various intensities) and with less than two hours to go for the Cinderella hour, I have to press the FREAKING Publish Button and I hope that you try out my FREAKING Fish Biryani – it’s fairly FREAKING easy!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: Looking back if I must (although Gordon wouldn’t approve of it), but looking down I mustn’t! It was only last week that I had an unique dining experience with Dinner in the Sky.

Only FOOD can lure me up there – 50m above sea level, harnessed up in a seat and hanging from a crane!

Disclaimer: I had a media invite for Dinner in the Sky.  The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent and this isn’t a sponsored post. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. Do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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+ Travelling Green

Travelling Green | Also With Kids!

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

Rafters' Retreat, Kitugala, Srilanka

Rafters Retreat – Kitulgala, Srilanka: Many scenes in the ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ were shot in Srilanka. Most of them were at Kitulgala including the last scene where the bridge explodes. This is the place that inspired me to start my own travel blog.

Travel Green if you want to keep on traveling.

Tips for Green Travel

I am not an environment expert. This is my green quest (or should I say green surfing over the internet?) to learn about Responsible Travelling. The objective is to learn green travel tips and ideas that are easy to apply and share with you and also gift them to the Z-Sisters so that they may continue travelling and exploring the world we live in. For what I read and understand, with the overload of information that I have right now is that, we are living in a very environmentally fragile space and we need to be aware of our surrounding environmental issues, the harmful effects of human activity on the biophysical environment. This post has links to sites that provide easy tips and suggestions to holidaymakers like me – who have good intentions but don’t know where to start or how to start. Read on for more ideas on accommodation, food and travel for a guilt-free Green holiday.

Talking about ourselves, our family has been an ‘easy environmentalist’ – conscientious but not very conscious, hence this quest. We have tried to travel green as much as is practical, booking ourselves into hotels and resorts who follow the green policy. I believe that an Eco-Resort is available for everyone, for all budgets. But not always everywhere. We are proud that the list of the eco resorts that we’ve have had a chance to visit so far, is gradually increasing – but these have been a bit on the high end kinds. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that a part of the money that we spent on our holiday, will most probably find itself re-generating something meaningful and empowering someone, somewhere on this planet, not just pay wages to people employed in the travel industry.

There has never been such an urgency as it is now to Travel Green. Counting carbon footprints (what is carbon footprint?) as well as currency notes while on vacation and thinking of alternative green ways (please don’t demand fresh Cheese air-freighted from France, when you are in a remote place in Mongolia!) while traveling is the only way to make sure that we can still go on vacations when we turn grandparents and our children turn parents. What would you do when holidaying options on earth cease? You could still book tickets on the Virgin Galactic to travel to the moon. The potential cost of such a holiday would be only $100 million – the cost of a single ticket to the moon. Of course, with a refundable deposit of $200K!  [Virgin Galactic flight to the moon]

There is only one checklist for Green Travel – Is your environment being cared for?

It can’t be that difficult. We care for our children. We care for our homes. As humans, we have experience in care-giving. Surely, we can care for the environment too. All it takes is to believe that we can care or if push comes to thrust – we have to care, there is no other option. And you can travel green with kids. They have no idea about the colour of your travel!

Myths that block our minds about Green travel:
– It’s not comfortable and cannot be luxurious
– It’s more expensive
– It’s not child-friendly
– It’s only for those who are into adventure sports and nature lovers
– There is no urban type of a holiday destination – it must be in the tropical jungles or the forests or some wildlife sanctuary
– It requires extensive planning
– It’s meant for backpackers only
– It’s meant for environmentalist and not geared towards common layman like you and me

Remember – it’s only about making certain choices – choosing the right hotels, the right travel operators, making some background studying on the travel packages, choosing the right food (you can sacrifice the food that you are used to and opt for local variants or products of the country you are traveling for a few days). Choose the right travel options – and look out for Green destinations and Green accommodations.

Note: GREEN tour packages exist on every continent for all age, interest and family composition!

Following are some easy and simple green links so that your Green Quest doesn’t become an ordeal. From different destinations, to different holiday types to various type of accommodation you will find them all.

Interesting sites/blogs on Green Travel:
Greenty; Greenty’s Blog – Gives you wonderful options of Eco Resorts and Eco Hotels in Asia, Africa, Europe, Caribbean, Latin America and North America.
Your Travel Choice – Eco-destinations, responsible travel tips, climate change and tourism and more.
Responsible Travel – From Adventure holidays, Beach Holidays, Family Holidays, Wild-life Holidays, Walking Holidays and more from various destinations in Asia, Australia & Oceania, Africa, Europe, South America; Luxury hotels to Unusual accommodation – you will get everything and anything of your choice here. They promise to provide ‘the world’s best responsible and ecotourism holidays.
Eco India; Eco-India’s Blog – Eco-Parks, Eco-Tours, Eco-Resorts/Lodge, Eco-Activities, Eco-Places in natural reserves in India that preserve the environment and conserve endangered species.
Eco Luxury Retreats of the World – A collaboration of the best luxurious retreats in the world ‘that are ecologically and socially responsible with all what represents excellence in hospitality services and authentic experience, demonstrating that the two can go hand in hand.’ Did you think that Eco Resorts cannot be expensive? You may want to check in into one of the retreats enlisted here.

Readings that might make you believe in Green Travel:
What is Responsible Tourism?
Green Travel Tips – How to leave nothing but a footprint in your travels
Principles of Ecotourism
Sensible Travel Can Save The Environment
10 Myths of Responsible Traveling
Global Warming

Do share your thoughts on eco-travel and travelling green, specially if you have been living in this over pampered, over-indulgent sand pit! Or have you already been taking small measures that can add up to be a bundle of green travel ideas – practical and sustainable in the the long-term?

Unblogging it all,

Yours Ishita

Disclaimer: All illustrations have been developed by myself. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent, excepting the resources that I have used. This is not a sponsored post and while you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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New Bu Qtair | A Revamped Dubai Institution In Video

Things do not change; we change. Henry David Thoreau

Bu Qtair, the Dubai institution, has a new location now. A shift of 100 meters from one side of the road to the other – an upgraded location – a sea view along the fishing harbour. There are no more plastic chairs around and you are seated in posher-than-plastic cane chairs by the sea. Although the old charm of porta cabin is gone, a few things haven’t changed – the dining experience in terms of the charmingly harrowing long waits, the overdone crispy fried fish (my opinion, you might beg to differ), and the throbbing crowd. More on my latest blogpost… Bu Qtair In A New Avatar.

It was time to make a new video on the revamped Bu Qtair. Hope you all like the video of new Bu Qtair‬ as much as you liked my video on old Bu Qtair as it pushes beyond the 91K+ views on You Tube that the latter had made! Here’s presenting the video of the new Bu Qtair!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. This is not a sponsored post and while you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Al Fannah | How Deep (Fried) Is Your (Fish) Love?

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. ∼ Maimonides

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The painted walls are supposed to resemble an aquarium at night when viewed from outside the glass window

The above quote might be true, but you know what – perhaps not applicable to Dubai. As long as we are living in a city like Dubai… let someone else fish, fry them and feed you the fish. So, here’s our new find (almost budget find) – Al Fannah – that has my blogger friend and confidante Coffee Cakes and Running and myself drooling. Located inside the Umm Sequimm Fishing Harbour and the Dubai Ports and Customs Authorities, our hunch is that this hidden gem is soon going to be the next ‘Bu Qtair‘ in town, alibi some fairy lights, melamine plates, steel cutlery and queue-less waits. Also with better fish and a lesser bill (Dhs 10 less for each item off the menu as compared to Bu Qtair). The concept is very much the same – you go upto the counter, select your fresh fish, pay by the kg for the shrimps or by the piece for the big fish, tell them whether you want your fish fried or grilled (the latter is clearly not possible in Bu Qtair) and wait at your table.

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The fried shrimps with fish curry, just waiting for the Malabari Paratha to dip into it

Al Fannah needs attention by itself, not because of where it stands in the race against Bu Qtair. To clear things from the start, the restaurant doesn’t have any intention to compete. It so happened that discovering Al Fannah also had the strings of the word ‘Bu Qtair’ attached to it… on our last visit to Bu Qtair as we were heading out, somebody randomly handed in a flyer of this ‘new restaurant which also served similar fried shrimp and fish’. It looked pretty in the evening – with fairy lights and bright blue walls that gave it a glow like an aquarium from the outside. So, on a random afternoon, Debbie and I wanted a new find – a budget find – to cheer us up. The thought of a great Dubai weather, al fresco dining and good sea food prompted us to Al Fannah… and we were bowled over!

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The Biryani rice – fragrant and flavourful. My suggestion – go for the Fish Biryani!

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The make shift plastic table cover that already switches on our hungry mode

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The same shot sans the plastic table cover – either which way, the glory of the fish doesn’t lessen

The food: We gobbled up two (or may be three) bowls full of fish curry dipping in the pieces of soft Malabari Parathas; a rough 750 gms of fried shrimps pre-marinated in their ‘secret’ spice (I know the secret spice is a clichéd one but I will probably have to go all the way to Kerala to get this secret one); a kg of Sheri deep fried to perfection – soft flakes tearing into our fingers. I also fell for the Biryani rice that our server Shiraz, promised would be ‘bohut acchaa‘ or too good. While I thought that the latter would only make a great prop for my instagram and probably walk away with me in a parcel, destiny clearly had a different intention. For it was cleary too good! If you are a rice eater, my suggestion would be to actually order just the Fish Biryani – it costs Dhs 12/plate – the quantity of rice is quite adequate for two and it covers a sumptuous fried fish (about 9 inches long)… until and unless of course you want a bigger fish to make yourself happy. Service is prompt and the staff attentive – as expected in similar casual dining places. And the food reaches the table steaming hot… well, what can I say? I am clearly sold!

The story: We chat to Younus, the brother of the restaurant owner. He is pretty conversant in English and tells us how the local partner has fishing boats, so the fish that is served here is fresh, local catch. It is quite evident from the location of Al Fannah (inside the Dubai Ports and Customs Authorities’ premises) that the owner has vasta/connection. He also has experience in F&B industry with a line up of other restaurants around Bur Dubai and Al Barsha. While Younus chats with us, the owner walks in and looks at us a bit suspiciously. Younus tells him that we are from a magazine – I guess that from a few random words from their conversation. What is interesting about these self-made entrepreneurs is that their behavior to their customers are consistent – irrespective of whether the latter happens to be media or not. No frills and bonus love in anticipation that you might actually be helping them by some word of mouth. This reminds me of the little story of Musa (again of Bu Qtair!)… when I went to give him a CD of a video that I had made on Bu Qtair (which had become quite popular on You Tube), the first thing that he asks me is whether I would still be paying for the coke that I was drinking!

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The fairy lights adorning the al fresco dining once the sun is down

It was quite obvious that I had to return soon to Al Fannah with the Z-Sisters and S and amidst the fairy lights and cool sea breeze we did return… very soon. Not many places in Dubai warrants me to come back. And also because my job as the Editor of FoodeMag dxb requires me to try out new places all the time – big (like the last one that visited) and small… and that means returning to a place is an opportunity lost to eat out at a new place. For one thing, Al Fannah is not for those on the look out for a romantic hotel set up, but a cute and modest one by the seaside (with artificial green carpeting under your feet while you dine al fresco and humble fairy lights – colourful ones!), but there will surely be fresh delicious seafood to bind your hearts. I do hope that the place becomes popular without the need to diversify their menu with other popular Indian dishes – Chicken dishes as Shiraz mentioned – or the Indian Chinese that they promised to serve me on my next visit.

Which is your favourite budget haunts in Dubai – without mentioning the clichéd Bu Qtair or Ravi’s – where you have to dig in with your hands? That brings back to this picture borrowed from Debbie where I am digging with my hand – not manicured yes, but it’s bringing back all my memories of deep (fried) fish love from our new find!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

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I am digging with my hand – it’s bringing back all my memories of deep (fried) fish love… for the first time I don’t care about my non-manicured hands!

More info on Al Fannah Restaurant. The google coordinates are approximately 25.15167, 55.19766 and the direction can be found on my google map >>

Also read Pickle My Fancy’s review.

Disclaimer: The bill for our lunch was Dhs 110 for two persons which also included water and diet cokes, while the bill for our dinner was Dhs 350 for 5 persons (admitting that we did overeat!). This isn’t a sponsored post and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Quique Dacosta | When Food Becomes An Enigma

Each person is an enigma. You’re a puzzle not only to yourself but also to everyone else, and the great mystery of our time is how we penetrate this puzzle. ∼ Theodore Zeldin
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Smoke, rose petals and mystery – that was the beginning of our evening at Enigma

enigma
ɪˈnɪɡmə/
noun
noun: enigma; plural noun: enigmas
  1. a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand.
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Fois Gras – a classic Quique Dacosta dish that is now celebrating 15 years

Difficult to understand, yet beautiful and stimulating to the senses… mysterious yet slowly revealing like a poetry… that is how I will describe my experience at Enigma. Did I comprehend it? Will I go back to it? Will I recommend it? For now, one thing is certain, this is a first of a kind of a dining concept that Dubai (and the world for that matter) has ever witnessed. Set rightly in the opulence and grandeur of the newly opened Palazzo Versace Dubai, Enigma is introducing a concept of rotating menus along with its chefs four times a year, each chef being renowned internationally. The menu is confidential the secret menu is revealed as the evening unfolds amidst drama (and theatrical performance of food, if I may add) and each dish tells an untold story. A seating has to be pre-booked and reserved online against payment (www.enigmadxb.com) – definitely something that the Dubai diner isn’t used to.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Quique Dacosta’s quirky palate cleanser in the midst of drama

A day after the first season was launched, a select few of us had the opportunity to witness what can be regarded as Dubai’s first avant-garde dining experience. Opening the first season was the untold story named ‘Vanguard from Qique Dacosta, whose avant-garde eponymous restaurant in Dénia in Spain has three Michelin stars and is currently listed at number 39 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Interestingly, the restaurant in Dénia will remain shut as his entire team will now be based in Dubai until April.Conceptualised by Patrick Robineau, the hotel manager of Palazzo Versace Dubai, each pop up at Enigma is intended to be “an exceptional dining experience that people crave and yearn to keep up with, just like other highly desired commodities.”

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Didier, the restaurant manager with Quique for the last decade, serving a guest with passion and as he partakes in narrating the story behind each dish

As we walked into the restaurant, the first thing that struck us was that the tables weren’t set up. This was interesting as I had just been told of the million dirhams Versace crockery that graced the other restaurant in the hotel – Vanitas. As Didier, the French restaurant manager and confidante who has been working with Quique for the last decade explained later, the entire experience at Vanguard was supposed be like an art revealing in front of the diner – starting with a blank canvas. Once the diner walked in and was seated, that’s when the colours would start splashing on the canvas and the culinary performance begin. The menu is shrouded in secrecy and I will let that be, instead I will take you through my interview with Quique that followed a day after the dinner. This will probably reveal a part of how Quique creates sheer art and story though his food – while keeping the enigma intact. Since the menu is a secret and there are many complexities to the dishes, it is advisable to let the team know about any food allergy and preferences so that an alternative is already thought of. What did I think of the menu? As I told on air the next day… I want to keep it a mystery as Quique would probably want it to be that way. But textures, fruity flavours, interesting play of colours, dramatic presentation mark the dishes. Yes food plucked from inside a rose, a sudden switching off of the lights or trying to figure out the real edible charcoal amongst a plate full of real charcoal – there are too many twists and surprises that need to be experienced by your self!

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Quique Dacosta is instagram savvy and maintains his own social media accounts

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Quique Dacosta adds his final touch to the dessert. The pine branches are leftovers from Christmas following his ‘no wastage’ principle

My interview with Quique Dacosta therefore starts on a different note from fellow blogger and friend Foodiva‘s interview, having already experienced Quique’s food. Interestingly, we were both seated at the same table during our dinner at Enigma, and I think that her interview gives a different perspective to Quique while my write up delves more into Quique’s food. (My questions are in bold).

∼ Our dining experience the other day was more like a theater which probably holds an excitement for a first timer. Will it still hold an enigma for a repeat diner if the menu doesn’t change much? It’s like seeing a good movie twice – the first time when you watch it, you are surprised. The next time when you watch it, you can focus more on the details and you will always discover a new element that you wouldn’t have probably noticed in the first time. Obviously, it’s a movie that we have just started so the next time onward you will probably understand and appreciate a little bit of the ‘behind the scene’ effort and the concept. The menu may change a little bit and you might find a completely new menu or there might be a surprising twist to the dish same dish. The second time since the ‘setting’ is familiar, the diner will actually appreciate the food more and we promise that there will always be some twist and surprises.

∼ Your instagram feeds suggest that you have been sight seeing a bit and have also visited the spice market here. Are you planning to incorporate local spices in your menu? We went to the spice market and came across such amazing variety of new ingredients that we will certainly incorporate in our menu here. Just like we brought a few herbs and spices in our suitcases here, we are also going to take back a few ideas along with spices and introduce in the menu in Dénia.

∼ The Quique Restaurant in Dénia is focussed on sourcing things locally. Although the local farm movement is evolving here, how do you transplant an idea from a place which is organic to its origin to the artificial environment of Dubai? It really depends upon the quality of the produce and where we are. We try to deal with this in the most pragmatic way. We try to obtain the best produce depending upon where we are. It really doesn’t matter whether a tomato comes from Abu Dhabi or Italy or our farm in Dénia. What really matters is the taste and the flavour and the quality of the tomato.

∼ We tasted almost 10 dishes – are these dishes already there in Dénia or they are new to Dubai? (after a bit of discussion between Quique and Didier, the final verdict for the number of courses turned out to be 14!) If there are two complex elements in a dish, we consider it as two dishes instead of one because of the effort that goes into making them. The menu that we are serving here comprises of three historic ones – ‘The Living Forest’, the Gazpacho and the Fois Gras (the latter celebrating 15 years of conception!); four dishes from the last season in Dénia – the Rose, the Leaves, Charcoal and the Rice and the rest is specially created for Dubai. I want to add here, that although we have kept the classical dishes pretty much the same as we would serve in Dénia, we have tweaked here a bit in some dishes, for example, in the fois gras – while in Dénia we add rum and coke, here we have added some lychee components as we didn’t want to create any dish with alcohol.

∼ Each dish seems to have a beautiful story, but is there a sequence as to how the story is being told? Not really. But we have been trained to look for balance in the dishes in terms of flavours and quantity and our main intention was to have a progression of flavours. Although there wasn’t any sequence to a story but I would describe it as a music album where all the songs have its own little stories and all the twelve songs together make a concert album which is complete in its own.

∼ Do you fear that many restaurants are now replicating you – the avant garde concept, molecular gastronomy or complex presentations in their dishes? What is the future of this? I mean, this was the futuristic cooking… now what… what is the future? There are many chefs who are using avant garde technique as a way of seeing their own style of gastronomy. They don’t have to make copies as there is so much to do in the world of gastronomy. What is the future? I don’t have the crystal ball! What does YOUR crystal ball say? We have customers travelling from all over the world to see what I am doing, understand my emotions. All their waits and travels are worth the unique experience that we provide and that can be the only future – constant creative innovation that creates a diner’s curiosity.

∼ Did you actually come to Dubai before or try the local food? Did you work out in your mind what will work and what will not? No, I haven’t been but not because I didn’t want to. And in a way it was good because the Dubai diners would actually get to experience the original Quique Dacosta food rather than a menu that has been influenced by a prior visit or experiencing the local food. Specially after having visited the Spice market, I doubt whether it would be possible not to let them influence the menu I may create henceforth! So, it wouldn’t be exactly be a Qique Dacosta menu but an adopted Dubai version of a Quique Dacosta menu. Having said that, what I can tell is that if the diners want a my restaurant here in Dubai, then I will still have to get everything from outside. The only possibility right now to get Quique Dacosta food is to visit my restaurant in Dénia. But an easier way would be to try out my food during the time I am here!

∼ What inspires Quique Dacosta? For example, painters have inspirations and having experienced your food, I can say that you are no less than a painter (interestingly, last year Quique Dacosta was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Miguel Hernández University for his exceptional culinary artistry). What inspires you to paint the way you do, in a plate? Products send you messages. Yesterday, for example, we tried different kinds of peppers and some lemons that I had never seen before and they were interesting that I was excited. When I set my hand on some produce which seem perfect, an idea is immediately formed and inspiration begins.

∼ What inspires Quique Dacosta? For example, painters have inspirations and having experienced your food, I can say that you are no less than a painter (interestingly, last year Quique Dacosta was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Miguel Hernández University for his exceptional culinary artistry). What inspires you to paint the way you do, in a plate? Products send you messages. Yesterday, for example, we tried different kinds of peppers and some lemons that I had never seen before and they were interesting that I was excited. When I set my hand on some produce which seem perfect, an idea is immediately formed and inspiration begins.

∼ What does Quique Dacosta cook at home? Or does he cook at all? I am not at home too often and mostly working in the restaurants or travelling. However, I have got two kids and I try to keep everything simple, basic and traditional, of course with a bit of a professional touch! I use lot of vegetables and make soups – specially the very popular Spanish fish soup with vegetables.

∼ Is there any childhood comfort food that haunts you often? I am not like someone who is in need of comfort food and have been busy working since a very young age in reinventing the art of gastronomy.

∼ In the age of social media, how do you maintain the mystery element, the enigma of your food? I know how secretive you are about your menu and didn’t give me the printed copy of the menu, lest it’s revealed. Or do you want people to actually share? It’s obvious that I want the diners to be surprised when they come to the restaurant. Everybody has got his/her own thoughts, words and experiences. For example, when a music album comes out, you still want to go to a concert to watch your favourite singer or a band. Why is that? It’s because the experience is very different and touches some additional senses. Everybody needs to experience a beautiful sensation in person. Even though you may google different places and countries, you still make travel plans and visit those places. Why do you go to a museum when every image is available today in the internet? If you go to a museum it stimulates your sight, if you listen to music, it stimulates your ears, but food touches all your senses. So even if one has an idea of how a dish might look, it is still a different experience to actually smell it, touch it and finally taste it. And the emotions are bound to be different for every person as not everybody perceives everything in the same way!

∼ Curious, is Enigma a romantic venue at all when all the focus is in the ambiance and the beauty of the food rather than in the partner? It is definitely the most romantic venue. There is so much magic happening all the time – for example, it was only last night that a couple fell in love while they were relaxing in the terrace after a magical dinner, waiting for their coffee to come and today they are together! It’s a place for romance to bloom as each dish is created with a lot of passion, beauty and has an element of seduction. (and yes, I remembered now Quique Dacosta describing the dessert that we had tasted earlier as erotic!)

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Watching ‘The Living Forest’ come to life at our table amidst emanating smoke – this is one of the classic Quique Dacosta dishes that is going to be in the Dubai menu

While my partner and I loved the evening that had so much of poetic nuances, mystery and mastery, attention to detail – starting with the movie that was being projected on the wall behind me (Fritz Lang’s 1972 silent movie Metropolis set in a futuristic urban dystopia and other such appropriate movies)… I did feel that the staff probably didn’t have a taste of much of what was being served – everyone seemed to be in awe of the huge name that was attached to the chef at the helm of the kitchen. My favourite dish was the rice dish that I thought I heard that there was duck in it, while clearly it was the pegion who was having its last say here! Do read another friend and fellow blogger The Hedonista’s tryst with Enigma.

What is your take on a dinner where the menu is shrouded in secrecy? Are you comfortable and excited to be led by the course of the evening and let your senses guide you or would you rather be at the helm of your own choices and like to wait in the table knowing what is in the plate that is being brought to you?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

A lot of beautiful visuals, forms and textures playing in my mind that night... starting with the dramatic dining experience at Enigma... Quique's mastery in mesmerizing the diner... to this incredible chandelier in the lobby which was created in acrylic and not crystal, I was told!

A lot of beautiful visuals, forms and textures playing in my mind that night… starting with the dramatic dining experience at Enigma… Quique’s mastery in mesmerizing the diner… to this incredible chandelier in the lobby which was created in acrylic and not crystal, I was told!

You can book into Quique Dacosta’s Vanguard >>  www.enigmadxb.com.
Until 12th April, 2016; Dinner only and closed on Sundays
Price/Guest: AED750/person on weekdays and AED850/person on weekends

Disclaimer: I had been an invited guest at Enigma and I had the opportuntiy to interview Quique Dacosta as I will be writing a special feature on him for FoodeMag dxb. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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Eating Up Sharjah With Frying Pan Adventures – Part 2

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

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Nothing can be more true than the above quote and that realisation dawns even more on a tour with Frying Pan Adventures. I had recently been on a #savourSHJ trail organized by Frying Pan Adventures in collaboration with Heart of Sharjah. Arva Ahmed, the founder of the former and Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi, Head of Events for Heart of Sharjah, take us through the heritage and glorious tales of Sharjah’s past. While the first part of my journey (lasting almost two and a half hours… Immersing Myself Into The Heart Of Sharjah – Part 1) is a walk through the restored heritage sites of historical Sharjah, in the second part of the trail it was all about smells and sights of alleys and crowded markets. In a nutshell – eating up Sharjah!

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Leaving Heart of Sharjah and strolling into the old souq

Heart of Sharjah is the largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region. Planned over a 15 year period, to be completed by 2025, it seeks to revitalize the heritage district as a vibrant cultural destination by unraveling a glorious past – restoring historical buildings, constructing new structures following traditional Sharjah architecture and transforming them into hotels, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and markets, where the current generations and the future generations can experience Sharjah’s cultural and social fabric.

And… Frying Pan Adventures seek to uncover and share the rich and authentic fabric of culinary experiences that Dubai has to offer by walking you through the back alleys and feeding out of delicious and tasty eating holes.

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Mohammadia Cafeteria in the Old Souq has been there for the last 30 years

Mohammadia Cafeteria: Leaving Heart of Sharjah to explore more of the city, our first stop was Mohammadia Cafeteria for ‘sambusa in samoon’, a fusion experiment that have stood the test of time. Deep fried vegetable samosas that have been crushed, are placed into a hot dog bread mercilessly with the ultimate drizzle of a hot chili sauce. The price of this amazing concoction doesn’t surprise me – Dhs 2 for almost a footer. But what surprises me is the shattering fact that Arva throws at my face – Samosa didn’t seem to have an Indian passport – but originated from the Middle East where it was called sambosa. As evidence, she takes out her smartphone and reads out excerpts from the pages of history! A dose of Masala chai later, I am on my mission to find out the brands that go into the making of this over sweetened delight – Alokozay, Lipton and Brookbond and sweet condensed milk from American Garden as the sweetener (surprisingly not Rainbow Milk as the latter is the secret ingredient in most cafeteria chais in this region). Fatima tells us how the owner of this 30 year old cafeteria started off by going from one home to the other with a basket on his head, frying  sambusas and putting them in samoon  to make fresh sandwiches.

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An inscription in gold from the pages of Quran

Goldsmith alley: We are guided along the Wall of Sharjah made with coralstone and that dates back to the 16th century AD. A lot of restoration work is in progress and we walk past Al Hisn Fort and Sharjah Institute for Theatrical Arts towards the Goldsmith alley. This alley is lined with small workshops of goldsmiths and gem cutters. Most artisans are from Kolkata and I strike up conversations in Bengali and am explained how busy they are making silver prototypes before the final jewellery is made in gold. An inscription from Quran hanging on the wall catches my attention and the beauty and profundity of the translated message as one of the goldsmith explains to me outshines the gold plate.

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The gas fuelled huge tandoor in Mohd Hanif Bakery resembles a raging volcano

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Tandoori naan stuffed with aloo – the happiness is in the stuffing and the slather of Dalda

Mohd Hanif Bakery: Our next stop was at this Afghani Bakery in Al Mareija – an eating hole making its presence felt by the aroma of their sheer heaven stuffed Tandoori naans or flat breads! Tremendous heat emanating from the huge gas Tandoor is compensated by the naans clinging with all their life inside the walls of the tandoor – so as to be cooked with love and tenderness followed by a slathering of Dalda (I checked… not ghee, Dalda is a popular brand of hydrogenated vegetable oil used in India) before it is eventually served to the hungry onlookers – us!

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The man at the counter at the sweet shop is unperturbed with all the chaos that surrounded him with colourful sweets, innumerable questions and flash bulbs

Al Rolla Sweets: Still in the same Al Mareija area, our next destination is a Gujarati sweet and snacks shop where Arva has already made her final selection for us, after having done several tasting sessions. Here we taste the saffron flavoured peda which is more like a milk fudge made with khoya – a thick reduced form of milk, ghee or clarified butter and refined sugar!

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Salmiyah Nuts which has been here in the heart of Zam Zam market for the last 40 years

Salmiyah Nuts: ‘This is of the bounty of my Lord’. An acknowledgment of this eternal truth is probably all it takes to turn something ordinary into a legend. Salmiyah Nuts today is a Sharjah heritage and an institution that has been in existence for the last 40 years. Set in the pavement by a parking lot surrounded by high-rises, this is where traffic comes to a stand still in the evenings as the shutters roll up. The kiosk cum street shop turns into a culinary destination with people queuing up to buy delicate chickpeas coated in different flavours – both sweet and salted. Ali, the founder of Salmiyah Nuts started his business 40 years ago when he would sell special baby chickpea brought from Iran in his wheel barrow. Eventually the municipality confiscated his cart and the Sharjah Ruler built this kiosk  for him which resembles a fort. Although there is a sense of pride, Sadat Anwar, Ali’s son has no arrogance and serves all customers humbly. He does make a reference to the fact that their roasted nuts are not only popular amongst Sharjah residents but also ministers and dignitaries.

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Zam Zam restaurant which is very popular with the Afghans and the locals

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Kulfis that resemble a work of art in Cafe Khezana

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Kulfi served with Falooda and Rabdi

Cafeteria Khezana: Our last stop is the 15 year old Pakistani cafeteria for deliciously divine thick and creamy Kulfis. While others opt for Kulfi sticks that are judiciously divided into two (one half for each health conscious group member), I opt for the Kulfi and Falooda version – the one that is made even richer and calorie-laden with the addition of creamy Rabdi and a thick sweet syrup made with Basil seeds. Overwhelming and intoxicating – this rich crowning dessert is neither for the fainthearted nor the artery clogged heart! Caféteria Khezana seems to be popular with its savoury chaats – a street snack variation from the subcontinent – but that’s for my next visit.

As we walked back and our tour was nearing the end, stories never ceased. Arva and Fatima told us how the entire area would be restored into heritage sites as underneath most of the high rises lay the foundation to the original city of Sharjah or the ruling families’ homes. Among other interesting things, Arva showed us a circular structure – probably the only round wind tower in the region. We also learn about Sharjah Institute for Theatrical Arts that is now a popular cultural venue for drama shows, drama training and theatrical workshops.

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A Gujrati lunch thaali in… well, Arva wants to keep the venue as a surprise!

The day had been full of delightful surprises -knowing about a new place and sharing a few hours (few 5 hours!) walking with like minded people. If there wasn’t any mention of a proper sit down meal, it was not because we didn’t have one , but because it’s not going to be part of the next trail that you might be booking into. Instead, what you will have is the one pictured above that my friend Mita tasted and certifies (the above picture is borrowed from Arva – although all the other pictures have been taken by me, but on her borrowed camera!). Signing off – no other day can be more apt than today to keep my promise of writing the sequel of #savourSHJ trail… Frying Pan Adventures completes three long years TODAY… of adventure and exploring the heritage reeking back alleys of a city which is leaping each day to ‘tomorrow’ taking more than exponential steps – amidst the garb of poshness and modernity. May the Frying Pan continue to sizzle!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

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Sangetha Swaroop (of Gulf News), Afsha Ahmed (The National), Sally Prosser (My Custard Pie) and Arva Ahmed… all walking back to the start point

You can book into #savourSHJ trail from Frying Pan Adventures
Next Dates: Thursday, January 28
Duration: Approx. 4.5 hours
Price/Guest: AED 299.00 inclusive of 8 stops featuring 1 restaurant for brunch, 1 old-time sandwich cafeteria, 3 sweet stops, 1 bakery & 2 beverage stops

Disclaimer: I had been a media guest along with my favourite foodie companion Sally Prosser of My Custard Pie and others in this trip with the transport provided by Careem. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Immersing Myself Into The Heart Of Sharjah – Part 1

You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared. ∼ Robbie Robertson

#savourSHJ Trail with Frying Pan Adventures and Heart of Sharjah

The last time I went on a Frying Pan adventure, the tour duration lasted 4:23:01 hours and I have been burning calories ever since. Although it’s taken me two and a half years to hop on another adventure with them (blaming it partly to the dairy of the Z-Sisters), all the different tastes and flavours that I tasted on my first trail are still intact. This time my adventure was to Sharjah, an emirate that is very close to my heart. By Dubai standards, that means literally another continent – hence the lure of a discount and the comfort of a Careem car transfer to those booking into the tour! With a city where each geographical pocket is so segregated and unfamiliar to the residents living in another locality (Karama seems like a journey to the moon for a Marina resident, or a Bur Dubai dweller wilts trying to figure out where Muraqabbad street is in Deira), the #savourSHJ trail organized by Frying Pan Adventures in collaboration with Heart of Sharjah, is a gorgeous eye opener to the heritage and tales of the glorious past that has shaped the Sharjah of today. It is also an opportunity for the beckoning tourist or the resident to discover more of what the UAE has to offer, apart from the glamourous tourist spots flickering on travel channels. This is the first part of my journey – not a short one if you look at it, considering that it must have been at least two and a half hours of walk through 200 years of history!

Wall of Sharjah made with coralstone that dates back to the 16th century AD

Wall of Sharjah made with coralstone that dates back to the 16th century AD

Heart of Sharjah is the largest historical preservation and restoration project in the region. Planned over a 15 year period, to be completed by 2025, it seeks to revitalize the heritage district as a vibrant cultural destination by unraveling a glorious past – restoring historical buildings, constructing new structures following traditional Sharjah architecture and transforming them into hotels, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and markets, where the current generations and the future generations can experience Sharjah’s cultural and social fabric.

And… Frying Pan Adventures seek to uncover and share the rich and authentic fabric of culinary experiences that Dubai has to offer by walking you through the back alleys and feeding out of delicious and tasty eating holes.

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Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi, Head of Events for Heart of Sharjah

The culminating result? A 5-hour long incredible visual journey into the bustling alleys with bricks of history and explosion of my senses with mesmerising tastes and colours. Tales of people, tales of places, tales of nostalgia. We were led by the storyteller extraordinaire – Arva Ahmed, the founder of Frying Pan Adventures who has spent her childhood in Sharjah. She was joined in by Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi, a local born in the very Heart of Sharjah and who has seen the changing face of the city like no other. We started on our journey at the Discovery Centre with our newly acquired knowledge of the area – how a reverse urban planning (almost) was about to take place with the demolition of high rises that surrounded the historic area and rebuilding and restoring of the entire area with buildings and structures that reflect Sharjah architectural heritage.

In Majlis al Shaabi, the traditional majlis for the elderly,, patience is a virtue at the Dominos table!

In Majlis al Shaabi, the traditional majlis for the elderly, patience is a virtue at the Domino table!

 Fashion fades, only style remains the same. ∼ Coco Chanel

Fashion fades, only style remains the same. ∼ Coco Chanel; Nothing can be more true than the young-at-heart elderly men who frequent the Majlis al Shaabi

Majlis al Shaabi: Our next stop was Majlis al Shaabi, a traditional majlis cum recreation club for the elderly where dominos and cards were the only things that were meant to be given any form of attention, followed by kadak chai! The little conversation that we had with the gentlemen in the majlis was interesting and strewn with nostalgia and sadness that engulfs in remembering a bygone era. Dr Hussain Al Muttawa, one of the regular visitors to the club and a retired professor now with a doctorate from Michigan State University in USA, lamented how things had been so different before. He spent most of his mornings here ‘discussing things’ and went home only for lunch, sometimes staying upto late at night. ‘My wife is also old, so what can I do at home? So I come back to my friends here.’ A non-stop flow of over sweetened kadak chai provided these men with the energy and vigour that was probably needed for winning the rounds of cards or dominos. Losing wasn’t really an option here, as we soon realised when a ‘loser’ broke into a conversation that exceeded all acceptable decibel limits!

Al Omani Sweet Factory in Souq al Asra

Al Omani Sweet Factory in Souq al Asra: If there was one place in this trail where I wouldn’t have minded being left behind, was our stop at the Al Omani Sweet Factory. An intoxicating aroma of ghee, cardamom and rosewater filled up this small room where four halwai experts sat by the gigantic clay oven with copper vessel – the mrjni, churning out Omani Halwa in equally gigantic proportions by stirring continuously. Four other men acted as assistants in this sweet act – an act I soon realised was a very laborious process. Omani Halwa epitomises festive celebrations – whether it is Eid, Ramadan or traditional weddings and also provided comfort at times of sorrow. It is very different from its namesake from the subcontinent. This is more like a thickened jelly and each pot churns out almost 50 kgs of Halwa. The process of halwa making starts by stirring in water, sugar, flour and ghee. Caramelised sugar, infused saffron, rosewater are added gradually while ladling in the ghee or clarified butter, almost continuously. Once the heady sweet concoction thickens, rich garnishes of apricots, cashews, sesame seeds are folded in amidst further stirring. Ashkar, one of the halwai experts from Kerala, explains, ‘You have to keep on stirring until the Halwa thickens. It is a very hard work as it may take upto 2 hours of continuous stirring to get the right consistency and one has to be always alert as the halwa may burn at the bottom if left without stirring, even it was for a moment.’ I probe further and he tells me the exact proportion of the ingredients that goes into the making of 50 kgs of halwa! Arva intersperses her chats with interesting fillers – like the Omani Halwa that is made for the palace – it is sweetened with figs instead of sugar and tasted ‘heavenly’!

Gulf Antiques. No photographs allowed... seriously? In this day and age of social media?

Gulf Antiques. No photographs allowed… seriously… in this day and age of social media?

Ali in Turath Tobacco Shop

Ali in Turath Tobacco Shop

Gulf Antiques and Turath Tobacco Shop in Souq Al Asra: This is the oldest and the most popular souq in the Heart of Sharjah with a strong history behind it – this was the Asra or the courtyard surrounding which traders from Persia and India traded retail goods that they brought in their boats to the adjoining harbours. Pearl diving had been one of the most important activity in the olden times and this is where the pearl divers met and exchanged notes on their haul. The alleys inside the souq are lined up with shops selling antiques, artifacts and souvenirs. Fatima and Arva lead us to the Gulf Antiques where Mohammed Nassir Al Zaroni, also known as the ‘Antique Man’, has a reputation for stocking genuine antiques, some of which he has no intention to sell. And clearly not to media people like us who overlook the ‘no photo’ posters stuck on the front door and start clicking inside! Set in 1964, this shop is one of the oldest and genuine. Fatima and Arva warns us that the souq is full of shops claiming to sell genuine antiques and one has to be wary of the fakes. Next, we halt at Turath Tobacco shop, one of the first tobacco shops set up in the region. While Abdul Ansari, the owner isn’t around, Ali bin Ali Al Muslin manages the show now and explains how the strong dokha or the tobacco is that go into the traditional smoking pipes called midwak. Ali ascertains very proudly that the midwak isn’t like the western pipes and how he only sells very good quality of tobacco, the price of which could go as high as Dhs 90/kg!

Archaelogical Findings Room in Souk Al Shenasiya

Archaeological Findings Room in Souk Al Shenasiya

Archaeological Findings Room, Dukan Namlet, Ratios Coffee in Souq Al Shenasiya: As we walk around the reconstructed Souq al Shenasiya, we are shown around the different types of shops, both modern and old that grace the souq. These are shops selling traditional abayas, kharaz or the traditional beads, perfumes, jewellery and even households like traditional homeware, pots, decorative pieces and dallahs. This souq forms the most interesting piece in the jigsaw puzzle that connects the old Souq al Arsa and Souq Saqr. The Archaeological Findings Room gives a glimpse of the original foundations of the souq that were excavated after His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah, commissioned a non-intrusive radar survey of the area. Our next stop is Dukan Namlet – and this stop initiates an interesting thread of conversation. The young people in the emirate are coming back to their roots and opening up stores that connect them to their tradition or childhood nostalgia, but in a modern way. For example, Namlets – the flavoured drinks in the British Codd-neck bottles, were very popular drinks when Fatima was growing up. The word lemonade got transformed into Namlet and she recalls how they would mimic the sound of a pop and a fizz while eagerly pushing down the marble that was used to protect the fizz. The salted preserved fish at Maleh Al Dar is another example. Preservation of salted seafood is a part Emirati culture – a clever way in which the seafood could be enjoyed even after the end of a fishing season season. And interestingly, the maleh in its new avatar is also appealing to the modern day Emiratis, thanks to modern packaging and creative branding.

The validation of the above emotion can’t be felt more than at Ratios Coffee, a new wave cafe serving specialty coffee owned by Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi. Overlooking the Sharjah Creek, the space is modern yet cozy and what gives it the smell and feel of wisdom is that all the wood that has been used in this space has been recycled from a dhow that has sailed the seas for more than 60 years! It is interesting how coffee preferences are slowly changing in the UAE and people are more conscious of specialty coffee, the various types, the roasting method and also how and from where its being sourced. After all, a small dose of quality caffeine never did anyone harm!

Leaving the Heart of Sharjah to explore the Old Souq

Leaving the Heart of Sharjah through Souq al Saqr towards Bait al Serkel to explore the Old Souq… waving goodbye to the historical past and welcoming modernity

Arva led us through Souq al Saqr towards Bait al Serkel, the 150-year-old building which served as a Missionary hospital in the 1960s. Fatima’s excitement at this stage was really palpable – yes, this was the place where she was born. Places hold memories and that’s the only reason they become special in people’s hearts. Both the storytellers seemed to have been reliving their childhood memories and we continue on our journey further, regaled with their tales. While so far we had been having our cultural halts refuelled and hydrated with beverages like kadak chai, Namlet and a coffee (apart from spoonful of the divine Omani Halwa), what followed in the next half of the trail was clearly an assault on the gastrointestinal juices and our overstretched abdominal linings. We soon left Heart of Sharjah to explore more of the city and to dig into the divine tastes of…

… well, TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2. All I can say right now is that when Sharjah beckons you… please do savour it and follow your heart!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Sayeed Zamzam, myself, Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi (Heart of Sharjah), Arva Ahmed (Frying Pan Adventures), Sally Prosser (My Custard Pie), Afshan Ahmed (The National)

Sayeed Zamzam, myself, Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi (Heart of Sharjah), Arva Ahmed (Frying Pan Adventures), Sally Prosser (My Custard Pie), Afshan Ahmed (The National)

You can book into #savourSHJ trail from Frying Pan Adventures
Next Dates: Saturday, January 16 & Thursday, January 28
Duration: Approx. 4.5 hours
Price/Guest: AED 299.00 inclusive of 8 stops featuring 1 restaurant for brunch, 1 old-time sandwich cafeteria, 3 sweet stops, 1 bakery & 2 beverage stops

Disclaimer: I had been a media guest along with my favourite foodie companion Sally Prosser of My Custard Pie and others in this trip with the transport provided by Careem. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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+ Bu Qtair Fish Restaurant

Bu Qtair In A New Avatar | A New Year, A New Location

I don’t understand why the press is so interested in speculating about my appearance, anyway. What does my face have to do with my music or my dancing? ∼ Michael Jackson

The above quote stands true for Bu Qtair too. What has the new look of Bu Qtair got to do with the taste of the fish it serves?

The charm is still all in the fish, the fresh fish, the deep fried fresh fish, the deep fried spicy fresh fish. Specially the shrimps, although I miss the old Bu Qtair very very much!

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Bu Qtair is no Michael Jackson. But it is Dubai’s only celebrity-eating-hole that has managed to get international media accolade (featured in CNN Travel, appeared on Emirates Airlines commercial, shortlisted by me in Foodie Hub as one of Dubai’s Essential Eats and more). It is also the only restaurant that requires more than an hour long queue to place an order from a menu has barely five items to chose. Five – including your Lipton chai! It is also one of the ‘hot cakes’ of a subject, on which my earlier blog post and an amateur video have been attracting much traffic consistently for the last two years, so much so that I can seriously consider taking a year of blogging sabbatical. Well, here’s the new video.

So, Bu Qtair has a new location now, a shift of 100 meters from one side of the road to the other – an upgraded location – a sea view along the fishing harbour. It also has a logo. Oh, how I hate the marketing gimmicks that *superbrands* have to fall for. All hell have broken loose on social media – Dubai is reacting as if Bu Qtair has been been exiled across seven continents. And rightly so.

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The old Bu Qtair Restaurant – plastic stools and plastic tables

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Diners queuing up for hours to reach to the front, only to place the order!

What was the big deal in Bu Qtair in the first place?

It was a big deal. I mean think about it… we had a portacabin cum shack (above) existing in the shadow of 7-star Burj Al Arab for the last two decades. In a city where the landscape changes every hour – from blingy to blingiest, from extraordinary to incredible, from modern to futuristic, or where a restaurant revamps or shuts down every week and probably a new reaturant opens every day, this was a big deal. Bu Qtair, attired in its humble robe stood like the rock of Gibraltar in an upscale Jumeirah locality for more than two decades and served 250-400 covers everyday (going up to 1000 over the weekends). Diners would pour in irrespective of financial background and would be seated on plastic stools and chairs, feeding on a basic menu of fried shrimps and other fresh catch of the day – sheri, humour, pomfrets, king fish, alone with Malbari Parathas and a bowl of divine fish curry to dip all these in. The charm was the long wait, the ambiance and the vibe – the excitement on your name being called and the hot food finally arriving at your table. The method was the same – stand in the queue, place your order by choosing your fish, pay your bills and wait for your fish at the table. This was, provided, that you had managed to obtain a seat for yourself and your guest after a long wait. And the best part – it wasn’t really hefty on the wallet (anyone remember those initial days?).

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The new Bu Qtair, situated across the street from it’s previous location – an upgraded and a pretty sight!

What is in store for you now at the new Bu Qtair?

There are no more plastic chairs around and you are seated in posher-than-plastic cane chairs by the sea. There are also some ‘reserved’ tables (the staff told me they were for… the ‘Arbabs‘ and also in case of crowd spillovers!) Agreed, that the humble porta cabin had its charm, specially in a city that has always been besotted by glamour. But honestly, if you look beyond the appearance, nothing seems to have changed in terms of the dining experience – the charmingly (if I may?) harrowing long waits, the overdone crispy fried fish (my opinion, you might beg to differ) and the throbbing crowd. There has been some improvements actually – you now have long benches in a designated ‘waiting area’ and probably a toilet somewhere in the building nearby that houses the fishermen’s accommodation. Plus, you can order Lipton chais while you are waiting in the queue. Yes, I miss the old Bu Qtair and wish that it hadn’t shifted and had a makeover, but I am glad that I felt similar excitement eating in the new Bu Qtair as I used to feel while eating in the old one.

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Is Bu Qtair only for the nostalgic Dubai residents? Will the first timers would also find it equally appealing?

The old Bu Qtair appealed to the Dubai residents mostly for the ambiance, and also for the simplicity in the food – marinated fresh catch of the day served after deep frying, and accompanied by rice or paratha along with a spicy fish curry made with coconut, turmeric, coriander and sardines, and a small plate of salad consisting of sliced onions. Nothing significantly more than this apart from a fizzy drink or a bottle of water. Here was a restaurant in the land of many shopping malls and snazzy restaurants, which was nothing more than an eating hole and that had stood the test of time. Even the first timers used to find the no-frill concept of Bu Qtair novel. What about the new Bu Qtair? There is still a long queue while placing the order inside the rectangular hall which also holds the open kitchen area. Once the order has been placed, it is followed by a long wait outside. Much to my relief – as the number of people waiting outside increased, after having placed their orders, so did the number of cars driving in and parking in the parking lot (just like before). The restaurant staff served the waiting diners simultaneously while they attended to take-away demands. Again, it was a manic rush as the food started pouring out of the delivery window. And when the food reached the table, it tasted exactly the same. Like before, this time too I found the fish (not the shrimps) over fried and there was again the suspicion whether Moosa was recycling frozen fish – implanted into my brains by some of my ethical blogger friends! I believe that there are somethings in life that you need to enjoy in abandon without much thought – for example, a Bu Qtair or a Ravi’s (or an occasional burger at Mc Donald’s) – no high ended discussion on fish sustainability, or judgmental discussion on whether the hype is all worth it. Bu Qtair is a Dubai institution that needs to be preserved the way it is… not-hidden-anymore-but-once-upon-a-time-hidden gem that deserved to  be classified as a fossil and a heritage… only now with an ample parking space and a magnificent view and some comfortable seating!

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5:16pm – The seating inside the new Bu Qtair – quite empty at first and seems large enough to accommodate many diners, which was soon to be proved wrong!

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5:37pm – I don’t know from where this crowd suddenly gathered – much like ants… placing of orders start only at 5:30pm and we had reached the place at 5pm and I was in and out of the room as no one seems to have been there

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Order has to be placed in the same manner – stand in the queue, choose your fish, pay your bills and wait for the fried fish to arrive at your table. And pray that it remains hot!

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Moosa is the culinary head here and has been behind the counter for more than two decades. He is the lead to the *secret* ingredients that makes the Malabari fish curry so divine

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The delivery window – parcels for take away jostle for space along with the orders that would soon be dispatched to the tables of the sit-in diners

Our year-end ceremonial dinner

Debbie Rogers, my confidante and Travel & Features Editor of FoodeMag dxb, the online food and travel magazine that I edit, joined me for a ceremonial year-end dinner at Bu Qtair. We arrived at 5 pm so that we could click some good shots of the food before darkness set in. Thrilled to have got a parking space for our cars in the adjacent parking lot (you have to pay the RTA parking charges if you park outside the campus), we grabbed a table on the outdoor terrace. I went inside the restaurant – a big hall with a lot of tables and seating arrangements, and was told that order will start taking place only at 5:30pm. There weren’t many people around – so I happily went out to click some harbour shots. Around 5:25pm I went back and was shocked to find that there was already a long queue waiting ahead of me. It took me more than 45 minutes to come up to the front of the counter and I placed an order for a kg of shrimps and a big sheri. This time there was an electronic weighing machine instead of a manual one. As I went and sat outside, I realised that it would take another long wait for the fish to arrive at our table. I chatted to the staff, some of whom I had known earlier and I came across a young lad who was helping with serving the food. He introduced himself as Moosa’s son who had been away all this while studying in Kerala. He struggled with his Hindi but was absolutely fluent in English (did I imagine an accent also?) and told me that he intended to help his dad and the new business. He also told me that it was still full everyday, much like before. Our food arrived in some time – smelling strong and delicious and promising the same taste that my tastebuds could remember from my earlier visits. The sheri seemed to have been over fried (like always) but the shrimps were crispy, spicy and satisfying. The parathas were soft (and oily – leave them like this please!) and the fish curry had its signature tanginess to it. By this time, the place was already breaking down with diners and the queue in front of the counter was reminiscent of the old Bu Qtair… clearly the evening had just begun here!

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Debbie Rogers and myself signing off 2015 with a meal together

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Malabari fish curry and parathas accompany the deep fried shrimps and sheri

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Not too less I hope – always calls for a regret later on!

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The secret ingredients going into the fish curry – I am told even the chefs doesn’t know the recipe. It’s Moosa who cooks it everyday!

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Our bill when we dined in Bu Qtair last time (above) – Dhs 155 for 2 sheris and half a kg of shrimps. The bill this time was surprisingly the same – Dhs 155 – for 1 sheri and 1 kg of shrimps. Confused – a tee bit more pricey or is it the same?

And the verdict?

I had my own sentimental reasons for choosing the new Bu Qtair as my first blog post of 2016. This is one place that had remained unchanged ever since I could remember and in my heart I wished that Bu Qtair would succeed in its new innings – a validation of my belief that a cosmetic makeover doesn’t change the integrity of a character. Although I was heart broken when I heard that Bu Qtair had finally shifted and the old charm was gone – I have to admit that I was thrilled that there was still so much curiosity and the taste of the food still remained the same.

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5:12pm – I am thrilled to see that only a few cars are parked outside Bu Qtair while both the indoor seating and the out door terrace seems pretty empty!

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7:22 pm – The waiting area was full, the queue was already 100 people long and most tables seemed to be full.

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7:27 pm – As I was leaving, the queue had come until the gate… verdict? I was glad that we reached there by 5pm so that I had a *mini* wait of 45 minutes to place the order. Nothing had changed!

Signing off… 2015 has been very busy but successful – I have met many people who have inspired me and will leave me inspired for a lifetime to come. There have been moments of introspection too (with tragic like this where I witnessed someone die on stage in an awards night or see a raging hotel on a New Years Eve) which have brought changes in my own objectives and perspectives in life. I have however, managed to rise above all these because I have been surrounded by a lot of love and blessing in the form of my family, the Z-Sisters and my friends- both foodie and non-foodie ones.

Eager to hear how you ushered in your New Year. Here’s wishing you all a very very happy 2016 – bright and safe, joyful and fulfilling and thank you immensely for following my journey – still!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: Do have had a flip though the New Year Edition of FoodeMag dxb and let me know how you like it 🙂

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FoodeMag dxb New Year Edition

Disclaimer: Our bill came to approximately Dhs 175 for 2 persons, including water, two chais and two fizzy drinks. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. None of the outlets mentioned here have sponsored this post. While you enjoy reading the posts with visuals, please do not use any material from these posts. And do join me on my daily food and travel journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The location of earlier Bu Qtair (the new one is just across the street)

Bu Qtair Restaurant: Fresh Seafood Budget Restaurant; Out door sitting and Take away; Opening hours: Saturday till Thursday – 12:00pm – 2:30 pm and 6:30pm – 11:30pm, Fridays open after afternoon prayers.

Location: Umm Suquim 2 (Jumeirah 5). As you are heading towards the Burj Al Arab from Union House, take the right exit at Street 35a, off the glamorous Beach Road. Look out for an Emarat Petrol Station before the Umm Sequim Park which houses a small McDonald’s. Once on Street 35a, approach left when you hit Street 2b and you’ll find the Bu Qtair amidst the boat sheds.

Other articles on the new Bu Qtair:

A first look: Bu Qtair – same, same. But different.

 

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