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!
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.
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?).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 🙂
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: