“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” ∼ Friedrich Nietzsche,
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.