What is the city but the people? ~ William Shakespeare in Coriolanus
Saluting the spirit of the nation and feeling grateful for the life that my adopted home in @mydubai has gifted me with. Almost two decades of living here… a beautiful home, amazing friends, an exciting career, dreams and realizing dreams… it's all happened here. Happy long weekend folks! #nostalgicbliss
Here’s to a long weekend in the UAE.. marking Prophet Mohammed’s birthday (may peace be upon him), the Commemoration Day or Martyrs‘ Day and the upcoming 46th National Day. A flurry of shots like the above created for my Instastory – coffee pouring into the special cup, multiple latte art after, until I realised that my Iphone is glitching. Everytime I post, it’s posting from Big Z’s account – perhaps, an invisible nudge from the destiny to chuck social media and return to my blog. Anyway, a long leisurely weekend is always good to collate some thoughts – a bit of reflection on the the current phase of life in general. And that brings me to my life in the UAE… Dubai is where I have spent almost half of my lifetime (until now) and there are too many albums filled with memories – good and bad (as is life’s journey), and I am grateful for the life that my adopted home here has gifted me with. Having lived here for so long and writing a blog that features Dubai in a big way, I also get asked many Dubai-related questions all the time – quite often on other things as well apart from food. Let’s stick to the food related ones. Where do we take our visiting guests? Where do we eat with them? What to special souvenir can one buy buy? Which are my favourite restaurants here and the best place to dine in etc. But the oft requested one, specially after one hears that we lived here for almost two decades (yes, I had landed here around this time of the year way back in 1999) is this one… When you finally move out of Dubai… which restaurant would you like to visit for one last time for a farewell gig with family and friends? Any special dish and any special memory associated with the restaurant or the dish?
When you finally move out of Dubai… which restaurant would you like to visit for one last time for a farewell gig with family and friends?
Not that we have any such plans of moving out of Dubai anytime soon… unless of course, push comes to shove! As a family, we love entertaining at home and go to great lengths to create elaborate menus – traditional or otherwise, and we wouldn’t choose any restaurant over a home treat. However, if we had to choose a place outside of our home, there will have to be two gigs actually – one according to my liking and the other one for the Bearded Biker. Mine would be Arabian Tea House… not specifically for their food but for the many memories built over the years as we hung out with friends. The casual vibe, the canopies fluttering in the wind, the surrounding wind towers of the architecture that once embodied Dubai’s origin etc. And for the Bearded Biker, it would have to be the very popular Ravi Restaurant in Satwa. I asked the Z-Sisters too, they are probably too young to have any restaurant association. Beach, desert, MOE, friend Kirsten’s place… oh stop!
Arabian Tea House in Bastakiya
In my memory, Arabian Tea House will always remain Basta Cafe, the original name for this cafe restaurant. When we had arrived in Dubai in 1998 (landed I should say, not arrived – we are still trying to arrive in Dubai!), our first rented apartment was in Rolla Road. While the nearest supermarket Citimart took care of our new-to-Dubai desi binges (including Bengali fish and fierce mustard oil), our favourite joints would be the humble coffee shop inside Spinneys in the Golden Sands area or a walk into the art alleys of Bastakiya and take a breather in the Basta Café. It wasn’t as posh and popular in those days but was very quiet, quaint and pretty in its own way. A courtyard surrounded by plotted plants and white canopies shifting from the brunches of Neem trees looming in the background like observant guardians. The white wickers and the sitting arrangements under the shaded canopies, lanterns hanging from the sand coloured walls – they are evident even today. It’s a miracle that Basta Café has still retained its original earthy charm. There have been a few charming additions to the decor now and fortunately the menu has become more encompassing – more touristy, I would say. While previously, you could get only sandwiches, pastas or an occasional lunch grab, now you can actually have a pretty decent Arabic meal. My choice of this venue is not so much about the food, I would prefer Barjeel Guest House any day for the food. In wake of the city’s ever changing landscape, if there is one place that has seeped into my subconscious (much like my friend, colleague and soul sister Debbie, as she has shares later), is the Bastakiya area and the creekside (I’ve written a lot about this area in my Hidden Gems column – the Creekside Cafe, Barjeel Guest House, Coffee Museum, Calligraphy House and others). I can still feel the breeze in this area from different hours of the day – and seasons for that matter in my subconsciousness, the cool nudge during the early mornings, the gentle hot brush during the summers, the chilly nip during the winters… and finally the welcoming one after hours of exhausted walk, either with visitors or on my own. I remember putting my legs up on the charpoy and settling down for casual chats, shisha and some nibbling with friends from decades back – yes, that charpoy isn’t there anymore and an open kitchen has taken over that space now. What do I recommend you eat here? Start off with some regular French fries sprinkled in local Khaleeji spices, the Arabic mezze, dips and salads – Hummus with meat, Moutabbel, traditional Kibbeh with raw meat, grilled Halloumi, Fattoush and the Arabian Tea House Special Salad consisting of fresh Rocca and other leaves, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, a sprinkle of Sumac and a dressing of olive oil and pomegranate molasse. For mains, I would order a Shrimp Biryani – fine grained rice cooked in Baharat spices, Chicken Machboos or a Saloona Chicken, Tandoori Araayes – Arabic bread filled with minced meat, the charcoaled grilled Lamb Mince Kabab and a Mutfi Fish – sliced King Fish cooked in a tomato gravy with potatoes and Arabic spices. Don’t miss the Leqaimats, the heavenly fried dough balls laden in saffron infused sugar syrup, the Date cake oozing out gooey date caramel and the camel milk ice-cream. Do sign off with a strong Arabic gahwa served with fresh dates, if you can take it!
By the way, you will be served Arabic coffee and Leqaimat on the house, should you choose to visit them today on the UAE National Day! website
Ravi Restaurant in Satwa
Some clichés have to be accepted as the eternal truth. For example, Ravi Restaurant. Now this is my Bearded Biker’s choice of gig – daily, mundane, celebratory or otherwise. I have asked him many times – what do you like about Ravi Restaurant – The food or the bill, the comfort of basic dining? “I just like it. I like the food – I like everything. I can’t give you so many reasons”. Translated, that means no material for my write up! If a sundowner in a deserted tropical island or raising a toast under a starlit sky in a desert – just the two of us – is my idea of romance (too clichéd? But no roses for me please, opt for lilies and bougainvillea instead and rambling rocks and pretty pebbles that can seduce me to destinations – think Dead Sea or the Mt Everest!), for the Bearded Biker it would have to be a road trip on his Harley, a few beer stops on the way and finally a meal at Ravi. This is exactly what he’s told me, and I’m not making this up at all – am not sure where I fit in romantically here – whether as a pillion or follow him in a car on his road trail! While he has been visiting Ravi’s for a long time now my first visit had been fairly recent – maybe three years back. Debbie and I accompanied a visiting Filipino blogger to this most coveted ‘Dubai heritage’. We ordered quite a lot of the signature dishes from the menu and it left us very unimpressed – the food lacked the punch, and I don’t mean that in terms of spiciness alone. There was no flavour and taste. When I asked the staff, he courteously replied that they had kept the flavours mild as there was gora madam amongst us (punch Debbie for me someone, will you!). Since my first visit that day and until now, I have visited Ravi many times, as the Bearded Biker introduced a different side of Ravi to me – and I absolutely love it. Ravi reflects the very essence of Dubai – everybody is welcome here irrespective of his/her nationality, status – financially or otherwise. Even if the restaurant is crowded, there is practically no wait time – an empty table will always magically appear from somewhere and make way for you. Once seated, chilled bottles of mineral water are plopped up on the table covered with a disposable semi-transparent plastic table cloth, almost immediately. The staff is attentive, courteous and tends to you all the time and if you have been a frequent visitor, there’s no need to even spell out your orders. Early lunch, lunch, dinner, extremely late dinner – service and food has always been consistent. And the best part is the bill – it’s shockingly low. Agreed, it’s not a fine dining setup and you are not exactly munching on gourmet fare, but still Ravi is a Dubai institution and has gained a cult status of its own. Much like Bu Q’tair, and the latter has hiked up its prices in the recent years! If Craig David and other A-listers can visit the humble Ravi and make it their style statement, so can we ordinary mortals! Coming back to the food, what do we order? The Daal Fry and Rogni (butter) Naan to start with, followed by Kebabs, Mutton Peshawari, Mutton Kadhai, Brain Fry (not so much for me) and occasionally the Brain Nihari and the Paya if it hasn’t still run out. Each episode here – starting from waiting for the table, ordering food, to making the payment (note, it’s only cash payment here) – takes about an hour at the most. This doesn’t include the prying time that I need every time I visit Ravi – I peep into the kitchen and ogle at the enormous home made dough kept for the breads and naans (look at the fluffy bread below and you will know why I do this) and the kabab corner on the other side of the alley, where one can stand for endless hours (provided you can survive the heat from the charcoals) and see how meticulously the marinated meat is put into their respective sheekh or skewers and laid on the grills (see the last picture below).
What do other Dubai food bloggers say?
Aneesha Rai, Om Nom Nirvana: It would probably start at Aroos Damascus for me. Whenever my family goes there, we order the same dishes – the arayes, tabouleh, moutabel, chicken shish kebab and the shawarma plates… it’s a childhood favourite. Then we would head to Feras for the kunafa. Another probale choice would be to go to the neighbourhood restaurant Golden Fork for fish curry and rice. I still can’t make out the origin of the taste, but it’s more like the Kerala style Fish Moilee with a Filipino spice twist! This would be followed by a drive for a Filli chai and then a ‘Shah Rukh’ from Al Mallah (one of the visually stunning fresh fruit juices that the local cafeterias are famous for) – all these remind me of our drives to Mamzar during the winters. And the last would be a horribly awesome ketchup (!) and cheese mini pizza from Caesars – for keepsake school memories. @omnomnirvana on Instagram
Debbie Rogers, Coffee Cakes and Running: Mine is not so much a restaurant, but more of an area. For example, Dubai creek. It’s one of the areas which really sums up ‘traditional’ Dubai for me and is one of my ‘happy places’. Some of my best times have been at various places on or around the creek. Be it the beautiful fine dining aboard Bateaux Dubai, perfect for dinner or afternoon tea, often with visitors in tow, or more casual stops at some of the arabic eateries on the creek. Many of my trips to the creek have been adhoc with no dining plans arranged and whilst walking along beside the creek, the aroma of grilled meats, shisha and cardamon spiced coffee have often lured me into many different places.
My favourite dishes would be a mezze of Arabic classics, silky hummus, fresh tabouleh, smoky moutabel, charcoal cooked meats, all stuffed into fluffy pillows of hot Arabic bread and served with a side of fresh chilled watermelon juice. I’d take dessert at the Arabian Tea House where I’ve spent many an afternoon entertaining guests or reading a book in the quiet courtyard, and would end my evening at the Coffee Museum for a final cup of aromatic arabic ghawa, a modern latte with specialty coffee and a few coffee gadgets to sneak into my suitcase! @coffeecakesandrunning on Instagram
Lavina Israni, Lavina Israni: I think rather than going out somewhere, I would perhaps organize a feast at home and get lots of mutton biryani from Pak Liyari, along with some Bihari Rolls from Kabab Rolls and a pitcher of delicious lassi from Al Afadhil in Karama. Best farewell party ever! @lavinaisranicom on Instagram
Minna Herranen, Naked Plate: My choice depends on where I am heading from Dubai. I definitely want to eat Egyptian food made by Egyptian chefs so I will go to Grand Abu Shakra in Naif Street in Baniyas. That was my first Egyptian restaurant I have eaten in Dubai over a decade ago. I’d order the Egyptian breakfast foul and falafel aka tameya and eggs with pasterma and real Egyptian baladi bread. After that I’d order mixed grill with extra load of lamb chops and all the possible salads, also mahshi or the stuffed vegetable and molokeya soup. I will sign it off with the kunafa or fatayer with cream and honey. I would also like to indulge in my favorite snacks at the Indian restaurants at Meena Bazaar – bhel puri and pani puri till I drop. Sahtain! @minnahe on Instagram
Sachi Kumar, Where Sachi: I would start my last gastronomic outing in Dubai from Sharjah, starting with Laffah’s signature shawarma. I would then come to Meena Bazaar, have a falafel sandwich from Persian Cafeteria, then a ‘disco sandwich’ from Doha Cafeteria and finally end up at Al Mallah for my dose of hummus and cheese garlic chilli manakeesh. @wheresachi on Instagram
Sadia Anwar, Nomsville: I would brave the heat and stand outside Rangoli in Meena Bazar as the guy at the chat counter sticks out pani puris, one at a time, adjusting the meetha pani (the sweet tamarind water) ratio every other puri (back when Rangoli restaurant had the window) and then finishing it all off with their fresh, sticky jalebis. I have so many memories of my shopping sprees with friends and cousins followed by a Rangoli refuel which was an absolute must. And once we would be done for the day, we would head over to Tasty Bite and order takeaways of their garlicky, pickle-heavy shawarmas on toasted saj. Well, this is making me emotional already! @nomsville on Instagram
Sally Prosser, My Custard Pie: As much as it sounds clichéd, it will have to Ravi’s! Why did I celebrate my 40th birthday at these metal tables on the pavement by a busy road at an unlicensed restaurant ? It wasn’t just about having a rather severe midlife crisis (over 10 years ago btw before you start wishing me happy returns!). A friend first took me to Ravi’s in 1994 and insisted on their aloo paratha and chicken tikka on the bone – which I still order now. Recently, we went with visitors, as we always do, to this taxi driver’s cafe in the heart of Satwa. We tore piping hot roti with our fingers, dipped spoons into fluffy rice and steaming bowls of deeply savoury comforting Pakistani food. The couple next to us on the table were making appreciative mmmms and aaaahs. This is no hidden gem, they were tourists who had found it on TripAdvisor. “We just had to come to Ravi’s”. It’s hard to say why this place has gained such a following when there are hundreds of restaurants serving similar excellent Punjabi food in a no-frills way in Dubai. But we return again and again for the Chicken Achar, the Chicken Ginger, the Channa Daal, Palak Aloo, Paneer Masala and yes, that Chicken Tika on the bone. Rose water scented rice pudding in plastic tubs sent us back off into the bustling streets with smiles of contentment. @mycustardpie on Instagram
Samantha Wood, Foodiva: I’ve lived in Dubai for 18 years and have eaten my way around this emirate endless times, so if I was leaving, the last thing I would want is to dine out. I would save the dining for new experiences in my new home. Instead, I would order in Rossovivo’s classic Neapolitan pizza (provided I wasn’t moving to Italy!) OR oysters/ prawns from Market & Platters (which has since closed and is due to open in a new location) or Lafayette Gourmet, and crack open some very nice champagne with close friends – or I would hire a chef to cook at home. @foodiva on Instagram
Sana Chikhalia, Sana on Food: I would like to indulge in some good Mandi from Bait Al Mandi. @sanaonfood on Instagram
Sarah Walton, The Hedonista: I love the vibe of the Anatolian restaurant Rüya, it’s regional cuisine and I’ve watched chef Colin Claque’s Dubai career for the duration of my Dubai tenure. (Chef Colin Clague has been at the helm of the best of Dubai’s fine dining spots like Zuma, and later the stunning Qbara). @thehedonista on Instagram
Sharon Divan, Pickle My Fancy: I will go back to Al Mallah in Satwa to have a shawarma and their chocolate milkshake, or Shish Tawook at Al Safadi in Sheikh Zayed Road. Now that I think more of it – the restaurants I would go back to are the discreet ones, – the ones you know of only if someone has told you about (or if they are no longer ‘hidden’ gems) or you chance upon. If there was a restaurant (not sure if you can call it that) I would go back to in a heartbeat would be Bu Q’tair but in its old avatar. We had heard about it, but in those days with no GPS (almost 14 years back), we never seemed to find it and once we did, there was no stopping us. Some of my fondest memories have been eating food out of the small cafeterias in Deira (my first neighbourhood when I moved to Dubai) – shawarma (surprisingly, each one manages to taste different) and so affordable at Dh 1 only, a chicken kadhai and roti which my husband used to bring home for dinner from a small Pakistani joint in Al Ras when we did not have a functioning kitchen in our first home. Over the years, I have also enjoyed the delicious yet simple food at Bhavna, specially when I missed my home cooked Gujarati food and at Al Ustad Special Kabab or popularly known as Special Ostadi Restaurant (both in the Meena Bazaar area). Or perhaps, before I leave Dubai, I will finally make it to Ravi Restaurant in Satwa (14 years and still have never eaten there) and learn what the hullabaloo is all about! @picklemyfancy on Instagram
Yi-Hwa B. Hanna, Into the Ether: Definitely Single Fin Cafe at Surf House Dubai – Surf and SUP School. I’d go early, then have their Dawn Patrol breakfast burger on a jet black bun (truffled scrambled organic eggs with manchego cheese and a side of crispy bacon – it’s simple, but so damn good), stay there talking to friends and listening to good music – maybe, have a singalong if someone has a guitar and the weather’s good outside. Then I would go out for a nice long paddle off at the Sunset Beach and stay out to watch the sunset from the water before coming back for a strong Americano and a frozen acai bowl made with their homemade granola. Yes, this would be an all-day affair! My choice of this place is not particularly because of the food, although I do love it – non fussy but honest, fairly priced and tasty food, but because of the memories and the vibe there. The place feels like a second home to me and the people there – from the staff to the community regulars – are like family. Also because of the proximity to one of my happiest places in this city – Vitamin Sea! I think anyone who knows me will agree that this is where I can be usually found as it encompasses a lot of what I’m about and assuming that they share the same values that I do, these are the places/people/things I’d absolute miss the most after leaving Dubai. @yihwahanna on Instagram
Shawarma pangs for those who have already left the UAE shores
Francine Spiering, Life in the Foodlane: I would repeat what we did when we left – a tour of Old Dubai with Frying Pan Adventures, so I didn’t have to choose which restaurant or cuisine. Another place would be the fine dining restaurant Pierchic, for it’s scenic location: Pierchic.
Mafaza Haleem, Explored By Mafaza: I would love to visit the places that I haven’t been to before rather than the places I’ve already been to. As someone who moved out of Dubai recently, I am missing all the good food that Dubai has to offer, specially the shawarma. Honestly, I’d love to visit #morisushi one last time because I love the sushi there. @exploredbymafaza on Instagram
Priyanka Bhattacharya Dutt, turaturi.com: I can tell you as someone who has already moved out and relocated to India. Had I known I would never taste good shawarma again, I would have made sure I ate a shawarma sandwich everyday before leaving!
Shiyam Nagarajan, foodnflavors.com: My last meal in UAE was in Bombay Udupi in Ajman. I love the idli and sambhar dipped in a fragrant puddle of sambhar and the palak dosa. The Dubai equivalent of the restaurant would be Venus. @foodnflavors on Instagram
Memories and moments are what people move cities with… while we started our Dubai journey in 1999, we shifted base to Frankfurt for two years in 2004. We had several farewell parties at friends’ places (everybody seemed happy to be seeing us off, even gifted us so many Dubai souvenirs – the sand art and the framed khanjars), visited all our favourite hangout spots (one favourite spot was the Coffee Beans and Tea Leaves opposite Jumeirah Beach Park – none of them exist now), even drove to the Nalukettu restaurant in Ajman to have our favourite crab curry by the beach! Was there any particular food or a restaurant that we missed and talk about while in Frankfurt? I don’t think so. There were always some associated memories that would haunt us. For example, my daily walks by the creekside throughout my first pregnancy which made that area so precious, the occasional drives to the Palm Strip Mall on the Jumeirah Road for the Häagen-Dazs strawberry cheesecakes (there weren’t so many malls around or so many franchises of popular brands in every locality – imagine six Starbucks in one block!), the late night chai encounters by the small cafeterias on the Jumeirah Road (admitting coyly that we ordered from inside ether car, but no honking promise!), and the hours and hours spent under the solitude and bliss of white canopies at my beloved Basta Café. Cities change just like us humans, but the emotions and the soul remain unchanged and that’s what we have realised in our so many years of Dubai living. The memories of celebrations are etched in the mind forever. And tastes and flavours add in brightening those different moments. That’s why I return to Scoop in Outram Ghat everytime I visit Kolkata – they serve the sundaes from my childhood! For all of you who have been reading this, what is the strongest food association of a city that you have? And if you have been living in Dubai for a long time – think camel years, which will be the restaurant where you will have a last gig in? With mindless giggles all along!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and my bills have been self paid. 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, Twitter and Pinterest.
Here are a few of my friends’ write ups that might be of interest if you plan to dine out in Dubai:
• Where to take visitors to eat in Dubai – on a budget by My Custard Pie
• FooDiva’s 30 favourite Dubai restaurants (2017)
• Why is Ravi’s butter chicken the best? by Esha Nag in Friday Magazine