A delicious way to discover Meena Bazaar, one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods of Old Dubai, is to book into the 4-hour long ‘Little India on a plate’ food tour with Frying Pan Adventures.
While chalking out my favourite food memories from the neighbourhood trio of Bur Dubai, Karama and Oudh Metha in my previous three-part blogpost, I decided to leave this wonderful food tour aside for a separate blogpost. One of my favourite ways of discovering a city is though walking, specially a walking food tour. The latter not only throws spotlight on eating holes with long-standing legacies, it also reflects a different perspective to a city than the typical ‘things to do’ features in the best selling tourism guides ever will. My association with with Frying Pan Adventures goes back a long way – my first food tour with them being the Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage. Much later, I invited Arva and Farida, the vivacious sisters and founder duo of Frying Pan Adventures, home to show case Bengali cuisine during Noboborsho for their podcast.The following autumn, I hosted a Bengali feast for one of their Sufra events. Even with all the association, it wasn’t an easy task for Frying Pan Adventures to convince me to join them on their Indian food tour ‘Little India on a plate’. As a self-proclaimed Dubai old-timer who could navigate blindly to the nearest Indian restaurant in the Meena Bazaar neighbourhood from any given car park in the area, I honestly saw no novelty in this food tour. I couldn’t be more wrong.
Even for the proud desi that I am, who’s been eating off all the alleys in Meena Bazaar for the last two decades, I was mighty surprised on the Indian food tour.
Being on a food tour is a serious activity… gritty and sweaty
One sultry summer evening… once upon a time, when one could walk and eat around freely and happily, free of masks and fear, Debbie (my partner-in-crime and co-founder of FoodeMag) and I hit Meena Bazaar on a four hour long food walk with Frying Pan Adventures. The tour was filled with tasty treats and valuable insights from Farida Ahmed, our tour hostess and co-founder of Dubai’s first food tour company.
Bhelpuri at Rangoli Restaurant
Our tour hostess Farida Ahmed, being a spice show off
Learning the rocket science of a good South Indian filter coffee at Sangeetha Restaurant
South Indian mini thali at Sangeetha restaurant
The cone shaped ‘signature’ Topi dosa at Sangeetha Restaurant
Farida spilling out behind the scene kitchen secrets and insights
Deep fried crispy aloo bonda at Farisian Cafeteria
Daunting task – choosing from crispy aloo bondas and samosas
Chicken tikka in the grill at Sind Punjab
Succulent chicken tikkas at Sind Punjab
Hot fluffy naans straight from the tandoor at Sind Punjab
Jalebis in the making at Salam Namaste ( I notice the Amul Ghee!)
Hot crispy jalebis to be savoured strictly with a rich and creamy rabdi
The eternal charm of Meena Bazaar
A group of six enthusiastic foodies, we started off with the spicy chaat speciality of Bhelpuri and Panipuris at the Gujrati restaurant – Rangoli and ended our food walk with fresh made crispy sweet Jalebis topped with a creamy layering of Rabdi at Salam Namaste. We made several food stops and halts in the pulsating neighbourhood of Meena Bazaar, in between experiencing the captivating behind the scene kitchen activities, learning on Indian spices and other food stories. Our second stop was at Sangeetha Restaurant, where we had a taste of South Indian food. A steaming South Indian filter coffees followed by a mini thali set and the restaurant’s ‘signature’ cone shaped Topi dosa in its complete finery with spicy sambar and coconut chutneys. The thirty year old neighbourhood eatery Farisian Cafeteria was our next stop, where and we munched on crispy fried aloo bhondas and samosas, accompanied by spicy dips of mint and tamarind chutneys. A quick stop at the Indian grocery store Madhoor Supermarket gave us a chance to buy some of the versatile stock – a variety of lentils and flours used in an Indian pantry. Our ‘meat’ stop was at the formidable Sind Punjab where Farida ordered fresh sugarcane juices to wash away the exhaustion of our previous food tastings and walking in the heat. A food tour is more than an indulgence, it’s sweaty and gritty – a serious activity! Now we were ready for the succulent chicken tikkas, a signature dish at the restaurant that had people queuing up since the time the restaurant opened up in this neighbourhood in 1977. Accompanied by hot fluffy naans which arrived at the table straight from the tandoor, the chicken tikkas lived up to their stardom. Much like some of the long-standing restaurants in Meena Bazaar, Sind Punjab too, carried the heavy tag of being one of Dubai’s culinary legacies. In fact, all the meals that we had at the various places that evening, bore testimony to the goodwill and legacies created by each one of them over the years.
Debbie and I have always bonded over comfort food and food stories that connect people and places
The epic food tour with frying Pan Adventures, traversing from treats from North India to South India, was not about tasting delicious food or learning about small eateries and legendary restaurants that characterised the alleys of Meena Bazaar. It was sonmething much more than that.
It’s getting to connect to the essence of one of the most intriguing neighbourhoods of Old Dubai and how they co-exist alongside the blooming new neighbourhoods. I felt such a sense of pride when our wonderful hostess Farida pointed out about Al Jamarik Cafeteria, which ‘nourished the soul of Dubai, serving tea to all those establishments in the surrounding’. Established in 1958, even before the birth of the United Arab Emirates, Al Jamarik Cafeteria was one of the oldest cafeterias in Dubai. When places like these hold its head high amidst Dubai’s new urban landscape in 2020, this is a story that has to be told and celebrated. What do you think?
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Disclaimer: Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com) kindly hosted us for the ‘Little India on a plate’ tour. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.
You might enjoy reading these related articles of mine: Bur Dubai | My favourite food memories from Old Dubai – Part 1 Dubai Creekside, Al Fahidi and a cultural lunch at SMCCU Immersing Myself Into The Heart Of Sharjah with FPA – Part 1 Eating Up Sharjah With Frying Pan Adventures - Part 2