+

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.

dav

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.

 

Save

Save

Save

+ 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!

Bu Qtair - 58.jpg

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.

Bu Qtair - 69

The old Bu Qtair Restaurant – plastic stools and plastic tables

Bu Qtair - 07

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?).

sdr

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.

IMG_20151230_172123.jpg

IMG_20151230_172126.jpg

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!

IMG_20151230_171621.jpg

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!

sdr

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

dav

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!

dav

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

IMG_20151230_181748.jpg

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!

IMG_20151230_182954.jpg

Debbie Rogers and myself signing off 2015 with a meal together

IMG_20151230_183143.jpg

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

IMG_20151230_182911.jpg

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

IMG_20151230_183243.jpg

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!

Bu Qtair - 35

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.

dav

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!

dav

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

IMG_20151230_192739.jpg

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 🙂

2016-01

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.

 

+

Food, Love And Good Memories Travelling in My Suitcase!

Shondesh

Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity. ∼ Robert Morgan

And maybe packets dripping with sugar syrup and home made sauces, fried fish and random biscuits – all stuffed in a suitcase while flying back to Dubai from Kolkata… rephrasing it… flying back to my adopted home from my childhood home. Expats have an amazing way of converting wherever they are living into various folds of manifestation of their roots – bringing back food memories via cans and jars and sealed packets and digging out pockets in the city they are living, which sell them. Sally Prosser, author of My Custard Pie caught me red handed with Potol/Parval and bottles of Kashundhi in my suitcase for her article for the Fall edition of FoodEMag dxb. And I am relieved to discover that I am not the only one and actually have many foodie partners in crime! Well, as much as our suitcases are packed with incredulity, the awards for ingenuity goes to our parents (both original and the law-ed ones!) – can you imagine bringing in fried fish (bhetki maach fillet complete with breaded crumbs) and notun gurer roshogolla (so what if the current debate is on whether roshogolla belongs to the Bengalis at all!) dripping in sugar syrup, wrapped in layers and layers of plastic – all in the name of love? On this love note, let me wish you all Shubho Bijoya and Happy Dussehra… may peace find a permanent place in this world and your hearts!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………October Edition of FoodEMag dxb……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

If you are a Bengali or an Indian living in Dubai, chances are that you will be getting a lot of fresh ingredients and produce – including different kinds of fish in the markets out here:

  • Backet in Sharjah or Deira fish Market source traditional fish, even the exotic ones – like Koi, Pabda, Eilish, Parshe, Chitol and also the most common varieties – Rui/Carp, Pona, Chingri/Prawns. Aar etc. Any fish associated with traditional Bengali recipes, chances are that you will find it. Excepting Bhetki.
  • City Mart in Rolla Street, Bur Dubai flies in fresh fish from Bombay everyday – Aar, Koi, Eilish and Tyangra, the latter when in season. They also stock Bhetki from Bangladesh and is different from the ones that we have grown up eating.
  • Lulu keeps small sized Rui; also Mefroz in Karama and Fruit & Vegetable market.

Spices are available in most supermarkets in Dubai, with a few exceptions like Radhuni that go into Panch-Phoron or the 5 spices-mix. While the fish comes frozen, air packed and sealed from Thailand, I have also found an array of local fish that can substitute for the traditional ones (for example Salmon can be used for Shorshe Bata/Musatrd Salmon with great success). One of the things that cannot be substituted while cooking Bengali fish is the Mustard Oil. Without this, a Bengali fish is absolutely incomplete and only a few brands can do justice to the Bengali kitchen – Tez and PRO – again both easily available in regular supermarkets.

Bengali Sweets… every street in Kolkata has a sweet shop and Bengali sweets are so popular that Indian sweet shops would often have a corner dedicated to ‘Bengali Sweets’. In Dubai there are many Indian sweet shops, but only a few of them have such sacred sweet corners. A small list:

  • Bikanervala (our favourite here is Chinese rasgullas, Indrani cups)
  • Puranmal (Anandmadhuri, Rasmadhuri, Malai Sandwich, Raskadam etc)
  • Shree Gangaur (Gurer Rasgulla, Triveni cup, Mishti Dahi etc)

What comes inside our suitcases? All the ones that have been pictured below and more!

Notun gurer roshogolla

Notun gurer roshogolla

Potol/Parwal

Godhoraj Lebu

Kashundhi and Jharna Ghee

Darjeeling Tea

Red chillies Fried coconut

Mouth freshners

Pabda fish

Mocha

My mum-in-law doesn’t spare bringing in anything that I love eating – starting from bringing in half fried bhetki fillets, fried balls of chitol maach that would later go into gravy to half-cooked mocha/banana blossom flower. Also stuff from specific shops or specific brands – Mithai’s Mishti Doi, Balaram’s Baked Rasgullas, Bancharam’s Baked Mihidana, Mukhorachak Chanachur, Gondhoraj Lebu (Bengal lime which has a sweet aroma much like the Thai Kaffir lime), Jharna Ghee (yes nothing but the brand ‘Jharna’), Kashundi (a pungent mustard sauce) and Five Star (a chocolate from Cadbury that tastes like Mars) – the list is pretty endless! What definitely doesn’t travel with us and I wish that it could – are Posto/poppy seeds as these are banned in this region although Middle Eastern cuisine does have a lot of usage of poppy seeds.

Eager to hear what comes back in your suitcases apart from love and good memories?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: If you are tired of seeing the same table background in the above pictures, here’s a warning – we have got a new dining table after a decade and you might have to bear with that in the oncoming posts!

Disclaimer: 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 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.

+

Moong Daaler Payesh or Yellow Lentil Pudding | Autumnal Sunshine Of The Eternal Mind!

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns. ∼ George Eliot

6

Images of Durga Pujo (the annual autumn festival for Bengalis worldwide when Goddess Durga descends upon earth and photobombs peoples’ selfies!) have started to flood across Facebook and its drilled in my head thousand times over which new dress or saree that my Bengali friends would be wearing on each of the days of the Pujo. That translates into 5 days of Pujo, 5×2 *belas* or times (mornings and afternoons) that they would be changing/wearing new clothes (that makes 10 new dresses plus a few more bought over the online shopping portal on top of what Rangapishi or Fuldimoni bought in a boutique exhibition!). What happens in Dubai? A lot for those who are involved – there are many Pujos being celebrated privately and an official one in the Sindhi Hall in Meena Bazar. But for many of us who try to struggle our daily school and office routine with Pujo, we look forward to the weekend with friends. While my Ma is probably too busy to even whatsapp ‘Happy Pujo’ right now and Baba is too proud to declare that although we have the tallest building on earth in Dubai, the tallest Durga idol – a 80-feet tall fibre-glass Durga idol has just been inaugurated. And now I hear – for the first time ever in the history of Kolkata’s pujo, a near stampede has forced down a Pujo. To move on with the good things in life – here’s a beautiful recipe – an unusual one I would say – to bring on the Pujo… where ever you are, whether you are a Bengali or not.

1

Recipes differ across the border – and S’s paternal family originally coming from Bangladesh, have many such recipes that are new to my family. A few years back when Kakima, S’s auntie came to visit us, she brought along with her a treasure trove of recipes that I had never known existed or had tasted. Like the Sour Spinach Chutney. Neither did I know that a vegetable existed in the name of Sour Spinach nor had I any iota of how that sour spinach would taste. Or a payesh/pudding made with Carrots! And cabbage! And Sweet Potato! And Beetroot! Honestly, I pity how geographical boundaries have made our perspectives narrow and knowledge slim. So here I am digging my resurrected albums (remember I had said once that my computers had crashed?) to find some beautiful recipes that needs to see the fire of the oven.

header

Moong Daaler Payesh or Yellow Lentil Pudding

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Category – Dessert; Cuisine type – Traditional Bengali

Ingredients

2 lt low fat milk (many prefer to use sweetened condensed milk – in that case you will need much less milk)
1 cup moong daal or yellow lentils
2 cups sugar or 1 cup sugar with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp ghee
2 green cardamoms
1/2 bay leaf
1/4 cup pistachios or cashews, 1/4 cup raisins, soaked in water*
1/2 cup almond slivers*

* Optional – for garnishing

Method

  1. Soak the moong daal in water for some time and drain out.
  2. Add ghee in a Dekchi/a flat bottomed pan (Dekchis are usually used for cooking Rice. Please note that all types of payesh are always made in utensils meant for cooking rice or kept separately and hasn’t been used for any other type of cooking. This is because of it’s susceptibility to catching the smell of other cooked items. Constant stirring is required so that the bottom of the pan doesn’t get burnt).
  3. Add the moong daal and stir it along with ghee taking care that the grains don’t get burnt. Set aside.
  4. Boil the milk.
  5. Add the moong daal when the milk comes to a boil. Throw in bay leaves, cardamoms and a bit of ghee.
  6. Keep on stirring so that the lentils are boiled properly and the milk thickens to almost three-quarters of it’s original quantity.
  7. Add the sugar and the sweet condensed milk only towards the end, and keep stirring continuously so that the payesh doesn’t get burnt at the bottom.
  8. Take it off the fire when your desired thickness and consistency has been achieved (some prefer it runny, some prefer it a bit thick).
  9. Garnish with pistachios, raising, cashew Nuts. Serve it cold. Many prefer to eat payesh smoking hot, just after it has been taken off the fire – so the intensity of sizzle is up to you!

A bit more stirring and thickening of the payesh will probably result in a Halwa. Do try out the other traditional payesh recipes in this blog – Rice Pudding, Notun Gurer Payesh, Gajorer Payesh/Carrot Pudding or the Simuiyer Payesh/Vermicelli Pudding from my blog. If you are looking

2Moong Daal Payesh

4

What do you do when you miss something that you have grown up with – a festival, a ritual, a dish or those special people? We make believe! I tell Lady M (my lady Friday)… oh I completely forgot, it is Durga Pujo in Kolkata and everybody will be doing something special – wear new clothes, eat amazing food and catch up with friends and family. She said ‘Lets do something special too’ and that’s what we did… an impromptu makeover to her chilli chicken on our lunch menu! And what a makeover… complete with table setup and her suggestion that I should pour myself a Chablis – wow!

3

Doesn’t this dessert look devastatingly destructive (promised myself I will not be using the adjectives like awesome, delicious, fabulous and the most common one – yummy)? Festive or not, desserts are meant to tug at souls (not the diabetic ones). And autumn brings in the new edition of FoodEMag dxb, Do have a flip through – its really beautiful and much shorter. Do share pictures with me when you try this recipe… any new twist that you can bring into it? Curious – whether its only a Bengali who thinks of converting every vegetable on this planet into a dessert or there are more such species like us? Happy Autumn, Happy Navratri, Happy Durga Pujo… and hello fresh hope!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the 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.

+

To all my Readers, PRs, Blogger friends & Editors… What I really want to do is tell you how I feel about you after 4 years of blogging!

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. ∼ Benjamin Franklin

Before you even close this window thinking that this a blogpost in the manner of an Oscar speech, please, please stop. I am writing my 200th+ post and my blog turned 4 just day before yesterday. And like an awestruck mum I kept staring at my baby thinking ‘where did all the time fly and did I do it all right?’ I must have done something right indeed, for in these 4 years I have had an incredible journey which started off with my first post. An excerpt here.

More than a decade back we – my husband and I, set up our first home in Srilanka. Albums stacked with those good-old memories fill up our book shelves even today. It was time that we showed our two little girls, the Z-Sisters, the country which had become our second home. Re-visiting Srilanka was more than just a vacation. It was as if, we were searching for our own roots. A decade back we had stood by the banks of the Kelani river, letting our eyes wander into the woods. Now a decade later, the four of us were standing at the same spot. As if one circle of life just got completed.

The empty bench seemed symbolic. With the beginning of the second circle (with the four of us now) I had to unblog them all!

This picture below was the first picture in my blog, although my romanticized Arien mind visualises it as the one on the right – in sepia.

Why did I start blogging?

Keep reading – hold on, I will keep it short by my standards. I started writing because I had always wanted to write, direct a film, write a book. I started on the first, skipped the second, stalled the third. The books I want to write will take time – a food-oriented travel book and another epic one on Bengali cuisine, the kind that can be passed on to my daughters as a wedding trousseau. So I have started writing blog posts instead.

My earlier food posts were strewn with my nostalgia of Bengali food and my childhood years of growing up in Kolkata and my travel posts would be of places that we were traveling to as a family – all bills paid out of our own pockets. In fact, I didn’t have a very concrete idea about what a blog was, I felt it was just like an extension of a private diary – only now more public. I would approach editors of various publications for writing assignments and would be asked to show sample of my writings. Fair enough! I started venting out in my blog – not rantings but passionate food and travel stories that started connecting to people. And slowly this snowballed into something more serious – the blog literally started taking me everywhere. I made blogger friends around the world and the connection with them would be so strong that I would be seeking them out when I travelled to different cities, ask S to deliver chocodates (a speciality here) to some of these friends while on his travels (S would cringe – deliver a gift from my wife to a random stranger – how bizarre!). I met chefs (some of them huge names and a few budding), food critics, hoteliers, PRs, random people in airports with whom I would exchange recipes, whatsapp the nurse who tended me while I was in the hospital about the new restaurant that she was probably mentioning… my life had become bizarre. Readers would ask about our daughters (affectionately called as Z-Sisters in the blog and now in real life), ask about my Mum if I happen to mention somewhere in my social media that she was in town… and most bizarre (and touching) of all… offer my family and myself their home to stay, in case, we were ever around in their town. Who knew I would be stroking out words in my About Me page as my blog evolved and my family ‘aged’!Burnt leaf copy copy

I could go on and on about how far I have come since my first blogpost and how many great opportunities have come along the way, but what I really want to do is tell you how I feel about you – if you are my reader, a blogger, PR person who may have approached me or would like to approach me and lastly, a few Editors who may have snubbed me down in my earlier days. Strangely enough, I have also become very close to a few of you – readers, bloggers, PR and Editors in many ways and I have grown with you all. I will also tell you what my plans are.

To all my readers

  • Please leave comments: I know you have super ‘liked’ my post. But how I miss the dialogue – the follow up comments that could be converted into a subsequent blogpost. I do agree that social media is connecting me to a wider audience, if you don’t like reading, follow my visual journey in Instagram or if you hate the long sentences I write, catch me squeezing myself hard within a 140-words limit in Twitter. But you know what? I miss ‘hearing’ you!
  • Share if you like and let me know if you have already done so:  You know that you have already done me such a huge favour by sharing! But please let me know who you are, so that I can thank you. I meet readers who mention friends and family who recommended my blog and who have been reading my blog and know the blogposts by heart. I want to know who you all are.
  • Do hang on even though I have stopped doing giveaways: I have consciously stopped competitions and giveaways on the blog as I have realised that those of you who genuinely care and read my blog would be hopping in anyway – whether you win something or not. I don’t want to entice people who don’t intend to read into leaving comments on how beautiful my writing is, just because there is a giveaway. I want genuine readers to rub shoulders with me in the sanctity of the virtual space where I live in – that’s my blog.
  • You think that you are getting disconnected? Let me know immediately: You have become busy in your life, I have become busy in mine. I have evolved as a blogger, the direction of the blog might have changed its course from the first blog post. You don’t like it anymore? Do let me know. One thing that I can assure is that – the ethos and the values haven’t changed. It never will.

To all my blogger friends (food bloggers mainly vis-à-vis the lifestyle bloggers and fashion bloggers)

  • Blog for the right reason: You know your designations today, right? You are an Influencer. Your Instagram posts are microblogs with peripheral sub stories emanating from each post. Do it right. If you want to earn money out of your blog – you have all the right to do so and please go ahead and do it. Which fool would be working his/her spoons and forks out, clicking pictures and wasting gigabytes of memory space without earning anything in return? Getting invites or lovely goodies for sampling should be considered perks of a blogger – but you have to justify that. Don’t accept products or invites that you can’t justify – agreed, you might not be able to write a blog post about it, then you should be able to put it out on Instagram or Twitter at least (provided that you like it – but make your intentions clear.). If you do plan to do some shout out, ask yourself the honest question – is that product really worth that shout out? Nothing comes free in this world. No body questions an Airline staff when they get a discount for their family or travel for free – its considered as a perk. Pilots become pilots because first of all they love flying. They didn’t become pilots just because they can travel for free. Blogging is no different. But if you were to blog only to grab the free fois gras that you wouldn’t want to pay for from your own pocket, then that’s probably the wrong reason. Make it clear to your readers or any damn living organism who lands in your blog that it provides you with your bread and butter. Or may be the occasional bread and butter. Or may be it’s just an outlet for your creative expression. Make it honest – be it on Instagram or a blog post – whether it’s an invite or a product to be sampled. Your reader ‘deserves’ honesty from you so that they can make their own judgements!
  • Don’t underestimate your blog: You are a mini news channel on your own and reach out to much more people than you think. Don’t give out wrong information or a sudden judgement that can break businesses or someone’s credibility. You have to be honest for sure, but not misuse the power that you yield.
  • Unique voice is so cliched. Follow someone who inspires you: I mean seriously, how many of us are nerdy enough to have our own unique voices? Or start ticking the right check boxes from the very first post? You have to be inspired by someone, you have to have a blog mentor, you must give in to temptations to change your direction after getting inspired, you must have passionate co-bloggers who you can relate to. And you must have that someone who you want to emulate. Even in art school, students are taught to copy the masters. And then you shall find your own blog wings.
  • There’s no right or wrong: Blogging is just like child rearing and like all mothers doing ‘mostly right’ for their children, you know instinctively what exactly you are doing. Its your blog – write however you want to write. If you want to write a fictional story while writing a recipe post – go ahead and do that. Just keep it simple, keep it coming out straight from your heart.
  • Pray for traffic, a bit of spotlight, few media mentions and awards: Face it, we all need these in dollops. The first one attracts the second one, and that attracts the third… so on and so forth… but where do you start, I honestly can’t remember. All I know is that you can’t be trying too hard and you can’t just be writing good and wait for all these to happen. Networking can be taxing, time consuming and can affect the quality of the blog. My advice to you would be (although I haven’t done it yet and probably am losing time trying to do everything myself) – Get someone to do it – a Talent management company who gets you big clients that pay them to pay you. Bottom line, do your own PR – after all you are the best person to understand the ethos of your own blog. Next best scenario – get someone good to do it for you!

To all the PRs (not applicable to all and you know who you are)

  • I need you, but don’t use me: The love hate relationship between PR and Bloggers is so strong – it’s like a strawberry smoothie having the power to start a bush fire! All those wonderful invites coming my way from you guys make my day or rather a few delicious evenings. But what spoils them are when some of you make me feel that you are doing me a favour by giving me a free meal. If your client is reaching my audience of 20K+ through my social media and because of my writing, I am giving you PR coverage worth thousands of dollars, it’s me who is giving you something for free, not the other way round. And you are obviously aware that there are bloggers who even charge for attending events, right?
  • Mere invites don’t pay for the school fees or the grocery bills: This blog may be my creative space, it is also a platform to showcase my writing. It brings in a huge amount of traffic (and I do have plans to invest in SEO in the future). It is also intended to bring some spotlight on myself so that I can brag some paid work that revolves around food and travel. Dare to pitch me with some exciting projects that would blow my tastebuds and senses right away?
  • Shocking, but yes I have a name. Different mailing systems let you send bulk emails addressed by the first name. So please, please don’t address me as ‘DEAR BLOGGER’ or ‘Hello _’! It’s really rude and insensitive. How much more time does it take to get the settings correct?
  • Send me an invite that I can’t refuse: A few invites come in asking me to ‘bring along S and the Z-Sisters’… wow, you got me sold already – it makes me happy that you made that effort to know a bit about me. That’s fantastic but I may not be able to honour your invite – honestly there are far too many invites than I can physically attend. Most reviews on this blog aren’t against invites although I may take up invites if I am curious, or I might feature in a roundup in the blog or else where. Please don’t send me an invite to join you for a Friday Brunch on my own so that I can write a review on my blog. Do you work on your holidays? Tell me, why should I come on my holiday, eat on my own and then go back writing for you? Ask me to bring a bunch of friends along on a Friday – and you may have already pitched it right. I am not being greedy here – I am just telling you that it’s my day off and I won’t work for free, at least on a Friday, so let me have some fun as well!
  • Ask me before you send in products: Honestly, your client wants their brands to be showcased properly. And I need to justify why I am accepting your gifts or invites. I am not obliged to post anything on my social media channels unless I choose to, specially when I haven’t been paid for it (and yes, there have been many commissioned projects that I am actually working on).
  • I have rejected your invite or haven’t replied to your emails? Trust me, I don’t hate you. It just means that I have been truthful to myself. If I can’t feature my dining experience in a blog post (probably because these are not the kind of places my blog writes about or I really am not interested in the venue or I am already done or I am fasting!), or post on Instagram or Twitter, I shouldn’t be accepting that invite. And if I haven’t replied to your emails – oh, I am really working hard on that – to keep pace with replying to the number of emails that pour in daily – my sincerest apologies.
  • Don’t invite me for a night stay with complimentary breakfast and expect me to pay for my dinner and write about the stay: What do you expect me to write about? My sleeping experience or my breakfast? Decide on what coverage you want for your client and pitch appropriately.
  • Or send me an invite for an event on the day of the event: Promising to offer transportation doesn’t help either.
  • Or tell me that you will invite me to a restaurant every time you meet me: Darn it! Just shoot that email invite out, please!
  • Or think I am waiting for all the invites: No! I can very well pay my own bills and I do pay my bills often at many restaurants. If I get an invite to a restaurant I that wanted to visit, I may take up on that.
  • Or think that all blogposts are sponsored: While there are no sponsored posts here, there have been projects – both food and travel, for which I have been commissioned for. The stories that you read are my own stories. For example, my Istanbul trip was hosted by Turkish Airlines but all the stories that you read on Grand Bazaar, eating heritage Turkish Meatballs or Izgara Köfte or our crazy night out in Ortaköy are all my own. Disclaimers disclose all.
  • And lastly, FoodEMag dxb is completely another product: I agree, this adds to the confusion. Please don’t mix up. Yes, I co-founded FoodEMag dxb and I edit it, but accepting something on behalf of the blog doesn’t guarantee a space in the emagazine and vice versa. You are probably confused between the blogger (IshitaUnblogged) and the Editor of FoodEMag dxb – we are two separate identities – my blog is a personal space where I write about things that fit this blog and the emagazine is exactly that – it’s a commercial magazine. It’s got its running costs, design costs and development costs. I probably am to be blamed anyways for not having cleared this confusion… so a new About Me page is on the way.

To all the Editors

  • Thank you, for repeatedly telling me that I didn’t have enough writing experience: Because of you all, I started writing in my blog and I can’t thank you enough. Today, I own a blog space where people come to read ‘my writings’. These are writings that I want to write and not writings commissioned by you.
  • So nice to meet you: I am proud to say that I am going to the same exclusive invites and places that you are going to. And all because my blog (and now the emagazine) creates similar noise (if not more at times) like your ‘big name’ media publications create. I apologise if I am sounding arrogant here… but I am sick of being asking how I managed to get the invite. I didn’t manage the invites, the invites managed to get accepted by me. Do recognise that my blog is powerful.
  • I am not qualified enough like other journalists: True, I may not be qualified as a journalist but I am highly qualified having obtained a First Class Masters Degree in Econometrics and… oh, I will let it pass. Yes, I am learning and yes there are many mistakes that I am still making, but its a learning curve. I am gathering more experience and knowledge because I am building a brand of my own – however small it might be. I plan to make it only bigger!
  • I am a good story: Trust me when I say this. I have managed to travel countries, speak on radio channels, connected to people, attend international forums. And yes, I have co-founded an emagazine that is so beautiful that it makes me proud… If you still think that there isn’t much story in here, then do read what I plan to do in the next few years (of course I am not disclosing all!). Inshallah!

Lastly, to myself

  • I want to blog like before: I want to go back to my simplistic writings – take out the blogposts from my brains rather than brewing them inside!
  • I want to travel the world with my family: Make sure, I am writing on travel more than what I am… I still haven’t written on Srilanka, Florence, Goa, the US and Ladakh. But I have spoken about the latter a lot. So tourism authorities and travel companies, take note. All stories retold in my style.
  • I want to concentrate more on Hidden Gems and quirky finds, culinary travel (in this blog): I write a Hidden Gem column in PW of Gulf News. Small places are my passion. And the fine dining and all the gourmet opportunities – go into my special roundups or FoodEMag dxb.
  • I want to write my book: I need to travel to Bangladesh first as probably that’s where the story would start unfolding. On hold for many years now, I should start planning soon. Is there a good publisher who can sign me up?
  • Travel show? You tube channel? Media columns? I am not pitching. You come forward and show me a plan that will incorporate all the crackpot ideas that I have. I can see a luxury caravan travelling all around the world with the logo painted in graffiti style. Lil Z doesn’t mind home schooling at all. This would be an inspiring story of an ordinary family who leads an extraordinary life through their travels and what better school can I provide them than showing them the world?
  • I would love to open a Bengali fine dining restaurant: When? I am not sure! This is one passion project that I would love to work on eventually.
  • Take FoodEMag regional and international: With the pool of talented blogger friends around me, I don’t see why this can’t be made into something that is really influential, inspirational and unique. Yes, the brand is becoming visible, but I want to take it to different cities and to different levels. Investors and resources please?
  • Take care of my health: Late nights and working without any structure has taken tremendous toll on my health. If I have to live my life eating and travelling, I better be fit to do that!
  • Enjoy life, my new garden, friends, family and our two gorgeous girls: I think I had been too harsh on myself, working too hard and chasing no dream in particular. All this started off so that I could live off my passion and then I stopped breathing in the daily moments. So here I am, pausing once in a while – from writing, from clicking, from uploading, from sharing, from helping others… and doing ‘just nothing’!
  • Lastly, but not the least, I will never write a recipe with Chia in it: No honestly. I think I must have choked on Chia seeds and died in my earlier birth – how else can I explain my apathy towards it!

177343_490242767675819_1070744288_o

Thank You!

I have to say this because I really want to, and I really owe this to you: Thank You so very much – I am humbled and touched and feel absolutely blessed. I feel like mentioning so many names in this post – starting from some readers who have become close, blogger friends of Fooderati Arabia and around the world who feed my alter ego and keeps me sane (and some Gen X bloggers have also started saying that I inspire them which makes me blush – not out of the thought that I really inspire them but that I might have become really really old), close friends and family – the last two sets have been tolerating me enough and have been bearing up with all the idiosyncrasies that I do in the name of blogging. I still remember the 1st birthday cake that our friends’ daughters had baked (above – but those days clicking good pictures wasn’t really a priority) and we celebrated at home. Thank you so very much for reading till this exclamation mark!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: Please note that this blog is not a sponsored blog and the subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can catch my daily travel and food journey on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

IshitaUnblogged

Save

Save

Save

Save

+

ChefXChange | When A Chef Comes Home

Get to know the Chef and you will start to enjoy dining out even more. John Walters

DSC_3769 copy

Nominated for  as Best Asian Blog! To vote for me, please click here... 

And how much better can you know your chef than when he comes home into your own kitchen to cook? And serves delicious food – course by course, and leaves your kitchen scrumptiously clean? It does sound like a fairy Godmother descending into the kitchen and creating magic with the wave of her wand and disappearing in the end, while you are left behind to rewind the good times and burp out loud without any qualm of other diners staring at you – after all this is your home, and you just tasted some fabulous creation out of a restaurant menu. ChefXChange is an online platform that lets you book a private chef ranging from a professional to an amateur one, interact with him before hand in creating a menu (that is, if you wish to) and let him/her take over your kitchen while you can do the darn job of pouring yourself your own drink!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While there are many who would love to hand over their kitchen to others, I am quite the opposite. I love cooking, it empowers me and although Lady M has been consistently cooking for us for the last few years, giving over the reigns to an outsider is a huge challenge for me. Apart from this, the other challenge that I felt was the size of our kitchen – we lived in an apartment (this was before we moved out recently) and I feared that the equipment and the utensils were not be at par with a professional chef’s requirement. The evening was special with Big Z celebrating her 11th birthday. She is not only a foodie but also likes fancy and stylish meals – so ChefXChange sounded very special. We booked Chef Maxine Le Van who is the head Chef of Boca in DIFC, which boasts of cuisine from the Mediterranean coastal regions of France, Italy and Spain. I loved Boca and wanted to test whether the same experience could be replicated at home. Not only was it replicated (Maxime even brought the crockery from Boca), the evening surpassed all our expectations. We sat by the table for hours as a family and let Maxime pamper us by bringing each dish to the table. I love going into different kitchens and interact with chefs but to interact with a chef who is cooking for us, that too in our own kitchen – was definitely a novel experience.

What did Maxime think of his first experience of cooking in a different kitchen environment and interacting with a family from a different culture as well (he came from the Provence region in France with an exposure to the classic techniques of French cooking, I treated him to my Mishti Doi too)? Yes, the size of the kitchen was definitely a challenge for him (although he was familiar to the kitchen as he lived in a different building in the same block), but it wasn’t ‘a disaster!’ As he later said, ‘It is interesting and is a challenge. But it has been my pleasure to have been able to create a beautiful moment. When we are working in the restaurant kitchen we hardly get to interact with the diners and hear their feedback, but here it is a lovely feeling to see the plates getting empty and know first hand how the dishes fared’. The The menu was delightfully elaborate, finalised after discussing with him earlier regarding our dietary preferences (whether we ate raw fish, whether we had any food allergy, I definitely wanted the duck that I had tasted in Boca earlier etc etc). Delicious starters, breads and dips complemented the interaction and the food talk that entailed with Maxime – how he visited the Deira fish market everyday to get his fish and how the region of Provence and the fresh ingredients that grew there, shaped his cooking. So while we savoured our home cured Beef Pastrami served with mustard and herb Focaccia or the Grilled Octopus and air dried beef, Maxime toiled hard in the kitchen to bring out our next course – Black Rice & Seared Scallops. A gorgeous Mascarpone Crème Brûlée with Raspberry Compote complete with a candle (Maxime arranged even this) sealed the birthday celebration for Big Z’.

For more info on ChefXChange and booking your own private chef, click here.

DSC_3738

How do you like the concept of bringing a private chef into your home? Would you love the interaction that follows or would you be happily watching your favourite soap on TV while a professional chef toiled in your kitchen to transport a restaurant experience at home? Or would it pinch you to pay a restaurant bill while eating at home in your pyjamas? For us, we simply loved the concept and our experience so much that we *gifted* a similar experience to a friend on her birthday. In a concept like this, the chef interaction itself is half the deal, and gorging on beautiful food that appeared out of our own kitchen created one of the loveliest culinary experiences that we, as a family, would cherish for a long time to come!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: If you enjoy reading my blog and it inspires you in any way, do vote for me – the blog has been nominated as the Best Asian Blog in #MasalaAwards2015 under the Popular choice list.

To vote for me, please click here... 

Disclaimer: ChefXChange hosted this experience for us and the menu that evening costed AED 325/person. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the 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.

+

Hidden Gems of Dubai | My Pick of Restaurants

There are little gems all around us that can hold glimmers of inspiration. ∼ Richelle Mead

Dubai Creekside

Nominated for  as Best Asian Blog! To vote for me, please click here... 

Hidden Gems. The term is sometimes too clichéd and overrated, specially in an ever evolving city like Dubai. Here, big shopping malls are easier to spot than hidden gems and the few gems that have remain hidden are exposed all too sudden. The example of the latter is perhaps the popular seafood joint Bu Qtair – its the most *unhidden* venues of Dubai! However, not everything is lost as yet and there are still many such quaint places in Dubai that provides comfort to one’s soul. I write about such places in my *Hidden Gems* column in the Gulf News’ Property Weekly. Not all of these write ups have been about cafes and restaurants and there have been some quirky finds as well, like the Architecture Museum, the furniture shop called Warehouse and more. Here’s a roundup of my favourite Hidden Gems amongst restaurants that have been utterly delicious. To avoid replicating the content of my column, I have jotted down only the highlights below – what you should order, when to visit and other pointers that may be of interest to Dubai diners as well as tourists.

Barjeel Al Arab Restaurant by the Creek

Hidden Gems in GN Property Weekly - Barjeel Heritage Guest House

DSC_0100

The location: This is a perfect venue when you have visiting guests. Located on the waterfront overlooking the creek, in the heart of Al Shindaga, adjacent to Al Ghubaiba Metro Station, it is easy to find Barjeel Al Arab Restaurant. If you are reluctant to drive into the Meena Bazaar traffic, there is a paid parking building just 2 minutes away. The restaurant is housed in a traditional wind towered house that once reflected Dubai’s architectural landscape in the 1960’s and is a reflection of Emirati hospitality at its very best. The restaurant is a part of the Barjeel Guest House and is open to outside diners as well.

Our favourite spot: The terrace on the first floor for the vantage view of the Dubai creek.

The food: Do try the authentic Emirati breakfast dishes like Pancakes and Khameer (cardamom and fennel flavored yeast bread) with dates honey and homemade cheese; the Shorba Harees or the wheat soup, Shorbat Adas or the traditional lentil soup, Salona or gravy based dishes like Thareed – lamb or chicken stew poured over thin and crispy Regag bread, Machboos or spiced rice with chicken or Lamb and the Robyan Mashwi or grilled tiger prawns. Our top picks are fried potatoes (order regular french fries and you will be served a garlic-sprinkled potato fritters!), grilled Halloumi, fresh Mezze and the traditional dessert of Leqaimats and Umm Ali. For a camel meat experience, you could also order a Camel Shawarma or the Camel Fajita that is served with Mexican Tortilla bread, sour cream, tomato salsa and spicy jalapenos.

Soak in the warmth of the Gulf sunshine, the wind across the Dubai creek and a fleet of seagulls!

Open from 7:00 am unto 10:30 am and from 12:00 pm unto midnight. Located adjacent to Heritage village, by the Al Ghubaiba Metro Station. Do check before you visit as the venue is often closed for private functions. More info here.

Sim Sim Restaurant in The Walk, JBR

20150408_082546

Musakhan Dajaj

The Location: This is one of my favourite restaurants in The Walk as it gives me the warmth of home. Although the area is disrupted with a lot of construction right now and the restaurants in The Beach Dubai have overshadowed their counterparts in The Walk, I would return only for Sim Sim. The decor reflects a Palestinian home, including the rough cemented floor.

Our favourite spot: The mezzanine level seating with cozy sofas and soft cushions – it looks so lived-in. This is a perfect venue for a casual get together with friends and family.

The food: Sim Sim is a Levantine restaurant with special emphasis on Palestinian food. The more popular dishes are the Jordanian Mansaf (cooked only over the weekends during lunchtime), Shakshukat Bandora, Fattet Batinjan bil Lahmeh, Musakhan Dajaj, Fattoush Gazawi and the traditional sweets – both hot and cold. Our top picks are the Musakhan Dajaj (above picture) – the Palestinian speciality of chicken baked with onions, sumac, almonds, pine nuts, and served on fresh taboon bread. Tender pieces of chicken lace the soft taboon bread, enamored by the pink colour of sumac – the reddish-purple spice used in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemony taste to salads and meat. The next on the rank is Jordanian Mansaf and Lamb Kofta. Our pick from the traditional desserts are Tamriyeh, the filo parcels enclosing layers of orange blossom flavoured semolina topped with confectioners’ sugar, Kunafeh Nabulsi, the cheese pastry soaked in orange blossom syrup, topped with pistachio and Osmalieh bil Ice Cream where layers of roasted vermicelli is served with ice cream.

An excerpt from my PW write up: A chat with Rula Hamed, the owner of Sim Sim, will transport you to the region where her grand parents come from. The floor, she explains, have been replicated in the same manner as in her grand parents’ house – rough, cemented and a bit uneven. Even the cemented railing on the upper level has been brought all the way from Palestine. She adds, “The feeling of ‘eating at home’ evokes wide sentiment among expatriates of Levantine descent, when they crave the cooking and the culture of their native lands. Simultaneously, it is our aim to act as an ambassador for Dubai’s many residents and visitors who are yet to discover the simple but sumptuous tastes of Levantine food. We have carefully chosen classic recipes from the Levant countries – Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Egypt – and our interiors showcase a range of hand crafted objects that were built to order in the region. As a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, it is the tastes and treats of my home that are most beloved to me. My restaurant embodies the family meals and the family values I have grown up with, and I am sharing them at SimSim. We serve recipes borrowed from grandmothers in Gaza and Ramallah, and natural ingredients sourced from Nablus, Toulkarem and surrounding villages – it is as authentic as it gets.”

Put your feet up and sip into a glass of chilled drink – Karkadeh or the Hibiscus infused tea… to start with!

Open from 8.30 am until 12.00 midnight on weekdays, and until 1.30 am on weekends and public holidays. Home deliveries and catering services available in Jumeirah Beach Residence and Dubai Marina. Located on the Ground Floor, Sadaf 4, adjoining the Movenpick Jumeirah Beach Hotel. More info here.

Marta’s Workshop in JLT

Marta's Workshop

Do read the original article in PW.

The Location: A tiny verandah overlooking the high rises in a residential area, this could very well be your home rather than a regular restaurant. Marta’s Workshop, a café-cum-restaurant-cum-atelier cum-tapas bar is one of the places where I can vouch for the most delicious food in Dubai. Sigh it’s only open during lunch hours.

The Food: Prices start from Dhs 40 and goes up to a maximum of Dhs 110 – that includes a Starter, main course and a dessert. The menu changes daily so it’s very difficult to pinpoint a few sample dishes from the menu. Rest assured you will not leave the restaurant with an empty tummy and a hungry soul!

An excerpt from my PW write up: Chances are that you will be served by the charming Yanci and her team of five chefs. The food is presented in a unique way: there are no waiters, the water is on the house and you have to make your own coffee — no frills and no hidden costs. But rest assured that you will be tasting some great food at a decent price (a main course starts at Dh40).
The menu is creative and uses fresh ingredients. Picks include locally sourced burrata with marinated cherry tomatoes and peas, sea bream on a bed of creamy carrots and peas and a fruit tartare with mango sorbet and strawberry sap. For the mains, Yanci suggests carrot and hoisin dumplings or the beef fillet. The dish is prepared with smoked potato mousseline and caramelized onions or sweet potato. For desserts, she offers a choice of her favourites — chocolate and coffee your way or the choco crinkles, coffee cream and home-made espresso ice cream.
Born in San Sebastián in Spain, Yanci gives a Spanish touch to her dishes. Her cooking philosophy? ”To maximise taste and texture. We blend different cuisines in our workshop and catering,” she says. ”I basically pick whatever I like from a cuisine and incorporate it — be it local, Vietnamese or French. Also, blending our cuisines with Emirati fare makes perfect sense.” Her culinary journey began in 2011 when she won Dubai One’s Amateur Chef Competition and today she is part of Dubai’s culinary landscape. When asked about the challenges she faces as a female chef, she laughs and says, ”None really. In fact, people are quite nice.”
While there is a set menu, it changes daily depending on the availability of fresh seasonal produce. You can find the day’s menu on the restaurant’s Facebook page as well. Have a look to see if it suits your dietary preferences and head out to the Martha’s Workshop after calling to reserve a seat.

You want to eat gourmet food within a budget, check with their facebook page whether they are serving any lunch – soul satisfying food and the warmth of home – that’s what you will get at Marta’s Workshop!

More info here.

Tapri Cafe in Dubai Silicon Oasis

Untitled-2

The Location: A roadside Indian cafe in the most unlikely of an urban location – the ground floor of a high rise in the Dubai Silicon Oasis? A tiny space perfect for a very casual hangout, this is a cafe that strikes a chord in the neighborhood not only amongst the Indian residents but also the Emirates Airlines staff living in the vicinity.

The Food:  From Cutting Chais, Bun Maskas, flavored Sodas and Bhajiyas – the freshly made crispy fritters and cream rolls, custards, ‘Shrewsbury’ biscuits, and Nankhattais and other fresh bakery items. For those having a connection to Mumbai, Tapri would bring back a lot of memories – specially with the bakery items that are reminiscent of the decadent Iranian cafes the city.

An excerpt from my PW write up: One word that runs throughout the restaurant is Passion. As Aneesa Mulla, the owner of Tapri says, ‘Having a restaurant was more of a passion. There are many good Indian restaurants but not a single Indian café – a version of say, a Starbucks, where people – from office going crowd to younger generation hang out.’
Considering that the menu was a reflection of Mumbai street food, was the Butter Chicken (the popular North Indian dish) more of a fashionable inclusion as it is one of the most popular Indian dishes in the West? Aneesa, a certified dietician and one of the brains behind Tapri explained, ‘Yes, it’s true. But I also felt that not many places made a good and authentic Butter Chicken. They all taste sweet but that buttery element is missing in most Butter Chickens. The Butter Biryani, for example, is again my own creation. My children love it and I thought of putting that in the menu. Everything that you get in Tapri is freshly cooked – no frozens and precooked ingredients. The food is what I wouldn’t think twice giving to my own children.’

For when it’s time for the evening tea and the *desi* hunger pang strikes, Tapri is the place to get your onion bhaaji and the bun maaska from!

Located in Apricot Towers, Dubai Silicon Oasis. More info here.

Creekside Cafe in Dubai Creek

French Toast in Creekside Cafe

{An elaborate review of Creekside Cafe from an earlier blogpost}

The Location: With the best view that Dubai creek can offer, this is a real haven despite the trek it might entail to reach the cafe. Housed in a heritage building with barjeels or wind towers that lines up this neighborhood by Dubai’s historic creek side, this is a contemporary cultural space and cafe and has been visualised by the same Emirati twin brothers Ahmed and Rashid bin Shabib, the creators of The Archives in Safa Park. The walls of the indoor area are adorned with black and white photographs taken by Wilfred Thesiger, the famous British explorer and reflects the Dubai creek in the 1940’s and 1950.

Our favourite spot: The al fresco seating on the deck cum jetty along the creek and preferably during the morning time.

The Food: With a beautiful presentation and a creatively fused menu with Emirati flavours, this is more for the senses – both visual and gustatory. The menu had been created initially by Chef Allan Briones of the Archives fame who has now left for the Brooklyn Bros, a restaurant food truck serving gourmet hot dogs. Traditional Emirati dishes are deconstructed to modern flavours.

An excerpt from my PW write up: The presentation breathes life into each dish and like a painted canvas with minute detailing – drops of coloured purées, sprigs of fresh herbs and strokes with pastes and dips – each element adds to the beauty of the canvas. Chef Allan deconstructs traditional Emirati dishes and tweaks them to give them modern flavours. Hence the Ramadan special dish – Ghouzi which consists of rice with a whole lamb on top of it, transforms itself into a Burrito. Or the traditional crispy fried dough balls in syrup – the famous Emirati desserts called Leqaimats, paves its way into forming Red Velvet mini doughnuts. You can opt for the all-day breakfast menu or the mains created with locally sourced seafood and fresh produce. Or, if you could, like me, order the main course of Omani Crab cakes with pickled daikon and baby roquette for breakfast! For this is a place where you will have no choice but to let your hair down, legs curled up in the chairs and hands free of your smartphone. The wind will blow away your frowns and the helpful staff will serve you what you want. A note of caution here – it tends to get very busy, so why not hit the place early in the morning when it opens its doors? While food is just one of the many lures of Creekside, the main lure of this place is definitely the creek side, the feeling of being transported into the old world charm of what Dubai must have been years back – with the creek tearing into the heart of the small pearl diving and fishing village, much before the skyscrapers and the flyovers had engulfed this city.

If you want to show off Dubai’s most beautiful and authentic face – the Dubai creek, and gorge into some equally gorgeous food, gaze at the Abras and seagulls with a backdrop of changing waterscape, head to Creekside Cafe!

More info here.

The Majlis in the Jumeirah Mosque Premise

Majlis - PW

Cold Coffee with Camel Milk

{An elaborate review of The Majlis from an earlier blogpost}

The Location: In the calm surroundings of the Jumeriah Mosque, literally hidden and a breather from the snarling traffic, the incessant construction, the snowballing statistics (the world’s longest, biggest, tallest etc) and the infinite attempts to put the city of Dubai on the world map!

The Food: You can choose from sandwiches, sweets, cupcakes, flavoured shakes, camel-chino, camel-latte, ice cream by Al Nassma, camel milk praline, white camel milk cheese and creams. The age-old Middle Eastern tradition of using camel milk and other popular local savoury dishes are given a tweak to infuse modernity.

An excerpt from my PW write up: The interior is plush, elegant and perfect for unwinding after a short tour of Jumeirah Mosque (conducted by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding). The café also has an outlet at the Dubai Mall and one located in the desert. The Majlis Dubai claims to be the first and finest camel milk café in Dubai, although the city now boasts several cafés that serve camel milk. Guests can enjoy an all-day à la carte menu of finger food. All milk-based products at the eatery are made from camel milk. “Camel milk turns salty when heated,” says the café’s chef, Aziz. “Hence, it requires a bit of knowledge about the properties and characteristics of camel milk to use it appropriately in different dishes.” As such, there might not be much of a difference in taste between a camel milk shake and one made using cow’s milk, but a hot camel-chino should taste a bit saltier. Nonetheless, the fat content of camel milk is 50 per cent less than cow’s milk and it has much higher mineral, calcium and natural vitamin C content. Camel milk is also much easier to digest and it is not known to cause allergies.
The café also serves the more familiar Turkish coffee and traditional Arabic green coffee, which is served from a traditional dalla or Arabic coffee pot. If you want something cooler, there are carbonated juices made from dry flowers such as the karkadeh. You can also immerse in the local culture by sipping teas with local flavours such as za’atar.

When you want to forget that you are in the world’s most hot and happening city and just want to go into a time wrap, enter The Majlis and snuggle into the luxurious comfort of their white sofas, order a chilled camel latte and browse through a real book – not a kindle!

More info here.

Have you tried any of the above? Do you know of any such Hidden Gem? It could be a park, a library, a market {I have written about the Farmers’ Market on The Terrace earlier} – anything that is not run of the mill and that has a story to capture. Next will be my pick of the cafes that make it to my list of Hidden Gems. Stay tuned and hidden!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS: If you enjoy reading my blog and it inspires you in any way, do vote for me – the blog has been nominated as the Best Asian Blog in #MasalaAwards2015 under the Popular choice list.

To vote for me, please click here... 

Also, do hop in here to read about all the Hidden Gems that I have written about – even the non-delicious ones like below!

20150527_091708(1)

Disclaimer: All bills have been paid my me at all the venues excepting The Majlis Cafe, where I had been a guest. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the 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.

+

My Best Brunch Experiences | Exploring The Friday Heritage

Brunch, for me, is an extended breakfast that should be enjoyed whenever you have time properly to engage in cooking and eating. ∼ Yotam Ottolenghi

Soul & Talk

‘Friday Brunch’ is considered something of an institution in Dubai. Many large hotels and restaurants offer an all inclusive drinks and food buffet during early afternoons, and large groups of expatriates and tourists make this the highlight of their weekend, with parties going on well into the night. ∼ Wikipedia

Nominated for  as Best Asian Blog! To vote for me, please click here... 

So the ‘Dubai Brunch’ makes it to the definition of Brunch in Wikipedia. Although the Friday Brunch is the most common of all, lately Saturday Brunches are also becoming fashionable followed by late evening brunches that are gradually extending upto midnight. I have tasted more than 30 Friday brunches over the last few months (before Ramadan), tagging along the Z-Sisters and occasionally Debbie Rogers aka Coffee Cakes and Running (friend and fellow food blogger, also Travel & features Editor of the the emagazine that I edit) and have come up with the different types of brunches (conventional hotel brunches) that make it to ‘IshitaUnblogged’s experiences’. S goes out early on Fridays for his bike ride, and I do join him on his biker’s trail sometimes, and when I don’t, I brunch. One thing I would like to admit here – some brunches are delightfully good!

The Award Winning Talk & Soul Brunch in The Movenpick, JBR

20150410_130954

 

Awarded as the Best Brunch at the BBC Good Food ME Awards 2014, the Talk & Soul Brunch has been in my list for the long time. Two different restaurants Soul (a lounge) and Talk (a family restaurant) merge together for the Friday brunch – both indoors and al fresco. It’s interesting how the two different sections exude different vibes while seamlessly becoming one. From Nasi Goreng to fresh oysters, grilled shrimps to lamb shanks (the one that’s featured here is the star!) and desserts served in the chilled wine cellar… the atmosphere is relaxed and warm without being very overwhelming in its menu offerings. The kids’ menu offers healthy and fun recipes from Power Bites menu (Mövenpick’s special menu for children). There’s a special outdoor corner for kids with bouncy castles, movie screenings, face painting and the works, while a live jazz singer and saxophonist keeps the vibe alive indoors. (And if this is of interest, there’s a discount for JBR residents too).

Every Friday from 12:30 p.m. until 4 p.m. Prices start at AED 279 per person, including buffet and soft beverages to AED 379 per person, including buffet and beverage package. Champagne menu is available.. More info here.

The Rotisserie Brunch @ Caravan in The Ritz Carlton, JBR

DSC_6479

 

A Mediterranean garden by the beach right here in Dubai complete with birds’ chirping (real), the kiss of cool sea breeze on the cheeks and the warmth of a Friday Sun! The Rotisserie Friday Brunch at Caravan takes you through a journey of the spice route – India, Arabia and the Mediterranean. It brings organic farm-to-table experiences highlight seasonal ingredients and vegetables fresh from the country’s selected local farms via Ripe Organic. A *Top 10 to Try* printed list to helps you to choose from the buffet spread! My pick… camel milk dulce de leche shot, *sous vide* pear balls, the grilled lobsters (soft and melting in the mouth) and the Apple Pie! Topping all this is the ‘Vineyard’ an interactive biodynamic wine station exclusively for wine connoisseurs.

Every Friday from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. Prices start at AED 450/person that includes signature mocktails, fresh juices, infused iced teas and soft beverages to AED 690/person including premium spirits, wines, and champagne. More info here.

The Desi Brunch @ Mahec in Le Meridien Airport

DSC_9486

 

This is one desi brunch that doesn’t hurt the wallet but overfills the tummy. The word Mahec means flavours and also forms the acronym – Modern Authentic Hindustani Evolved Cuisine. Definitely sounds good. And tastes even better (an earlier experience form their Mango festival). Starting from a chaat counter and a live Pani Puri station perched on a traditional cart and finishing off with kulfis set in matkas, this is desi binging to the hilt! After the chaat session of Dahi Bhallas, Sev Puri, Papri Chaat comes the Starters – Tandoori Cheese Brocolli, Hara Bhara Kabab, Chicken, Mutton Sheekhs and Botis. This is followed by an elaborate traditional North Indian tray that is brought to the table that is complete with Dal Makhni, different types of Naans, Dum Pakht Biryani, Butter Chicken (of course!), Amritsari fish and more. Highlights? The authentic momos – both steamed & pan fried. And the *Masala Cola* that is available on special request. An inspired version of Masala Thumpsup that I taught them to make!

Every Friday from 12 pm until 3.15 pm. Prices start as AED250/person for the alcoholic package
AED150/person with soft drinks. More info here.

The Steak Brunch in CUT by Wolfgang Puck @ The Address Downtown Hotel

2

 

Imagine starting your brunch with a succulent steak… and why not when the venue is one of the most prestigious steak houses in Dubai? A choicest of dishes from the CUT menu brought to the table, this calls for a very long and a relaxed experience – just make sure that the intestinal juices are flowing at its very best. We start with a memorable butter lettuce salad with avacado, Roquefort blue cheese and finish off with a divine hot chocolate molten lava dessert with a 100% Black Angus USDA New York Sirloin thrown in with creamed spinach, truffle fries and mushroom in between. We also tasted the Wiener schnitzel – celebrity chef Wolfgang’s favourite from the menu. There’s no reason to complain about anything here excepting that the portion sizes might seem quite a lot, specially as none of the dishes come as a sharing platter. Unlike other steakhouses (specially American steakhouses) which use broilers, CUT cooks its meat over charcoal and oak to get a slight smoky flavour – grilled over hard wood & charcoal then finished under a 1200 degree broiler – as written in the menu. The drifting tunes of jazz, the Burj Khalifa zooming at the backdrop and the vibe of the black and white framed celebrities who have been fed by the chef, lends a sense of superiority to the venue… everything here makes for a perfect Friday brunch – in Dubai sense!

Every Friday from 12 pm until 4 pm. Prices start at AED 290/person includes soft drinks and mocktails;  AED 440/person including house beverages and AED 650/person including premium selected beverages. More info here.

The Picnic Brunch in Blades @ Al Badia Golf Course

20141129_134032 copy

DSC_7766 DSC_7654

An earlier blogpost depicts our Picnic Brunch experience in pictures. While the weather hasn’t yet cooled down for the Picnic Brunch, when it finally does resume (it runs from October to April only), I am going to book myself into one with my entire gang of friends. This is by far the best family brunch experience we have ever had. Sprawling across the green lawns overlooking the Al Badia Golf course, your seating comes with a low lying coffee table, blanket, umbrellas and needless to say – a picnic wicker basket filled with goodies. Live barbecue stations complete the al fresco vibe while it seems like being horizontal is the only way out here!

Every weekend 11:30 am – 3:30 pm from October to April. Prices start from Dhs 275/person with soft beverages and Dhs 375/person with house beverages. More info here.

The Yumcha Brunch in Yuan @ The Atlantis

What is Yum Cha? Yum Cha is a traditional Chinese style morning tea. Also known as  Ban ming, this Chinese style of  drinking morning or afternoon tea is accompanied by eating dim sum dishes. In Yuan, a Yum Cha session is drenched with the finest selections of free flow teas (and also non-alcoholic beverages). A traditional Yum Cha not only focuses on drinking of tea but also on the range of small dishes served (which are collectively known as dim sum) either with breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. It is customary to share the dim sum dishes among everyone seating at the same table. This would be one of those fine dining Dubai brunches (mostly dim sums and what a mind boggling variety of them) that comes at a casual dining price. Priced at Dhs 188/person (why such an unusual figure? 188 is a lucky number in Chinese tradition), one can taste an unlimited amount of the dim sums that are offered in the Menu, plus 4 more pages doling out a selection of steamed items, wok-fried/deep-fried items and salads, rice/noodles and of course some traditional Chinese desserts. And the entire experience starts with the *dim sum trolley* that rolls out, what a brilliant start to a weekend indulgence! {More from my earlier review here}

Every Friday 11:30am – 3:30pm. Prices start from Dhs 188/person with selected non-alcoholic beverages and Dhs 375/person with selected signature cocktails and house wines. More info here.

Although I haven't consciously ventured into Abu Dhabi because driving back to Dubai after a leisurely afternoon does seem like a torture (or to book a safe driver if you have been drinking), the following Abu Dhabi brunches have been my favourite ones:

A ‘daycational’ Friday Brunch @ Safina in Saadiyat Beach Club

DSC_1100

 

Safina’s Mediterranean interiors with lights created by hanging cages captivate the diner the moment one walks in. The framed pictures donning the walls are a reflection of stories of the ocean, the infinity pool with the jutting water cabanas overlook into the Persian Gulf outside double emphasis them. The menu is inspired by the French and Italian Rivieras and also the Levant with traces of the Orient thrown in – multi cuisine as one would describe it. The buffet is brimming with fresh oysters to pasta and curry station, live cooking and carving stations, a gourmet cheese bar and a dessert station. In addition, there are live cocktail bars serving a selection of signature cocktails. Do opt for a package that allows the beach and the pool access as the shoreline here is really beautiful – vibrantly blue when its calm and a faded turquoise and hazy when its windy. We happened to arrive on a day amidst Shamal /sandstorm but that didn’t stop us from outstaying, although it was too cold to swim. The 9km stretch of beach on Saadiyat Island has been certified Blue Flag eco label since October 2013 and the club is part of a protected habitat where Hawksbill turtles have nested for many years, so you might end up seeing some dolphins as well.

Every Friday from 12 pm until 4 pm. Prices start at AED 275/person that includes soft beverages; AED 375/person includes bubbly; AED 475/person includes French Bubbly; AED 999/person includes a bottle of Dom Perignon. For an extra AED 215/person, diners can also enjoy the full Saadiyat Beach Club facilities with access to the beach and pool. More info here.

A Bespoke Brunch @ Market Kitchen in Le Meridien Abu Dhabi

DSC_2648

 

Market Kitchen is inspired by Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s concept of the “hotel as a home” and extends to the restaurant as a casual family kitchen. Inspired by the casual, simple elegance of the setting, the menu features Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s “greatest hits” with fresh, locally produced ingredients. Truly so, for this family style sharing brunch experience has been etched in my taste buds as one of the tastiest, liveliest and a casually relaxed one. Another highlight of the brunch had been that the menu had been created by cookbook author Suzanne Husseini along with head Chef Jordan Annabi to bring the modern flavours of Arabia to Market Kitchen’s regular brunch. The entire decor focuses on a central olive tree that creates a courtyard feel while a full height fire pit wall connects the lower level to the mezzanine bar. The resuming brunch in August boasts of Normandy Oysters, Jumbo Shrimps, Maine Lobster, Mussels and Clams and one can enjoy the usual fresh, seasonal produce straight from the market.

Every Friday from 1pm until 4 pm. Prices starts from AED 199/person including mocktails; AED 299/person with cocktails and wine and AED 399/person with Champagne. More info here.

Pranzo del Venerdi @ Villa Toscana in St Regis Abu Dhabi

Untitled-1

Staycation at St Regis Abu Dhabi

Staycation at St Regis Abu Dhabi

As I wrote about our staycation in the Ramadan issue of FoodEMag dxb, the Friday brunch at Villa Toscana is going to be one of its highlights and one of the best Italian meals that we have had in the UAE. This is one Friday Brunch that’s etched in memory, partly because of the leisurely vibe of an elaborate Italian spread and partly because of the passion of Chef Stefano, the Italian Chef de Cuisine. Pranzo – the Italian Weekend Brunch brings in the Tusacan countryside into the four walls of the restaurant. All dishes are brought to the table with the Chef preparing a menu according to the diner’s preferences. A warm ‘pane di campagna’ sets the scene and the menu consists of delicious starters and salads followed by a traditional Tuscan soup – the Ribollita di verdure alla Fiorentina or the Minestrone-ribollita soup with cannellini beans, bread crust; handcrafted pastas, a main course and traditional Italian desserts that quite naturally included Tiramisu and home made gelatos. Our top pick here? Buffalo mozzarella caprese (with basil pesto, balsamic vinegar that is 10 years old), the Burrata and pappa al pomodoro (with Tuscan focaccia crouton and yellow pumpkin) for the Starters; the specially created Scialatielli Ai Frutti Di Mare from the pasta section and the Costoletta di agnello al rosmarino or the Char grilled rack of lamb served with mashed potato and asparagus for the Mains. Expect to walk in with a huge appetite and walk out with absolute satiety!

Every Friday from 12pm – 4pm. Prices start from AED 250/person including soft drinks; AED 350/person with beer and wine and soft drinks; AED 450/person with proseco, beer, wine and soft drinks. More info here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 2.22.09 AM

Does a brunch with a huge buffet appeal to you or do you look for signature dishes from the a la carte menu when you go out to dine? As I sign off now, I already have at least 10 brunch invites waiting in my inbox – I am bookmarking the ones that offers something different. Which are your favourite brunches in this region or would you rather laze on a Friday morning, tuck your feet into the cushions and read a book and dig into some leftovers and freshly baked scones at home, just like how Noreen of Noni’s Place does?

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: I have taken up on the invites if there were any, in my compilation of this brunch list. Please check with the venue before booking into any of the brunches for their availability as some of the brunches will be resuming soon after the summers. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. While you enjoy reading the 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.

%d bloggers like this: