Just get­ting started

Friday - - Leisure -

we scoffed the falafel. Arva ex­plained a great deal of time and ef­fort goes into this dish. The carp is killed fresh for cook­ing, mar­i­nated in olive oil, rock salt, tamarind and ground tumeric and then cooked for up to three hours de­pend­ing on its size.

Cus­tomers must call ahead to or­der it, and must ar­rive at a set time as cook­ing starts be­fore they ar­rive. Our fish was a mas­sive 2.5kg (the small­est op­tion) and we ar­rived to see the end of the cook­ing. It was im­paled with wood and piled up on top of a mas­sive caul­dron of burn­ing coals called a ‘fire al­tar’, which is like a big open oven/ bon­fire set in a closed-off cor­ner of the restau­rant.

Typ­i­cally a group of din­ers will pick at mezze or slurp bowls of shorbat adas (a sim­ple lentil soup) dur­ing cook­ing time. We didn’t have to wait that long, but when the Mas­gouf made its grand en­trance we ooh and ahh’d with child­like glee. The fish tasted smokey, with de­li­cious crispy skin. We ate chunks of it lay­ered with amba (mango pickle) and ray­haan (basil leaves) and cra­dled in warm tanour bread.

Given more time, this would be a lovely, slow and re­laxed way to dine. Sure, the can­teen-style in­te­ri­ors aren’t seven-star stan­dard, but the ba­sic sur­round­ings and open kitchen al­low the food to take cen­tre stage. We left a plat­ter cov­ered in a scat­ter­ing of tiny, bare fish bones and scraps be­hind us, which can only scream com­pli­ments to the chef. Usu­ally this would be the point when one would wad­dle home in need of a lie down. But oh no, we were barely half­way through. And Arva had another sur­prise treat in store. “Here’s Sa­madi Sweets for our baklava pit stop,” she said as the minibus stopped sud­denly. The Le­banese bak­ery dates back to the mid-1800s and all sweets are hand­made on site.

Arva de­lib­er­ately keeps the groups small, nor­mally a max­i­mum of seven or eight peo­ple, and at­tracts a mix of res­i­dents and tourists to main­tain an in­ti­mate feel. “There’s no point eat­ing din­ner with 20 peo­ple, you’ll never talk to ev­ery­one,” she rea­soned. “It’s great when res­i­dents of Dubai come on my tours, they’ve lived here for years but dis­cover new things or re­dis­cover the magic of Mid­dle East­ern food.”

At ev­ery chance she gets she’s “ob­ses­sively scour­ing” lo­cal mar­kets, unas­sum­ing eater­ies, at­tend­ing tast­ings, meet­ing chefs and restau­rant own­ers and con­stantly think­ing of in­ter­est­ing ways for her cus­tomers to ex­pe­ri­ence au­then­tic Dubai. Right now she’s hop­ing to coax Be­douin women in to the city to give cook­ing classes; is test­ing a guided trip around Dubai’s bustling fish mar­kets (with tips on how to iden­tify frozen seafood from fresh pro­duce); and wants to ex­tend her tours to farms and lo­cal homes where peo­ple can learn recipes that have been passed down through gen­er­a­tions. You cer­tainly can’t fault her en­thu­si­asm.

“Th­ese lit­tle places de­serve to be given a chance, they de­serve some recog­ni­tion too,” she said.

Be­fore even start­ing Fry­ing Pan Adventures, she emailed jour­nal­ists a list of all the small, in­de­pen­dent, of­ten fam­i­lyrun restau­rants she knows and loves in Dubai. Her aim was to se­cure the un­der­dogs some col­umn inches along­side the ho­tel jug­ger­nauts pow­ered by PR ma­chines. Her nos­tal­gia for Dubai is en­dear­ing.

“I want to hit ‘rewind’ on Dubai to a time be­fore it em­barked on its glam­orous seven-star jour­ney,” she said. And her tours are the per­fect time ma­chine, work­ing as a ve­hi­cle to show tourists and res­i­dents there are in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tives to brunches and 24-hour out­lets.

Now back to the tour. With our stom­achs al­ready groan­ing, we pulled up out­side Al Tawa­sol, lo­cated right by Deira Clock Tower. It’s a Be­douin restau­rant with a men-only sec­tion cream, honey and nuts. Amaz­ing, but I could only man­age two mouth­fuls be­fore I gave up and vowed not to eat again for days.

The great thing is I know if I went on another of Avra’s tours, it would be a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence en­tirely. New peo­ple, new gems to un­cover and lots more au­then­tic and de­li­cious food.

How­ever, I think I’ll give my­self a breather be­fore my next culi­nary jour­ney through Dubai.

If you want to dis­cover se­cret Dubai, this is the ex­pe­ri­ence for you – just make sure you pace your­self.

Arva en­joys show­ing peo­ple an al­ter­na­tive side of Dubai

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.