A hole-in-the-wall bak­ery in Naif area has turned our colum­nist/foodie Arva Ahmed into a gluten junkie.

For 12 hours a day Faisal, Ab­dul Raouf and Ebrahim thrill res­i­dents with the breads of Iran, Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Iraq

Friday - - Contents -

Their bod­ies are as­bestos, seem­ingly un­fazed by heat. They sit low, ready to spring into ac­tion when duty calls. When duty does call, they re­act at su­per­sonic speeds – 300 ev­ery hour, one ev­ery 20 sec­onds – with a level of pre­ci­sion that es­capes the or­di­nary man. It would break our backs to be them, but they make it look ef­fort­less. Their faces are wrought with be­witch­ing beauty and silent sad­ness, that pro­found du­al­ity of the ar­che­typal brood­ing su­per­hero.

But the Afghani bak­ers in Naif wear no capes. Wisely so, since any ad­di­tional layer of cloth­ing when you’re manning a fiery oven for 12 hours a day is sui­cide.

Faisal, Ab­dul Raouf and Ebrahim are three of the six-per­son dream team at Adrar Bak­ery, bak­ing the bread that res­cues many a soli­tary stew sim­mered in homes around Soor Street in Deira. The first owner who fired up Adrar’s ovens 40 years ago was from Ghazni in Afghanistan, on the road be­tween Kabul and Kan­da­har, to­wards the east­ern border with Pak­istan. He sold the bak­ery in 2005 to his friend in the vil­lage, Faisal’s ‘chacha’, un­cle, who in turn brought Faisal on board four years ago as an ap­pren­tice.

Con­nect­ing bak­ers across the gen­er­a­tions is the proud writ­ten legacy of the founder, painted in blood red, cur­sive strokes of Perso-Ara­bic on the front door:

‘Uff Al­lah ummi jaan! Kithna ac­cha hai Irani naan!’ (Uff Al­lah, my dear mother! How good is Ira­nian bread!)

For those who can­not read the Per­soAra­bic script, there is the uni­ver­sally com­pre­hen­si­ble scent of freshly baked bread.

The menu at Adrar Bak­ery BOASTS six items all un­der three dirhams: BEST­SELLING Afghani bread, elon­gated Ira­nian bread, thin­ner Pak­istani and Iraqi breads and TWO types of stuffed rolls

In­vis­i­ble wisps of earthy, but­ter­scotch air swirl around the un­sus­pect­ing passerby, hold­ing him cap­tive un­til the bak­ers set­tle his hunger with their baked ran­som.

The menu at Adrar Bak­ery boasts six items all un­der three dirhams: the best­selling Afghani bread, the elon­gated Ira­nian bread, the thin­ner Pak­istani and Iraqi breads and two types of stuffed rolls, ‘jatar’ and ‘joban.’ The code word for bread on this menu is ‘roti,’ while ‘jatar’ and ‘joban’ are the cryptic English translit­er­a­tions of the Ara­bic words ‘za’atar’ and ‘jibin’ (cheese) as pro­nounced in Pashto. It would be fool­ish to an­tic­i­pate gourmet French cheese in a three-dirham roll; the bak­ers rough it out with tri­an­gles of heav­ily pro­cessed cream cheese, the type that re­treats into melted un­de­tectable obliv­ion when plunged into the oven.

Those in the know will wa­ger their coins for a se­cret sev­enth item: a two-foot long mixed ‘joban jatar’ roll. Paired with Chips Oman and Ex­cel­lence hot sauce from the gro­cery down the street, this roll

de­liv­ers a deadly blow to the most dis­ci­plined of di­ets. Cus­tomers place their or­der through a window, peer­ing up at the bak­ers who are raised above eye-level on an el­e­vated plat­form. The plat­form is built around a ver­ti­cally tun­nelled clay oven, bet­ter known as the ‘tanoor’ in the Mid­dle East, the ‘tan­door’ in the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, the ‘tin­nuru’ in Semitic over 4,000 years ago in Me­sopotamia.

A hazy back­door, its translu­cent tint peel­ing away with age, re­veals a pri­vate workspace where white flour, wa­ter and yeast are cranked through an in­dus­trial dough mixer. Ebrahim sips chai next to a fat mat­tress of leav­ened dough, his face al­ways a tooth away from a highly infectious smile. His warm, re­as­sur­ing ex­pres­sion com­pen­sates for Ab­dul Raouf, of­ten aloof and un­ap­proach­ably hand­some in his wal­nut-coloured kurta and mush­room-capped pakol.

When a roti is sum­moned, the gang falls into a silent, swift rou­tine – a word­less game plan born out of rep­e­ti­tion, mus­cle mem­ory and in­tu­ition. Ebrahim plucks off a fist­ful of dough, rolls and tosses it out to the front room through a minia­ture window. Ab­dul Raouf’s hands are now set in mo­tion. For the Afghani roti, he ham­mers the dough with a wooden docker to en­sure the bread stays thin and ten­der. For the stuffed roti, he yanks the dough out like a sock, smears it with cheese or za’atar us­ing the back of a tea­spoon, folds the edges over and pounds it down with his fist.

Faisal is the ‘Us­tad’ – the master, the teacher, the gang leader – who pre­sides over the oven. He stretches each roti taut over a hard cush­ion, slams it against the sides of the oven and watches vig­i­lantly as it bub­bles and browns, all with­out heat-safe gloves. His fin­gers have long lost their fear of fire. There is a pre­cise mo­ment when the roti must es­cape the oven, not a raw minute too early nor a burnt minute too late. At that ripe mo­ment, Faisal bran­dishes his two iron sticks and deftly pries the roti away from the wall.

When asked if he takes week­ends off, Faisal replies bravely in Urdu: in this work, there are no hol­i­days.

Lan­guage and cul­ture are no barriers to buy­ing roti. Faisal claims that any­one who takes a fancy to their bread will buy at least one piece. As I stood melt­ing by the door, a mixed del­e­ga­tion of res­i­dents – an In­dian cou­ple, a Chi­nese shop­keeper, an Afghani garage owner, a Pak­istani tai­lor, an Ira­nian spice seller, an African trader, the com­mon man – suc­ces­sively stuck their heads through the window. Faisal re­sponded with per­fectly browned ro­tis for ev­ery­one, ev­ery time.

But af­ter the last per­son had left, he sal­vaged a dis­torted roll from the depths of the oven, not un­like a coiled snake paral­ysed in mid-mo­tion be­fore an at­tack. I looked at him quizzi­cally: Had some­thing gone wrong?

He shrugged his shoul­ders as if to say, some­times, he­roes make mis­takes too. Arva Ahmed of­fers guided tours re­veal­ing Dubai’s culi­nary hide­outs (fry­ing­panad­ven­tures.com).

A del­e­ga­tion of res­i­dents – an In­dian cou­ple, a Chi­nese shop­keeper, an Afghani garage owner, a Pak­istani tai­lor, an Ira­nian spice seller, an African trader – stuck their heads through the window

Among the va­ri­eties of tan­door-fired breads found in Dubai’s tiny bak­eries are dim­pled Afghan roti

Faisal, Ebrahim and Ab­dul Raouf deftly craft breads in the sear­ing heat of this neigh­bour­hood bak­ery in Naif

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