FOOD NEWS

What else is sum­mer for than ex­plor­ing the mixed plat­ter that is our din­ing scene? Arva Ahmed sug­gests how to go about it

Friday - - Editor’s Letter - Arva Ahmed of­fers guided tours re­veal­ing Dubai’s culi­nary hide­outs (fry­ing­panad­ven­tures.com).

Dubai of­fers the world on a plat­ter. Our colum­nist/foodie Arva Ahmed says it’s time we sam­ple it all.

Sum­mer is that gift of time, men­tal space and calm roads to dis­cover un­com­mon foods in hid­den cor­ners of the city. But I am ad­mit­tedly anx­ious that come Septem­ber, I would have done noth­ing more than curled up with my cat and hi­ber­nated through the drowsy warm evenings. I fear that when the cool breeze of late Oc­to­ber rus­tles up ques­tions about what I dis­cov­ered this sum­mer, I will have noth­ing to of­fer but weeks of culi­nary com­pro­mise: The same mana’eesh, the same shawarma, the same take­out kababs. It is the sleepy ‘same same’ that se­duces the best of us ev­ery sum­mer.

This sum­mer I am con­sid­er­ing com­mit­ting to a more en­gaged eat­ing strat­egy. It might sound too se­ri­ous, but it should be, be­cause we have a world of cuisines at our doorstep in Dubai and few of us fully savour it.

One strat­egy would in­volve be­ing a Con­nois­seur of Cul­ture. Choose a cul­ture that you are not fa­mil­iar with and dive deep into its sig­na­ture dishes across restau­rants in the city. Skip Fri­day brunches and In­sta­gram­wor­thy smoothie bowls for foods that have an in­ter­est­ing cul­tural back story. Sail­ing down this strate­gic route re­quires not only

De­velop a RE­LA­TION­SHIP with eater­ies in a neigh­bour­hood other than YOUR OWN. Dubai is not a melt­ing pot, but more ap­pe­tiz­ingly, a plat­ter of samosas – each area with its own UNIQUE fill­ing

eat­ing, but also in­vest­ing in lit­er­a­ture – recipes, his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­cles, cul­tural pa­pers – that can give the food mean­ing be­yond just in­gre­di­ents on a plate.

You may have dab­bled with Parsi food at Ke­bab Bistro and Café Funkie Town, but have you fully ex­plored their menus be­yond the ob­vi­ous mut­ton dhansak spooned over brown rice with caramelized onions? Have you read up about Parsi culi­nary cul­ture, its in­gre­di­ents and the dishes for fes­ti­vals through the year? I cer­tainly have not. The same can be said for Malaysian food, which has half a page on the menu at Noo­dle Bowl in Satwa, or reigns over the en­tire menus at Rasa Sayang in Oud Metha and the three Ma­mak restau­rants across the city.

If you missed ex­plor­ing flavours of the Cau­ca­sus with Ar­me­nian sour cherry kababs and triple-lay­ered cheese soubeureg at the now-closed Mayrig in Down­town, you can make amends at Eshak in City Walk or at Al Mayass in the Sof­i­tel. My low-key op­tions in­clude Lit­tle Ge­or­gia in JLT as well as an­other lesser-known eatery in Deira whose lo­ca­tion I won’t dis­close, be­cause I trust that as a Con­nois­seur of Cul­ture, you will find it.

An­other strat­egy is to de­velop a re­la­tion­ship with eater­ies in a neigh­bour­hood other than your own, or to be a Diner of Dis­tance. Dubai is not a melt­ing pot, but more ap­pe­tiz­ingly, a plat­ter of samosas – each area with its own unique fill­ing. I once spent months fo­cus­ing on the Egyp­tian and Moroc­can eater­ies of Abu Hail, a time in­vest­ment that was am­ply re­warded with ten­der lamb sim­mered for eight hours with pre­served lemons, hearty Moroc­can harira soup, crusty semolina-dusted breads, sear­ing hot folds of fresh pas­try drip­ping with honey and palm-sized Egyp­tian falafel or taamiya filled with fava beans.

In­ter­na­tional City is an­other mixed bag of eclec­tic ex­pe­ri­ences that can eas­ily serve as the sole savoury sub­ject of an en­tire sum­mer, while the in­ner lanes of Bar­sha or the home­grown restau­rants of JLT might be start­ing points that feel less in­tim­i­dat­ing for novice ex­plor­ers. On the other end of the spec­trum, the most dare­devil of din­ers should con­sider smug­gling their stom­achs into Shar­jah to track down street-side kababs, squashed ‘sam­busa bel samoon’ sand­wiches, Kolkata-style chicken-and-egg kati rolls or for those with stom­achs of steel, ‘brain with kid­ney fry,’ all for un­der fif­teen dirhams.

There is noth­ing wrong in adopt­ing an Equiv­o­cal Eater strat­egy, non­com­mit­tal yet open-minded to as many new ex­pe­ri­ences as one can pos­si­bly de­vour be­fore the sum­mer is out. My de­fault op­tion, this in­volves play­ing Rus­sian roulette with restau­rants listed on­line, rec­om­mended by others or spot­ted as you drive past. But be­ware, this strat­egy is the eas­i­est to lose sight of un­less you com­mit to a cer­tain num­ber of new restau­rants to sam­ple by the end of Septem­ber. My only rule in this sort of lais­sez-faire ap­proach is to not slav­ishly fol­low so­cial me­dia tips, es­pe­cially since the trend of the day is ‘pretty food’ rather than real food.

With only three months left to go, I am con­tem­plat­ing a hy­brid strat­egy, am­bi­tiously blend­ing Cau­casian, Filipino and Malaysian cul­tures with nav­i­gat­ing through Ghu­sais, Mamzar and Shar­jah, along with check­ing off a list of un­re­lated restau­rants that I failed to visit in sum­mers past. There is an ex­cit­ing ar­ray of meals to plan, friends to re­cruit and dishes to re­search for a full sea­son of savoury ex­pe­ri­ences ahead. But first, a nap.

Even though she runs reg­u­lar food tours of Dubai, Arva says she’s still got plenty left to un­cover in the city

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