The next time you think of spend­ing Dh40 on a burger, grab a chapli ke­bab in­stead

Friday - - Contents - Arva Ahmed of­fers guided tours re­veal­ing Dubai’s culi­nary hide­outs (fry­ing­panad­ven­

Global fast food chains can­not match the burger that comes off the hot oil at this hole-in-the-wall joint, writes our colum­nist Arva Ahmed.

Two years ago, a friend served burg­ers that stole the show at his birth­day party. This was the tiger of burger pat­ties, roar­ing with flavour in a city crowded with burger joints purring for at­ten­tion. I in­ter­ro­gated him for the se­cret recipe un­til he re­lented: ‘I out­sourced the pat­ties from the chapli kabab place you once blogged about!’

It was un­bear­ably de­li­cious. Each bun en­cased a dark-crusted disc of minced beef, folded over it­self, thin­ner than a cot­tony naan, slightly wider than the palm of the Pak­istani un­cle who had seared it in Shar­jah. For Dh4 a kabab, the birth­day boy had wiped the buns off most pricey burg­ers in the city.

Your tim­ing has to be right if you plan to beef up your next house party with chapli kabab burg­ers from Al Ashiyah Cafe­te­ria. Re­mem­ber that you can never just ‘swing by Shar­jah;’ you have to hurl your­self through an in­ter­ga­lac­tic pas­sage of out­ra­geous traf­fic. Even if you do mirac­u­lously ar­rive early, the cafe­te­ria will be closed un­til Maghrib prayer time. You have only two op­tions: bag your beefy stash dur­ing Al Ashiyah’s lunch shift, or as did my in­ge­nious friend, call in ad­vance to plead that the pre­cious pat­ties be handed over be­fore the cafe­te­ria of­fi­cially opens. If your guests can’t han­dle heat, ask them to dial down the spice.

I wouldn’t bother in­vest­ing in fancy condi­ments. The recipe for this patty has been per­fected through gen­er­a­tions of kabab artisans in Ko­hat, Pak­istan. Real friends will savour it in its sa­cred soli­tude; the rest can bring their own blue cheese and truf­fle oil.

Hafeez Ur Rehman, the son of the late owner who opened Ashiyah’s kabab kitchen in Shar­jah twenty years ago, gen­er­ously di­vulges the recipe. He knows full well that the process in­volves a level of un­mea­sured pro­por­tions, pre­ci­sion and pa­tience that is eas­ier con­sumed than copied.

The beef is ground twice in-house us­ing ‘raan’, or the chuck, brisket and round cuts above the shanks. Hafeez in­sists on knead­ing the mince metic­u­lously be­fore leav­ing it in the fridge for five hours be­fore mar­i­na­tion and an­other three hours after. By this point, the best of us will have pulled up De­liv­eroo.

Asouk of in­gre­di­ents is rubbed through the mince: Onions, toma­toes, co­rian­der seeds, dried pome­gran­ate seeds, cumin, red chilli pow­der, green chill­ies, fresh co­rian­der and mint, Chi­nese lemon salt and wheat flour for bind­ing. Once the meat is awo­ken from its sea­soned sleep, it is set be­side a rip­ping hot, slanted grid­dle fash­ioned from the sturdy iron of ships. Ashiyah’s iron ‘kadai’ has ac­cu­mu­lated its sea­son­ing with hun­dreds of kababs daily over twenty years. You might get the recipe, but that grill’s magic is unique.

Hafeez’s un­cle is Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Gi­ant, grand and en­dear­ing, old but keenly alert, mes­meris­ing as he scoops up a chubby ball of peanut-coloured mince to com­mence the culi­nary tango. He swipes it through the oil and then smashes it flat like the sole of a ‘chap­pal’ or slip­per; hence the Urdu name ‘chapli kabab.’ Pok­ing a hole through the cen­tre of the patty, he sends the kabab glid­ing across the kadai like an air hockey puck. The kabab shim­mies vi­o­lently as it hits the oily pud­dle, its edges shriek­ing and curl­ing against the heat un­til they si­lence into a sub­mis­sive char. The kabab has a cal­cu­lated choco­late-brown crust that con­ceals soft, dewy mince within. A flip and four min­utes later, the kabab gets dusted with a bit­ing blend of mango pow­der, garam masala, fenu­greek and cumin.

Cafe­te­ria is an over­state­ment; Al Ashiyah is no more than a cleft in the face of the build­ing. In a city where we at­tach a se­ri­ous pre­mium to burg­ers served through win­dows of sta­tion­ary trucks, this feels like a bar­gain­priced Utopia. You could – if you wanted to

I wouldn’t bother in­vest­ing in FANCY condi­ments. The recipe has been PER­FECTED through gen­er­a­tions of kabab ARTISANS in Pak­istan. Real friends will SAVOUR it in its sa­cred soli­tude

splurge an ex­tra dirham per kabab – or­der the ver­sion with fried eggs folded into the patty. Hafeez laughs that the fluffi­ness of the eggs sim­u­lates a cov­eted ‘magaz’-filled chapli kabab made in Pak­istan, a ver­sion they do not make here be­cause res­i­dents are not phys­i­cally ac­tive enough to burn it off. Magaz in Urdu trans­lates to brains.

The next time you get in­spired to spend Dh40 on a slider play your cards right. There’s a Dh4 patty past the Na­tional Paints round­about that is wor­thy of any bun: sesame-topped, brioche, carb-free let­tuce.

Ditch the grill and drive to Shar­jah.

Ev­ery evening Bi­lal Khan cre­ates chapli ke­babs that are an epit­ome of crust and crunch

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