FOOD NEWS

Make sure you ex­plore Mamzar’s com­pet­i­tive league of late-night cafes,

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

Mamzar’s quiet lanes are now buzzing with chai traf­fic. Our colum­nist Arva Ahmed goes there to find out what brew­ing.

Ipre­dict that most of my nights this sum­mer will be spent in Mamzar, the sea-fac­ing neigh­bour­hood of Deira with its own beach park, cor­niche, run­ning track and en­vi­able beachfront vil­las. At night, Mamzar trans­forms into a late night hub of testos­terone-pow­ered bil­liards cafes and Dh1 chai drive-throughs.

Over the past five years, my hus­band has oc­ca­sion­ally driven us to a con­gested park­ing lot sand­wiched be­tween two ri­val chai cafes – Rabash ver­sus Filli – and a mosque. The tales of chai fa­nati­cism are nu­mer­ous enough to keep you up all night. Rabash once poured their chai for a gen­tle­man who pulled up in a taxi. The taxi driver ap­proached the cafe­te­ria to probe what was so spe­cial about their chai that the cus­tomer had taken a taxi to drink it – all the way from Fu­jairah.

Two weeks ago, we stum­bled upon an­other branch of Rab­bash – with a dou­ble ‘b’ – about 850 me­tres away from the old one. While Rabash ver­sus Filli was the game in the old arena, this is a com­pet­i­tive league of late-night cafe­te­rias and restau­rants.

Here’s the backstory on this strip. It came into ex­is­tence about two years ago when DP World dunked their fin­gers into the mid­night chai game and leased out twenty shops to dif­fer­ent com­mer­cial ten­ants. Cars that used to roll up by the mosque steered around and drove up to the up­graded hang­out. The team at Rabash heaved a sigh of re­lief. Since its open­ing by the mosque over a decade ago, Rabash grad­u­ally built up its clien­tele to a level that, along with the Filli Café next door, clogged up the en­tire park­ing lot and be­came a li­a­bil­ity for both the café own­ers and Mamzar’s res­i­dents. The chai ob­ses­sion sim­mered into frus­tra­tion in the neigh­bour­hood: In­ces­sant honking, the lum­ber­ing Le­goland of cars block­ing the mosque and the land­fill of Sty­ro­foam cups that would ap­pear ev­ery night.

C.C. Basheer is one of the part­ners who pur­chased Rabash from the Emi­rati owner who started the cafe­te­ria in 2003. He hails from Nada­pu­ram in Ker­ala, the com­mu­nity that sup­plies most of the tal­ent be­hind chai cafe­te­rias across the UAE. His cousin, Rafeeq Me­mu­nda, claims that his fel­low towns­men have tipped the ket­tles at least 6,000 chai cafe­te­rias across the coun­try: ‘Nada­pu­ram feeds the UAE!’

Basheer ex­plains that while most of the Keralite own­ers call home to ask their fam­i­lies to pray for in­creased busi­ness, he had to put in a spe­cial un­heard-of re­quest to re­duce the queues to a man­age­able level.

Places like Rab­bash are proof that chai can brew big busi­ness. DP World stirred up much-needed change with their new row of re­tail spa­ces and helped re­bal­ance traf­fic in the area. The old Rabash was grate­ful to serve about two thou­sand fewer cups ev­ery day and see a sense of calm re­turn to the ad­ja­cent park­ing lot. Their new branch more than com­pen­sates for the lost rev­enue.

Basheer’s son, Abdul Ba­sith, de­scribes the bustling late-night strip as ‘the City Walk of the area’ – though you would need a di­a­met­ri­cally dif­fer­ent wardrobe for Mamzar. The dress code is sweat­pants, not stilet­tos, though no one would spill their chai if you wore in pa­ja­mas, be­cause you’re more likely to or­der in your car than sit al fresco.

The stan­dard Mamzar menu has al­ways been ba­sic and cheap: chai, shawar­mas, burg­ers, juice and milk­shakes. The ten­ants have in­no­vated to keep in line with new-age food trends that spark nos­tal­gia for those who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s in Dubai. Frothy Mal­teser milk­shakes, Dutch pan­cakes heaped with pul­verised Oreos or cheese­cake with Lo­tus bis­cuit sauce are all the rage these days. It may seem car­toon­ish to watch grown men tuck­ing into a Sof­tee swirl stud­ded with Kin­der bars, but Mamzar is like an an­i­mated movie. You need it ev­ery now and then to lighten the drama of be­ing an adult.

While most of the KERALITE own­ers ask their fam­i­lies to pray for IN­CREASED busi­ness, Basheer had to put in a spe­cial, un­heard-of re­quest: To re­duce the queues to a MAN­AGE­ABLE level

On my last trip, Basheer thrust a cup of baby pink chai into my hands. It was Kash­miri chai, which is a mis­nomer be­cause there’s no tea in this chai at all. It is milk boiled with rose syrup, nuts and sugar, a sleep-in­duc­ing sweet brew that is per­fectly timed at 3am when the cafe­te­rias start low­er­ing their shut­ters.

Some will am­bi­tiously re­open a few hours later, others only af­ter 5.30pm when peo­ple are will­ing to brave the out­doors again. I am one of those peo­ple who goes into hid­ing un­til af­ter sun­set, when I can fi­nally emerge and re­deem the day with friends, chai and pocket-change.

It’s not just chai that the iconic cafes of Mamzar serve – ice creams, milk­shakes and cheese­cake are pop­u­lar too

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