FOOD NEWS

Which is Dubai’s best kabab? Fri­day’s food cul­tur­al­ist Arva Ahmed has an idea – see if you agree

Friday - - Contents -

Our colum­nist Arva Ahmed en­ters the treach­er­ous ter­ri­tory of choos­ing the UAE’s best ke­bab.

You can­not sim­ply crave ‘a’ ke­bab in the UAE. We talk specifics here. Do you want your ke­babs grilled in the Turk­ish, Le­banese, Egyptian, Emi­rati, Bahraini, Ira­nian, Iraqi, In­dian, Pak­istani or Afghani way? I en­joy tor­tur­ing my­self with the com­pen­dium of ke­bab op­tions avail­able – it helps me build an ap­petite.

Have you ever won­dered which cul­ture in Dubai gets their ke­bab con­sis­tently right at a rea­son­able price, ev­ery skewer, ev­ery time? We should keep the an­swer ready for ra­bidly rav­en­ous times when crav­ing clouds clar­ity.

Ke­bab nomen­cla­ture is con­fus­ing across cul­tures. Ac­cord­ing to food his­to­rian Nawal Nas­ral­lah, the word has roots in an­cient Akka­dian words: ‘ke­babu’ or ‘to burn fire or wood, to grill’ and ‘kub­busu’ or ‘formed like a tur­ban’ (re­fer­ring to ground meat). Iraq’s ke­bab is kufta in the other Arab coun­tries, while Ira­nian or In­dian tikka is Le­banon’s sheesh tawook. To clar­ify, I am re­fer­ring to ke­bab in its broad­est culi­nary sense – ground meat or chunks of meat that are threaded on a skewer and grilled over coals or low­ered into a tan­door. The Euro­pean ref­er­ence to ke­bab or doner ke­bab is what we call shawarma, which is best left off the dis­cus­sion ta­ble be­cause shawarma de­serves its own sep­a­rate the­sis.

Back to the ques­tion of who does the best ke­babs.

The In­dian and Pak­istani restau­rants might win the ke­bab game in terms of sheer pop­u­la­tion and di­ver­sity of ke­bab op­tions across their menus. Sind Pun­jab’s chicken tikka in Meena Bazaar is leg­endary across Old Dubai. Delhi Restau­rant in Deira has per­fected their ke­bab game since 1978, with spicy Bi­hari beef ke­babs that would be pâté if they were any softer.

The spic­ing on Le­banese-style ke­babs in the city is far more muted then their fiery desi brethren. The sheesh tawook and minced meat in tomato sauce at Al Hal­lab and Safadi are con­sis­tently moist and flavour­ful. But I have never fallen asleep dream­ing of them.

Ido wake up the next morn­ing think­ing of Iraqi and Turk­ish ke­babs – only be­cause they are shock­ingly ex­pen­sive. The av­er­age Iraqi minced lamb ke­bab is fat­tier and juicier than its Le­banese cousin, but leaves your wal­let leaner by about 30 dirhams per plate. Some Turk­ish restau­rants have man­aged to hit the 90-dirham mark on plates of grilled adana (minced meat) ke­bab. Even baklava can­not con­sole me when the bill ar­rives.

The Afghani ke­babs in Dubai are of­ten hit and miss, with only a few that serve a stellar ‘nam­keen chicken’ (salted chicken) or ‘chopan ke­bab’ (lamb chops). I have not tried enough Khaleeji (Gulf re­gion) ke­babs to form an opin­ion, but the Bahraini chicken ke­babs at the Ham­riya Fri­day mar­ket of­fer a de­li­cious in­vi­ta­tion to try harder.

While ev­ery cul­ture has its win­ners, the Ira­nian restau­rants win my per­sonal ke­bab league al­most ev­ery time. Many of them have been fan­ning their coals in Dubai far longer than the other ke­bab cul­tures cur­rently on the map.

Take for in­stance, the po­lite Sham­sud­din who has been sell­ing juicy logs of ke­bab koobideh (twice-minced meat) from his shop in Satwa for the past 37 years.

The fam­ily-run Spe­cial Us­tad restau­rant in Bur Dubai (for­merly Spe­cial Os­tadi) has a cult fol­low­ing for their ke­bab khaas (yo­gurt­mar­i­nated ke­babs). I usu­ally or­ches­trate an in­dul­gent plat­ter with their chicken khaas, chicken and goat koobideh, pre­served lime goat ke­babs and mar­i­nated chicken on the bone, all strewn over a bread that lazily col­lects the juicy drip­pings through the meal.

Al Fa­reej Restau­rant in Mirdiff is an­other ke­bab heavy­weight cham­pion on the scene if you are com­fort­able with ke­babs be­ing clanked onto the ta­ble, skew­ers and all. Reg­u­lars use fresh bread as in­su­lat­ing gear to

The IRA­NIAN restau­rants win my per­sonal ke­bab league al­most ev­ery time. Many of them have been fan­ning their COALS in Dubai far longer than the other KE­BAB cul­tures cur­rently on the map

grasp the scorch­ing skew­ers and swipe baby-soft koobideh or goat chunks with pre­served lime onto their plates.

There are many more Ira­nian restau­rants in the city that un­der­stand the art of mar­i­nat­ing and grilling, be it a plain ke­bab or ones steeped in pome­gran­ate juice (torsh), yo­gurt or dried lime.

This kabab con­clu­sion might be over­sim­pli­fy­ing, and even con­tro­ver­sial for many. But I am not sug­gest­ing we start a culi­nary war. I ad­vo­cate peace, as long as that in­volves suc­cu­lent, bar­gain-priced kababs that stay true to the meat. Arva Ahmed of­fers guided tours re­veal­ing Dubai’s culi­nary hide­outs (fry­ing­panad­ven­tures.com).

Ab­bas and Talib An­sari grill up logs of mildly spiced, suc­cu­lent meat at Spe­cial Us­tad

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