We are in London right now for the summer! Escaping the Dubai heat was an absolute necessity for both of our sanities, plus we’ll be heading around Europe a bit as Kamal’s band goes on tour! You can keep up with everything we eat and see on our Instagram - @imnotafiend. Yay!
One of the first places we headed to for lunch was Koya Bar, a little place serving up comforting bowls of Japanese udon noodle soups in the middle of Soho. It happened to be the same day as the Pride celebrations, so there was a festival atmosphere on the streets, with plenty of daytime drinking going on! Inside Koya Bar’s tiny haven, around 20 people sit squeezed together around the bar. They also have a slightly larger restaurant next door, the original Koya!
From the specials menu we ordered Agebitashi - fried tofu with summer vegetables in a deliciously smoky dashi broth, which got soaked up into the tofu and veg quite brilliantly! Juice galore!
Pickled cabbage was tangy and crunchy. Ok, but we know ya got better than this, Koya!
Case and point - braised pork belly with cider! Every dream texture of fatty, flakey meat imaginable was present in this little bowl of drool bait. The cider sauce was the perfect slightly sweet accompaniment. I almost cried at the holy beauty of this dish.
I can’t really fault the smoked mackerel udon - the broth was fresh and crisp, the mackerel was buttery soft. But for our tastes it was a bit too plain - we were after a bit of pungency! I suppose not everyone agrees with that though, and most people will be happy with this for sure. Wash it all down with an ice-cold Kirin beer.
You might have noticed a hell of a lot of Korean food on the blog lately. Well, what can I say, I bloody love Korean food. It’s certainly obsession-worthy. So just embrace it with us.
A return to Kung recently for more food, beer, and karaoke resulted in us trying a bowl of their Dakgangjeong - sweet, spicy, and sticky Korean fried chicken. Needless to say it was amazing, and we made immediate plans to replicate it at home.
For extra crunch and texture, Korean chicken is usually double-fried. Music to my ears. We took boneless thighs, and cut them into bite-size chunks. After marinating them in just some fresh grated ginger and garlic for about half an hour, a nice thick coating of corn flour was applied.
While the chicken was sitting, we made the sauce. This was a mixture of soy sauce, more ginger and garlic, a dollop of gochujang paste, some rice vinegar, and plenty of brown sugar to get things sticky. All you need to do is simmer this mixture in a pan for about 5 minutes till it thickens up.
The chicken is deep-fried in batches first, for around 3 minutes. Then all the pieces are returned to the pan for one last minute of crisping up. Toss those babies in the sauce till evenly coated, and serve with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts.
Fried chicken fans rejoice! Your saviour has come.
I’m lucky enough to be working in Bur Dubai for a few weeks, so there’s a lot of exploring to be done! The streets are packed with restaurants selling foods from every region; at the textile souk shopkeepers will call out ‘Shakira! Jack Sparrow! Harry Potter! Hello my friend!’ on repeat to passersby. No word yet on why their cultural references are so limited. Down by the water on the Creek, we often come across this happy chap catching fresh live crabs.
Mumbai Masti had actually caught our eye one weekend a few months back, but it was closed at the time. Bur Dubai business hours are confusing, especially on a Friday, which seems to be Dubai’s equivalent of a Sunday, the holy day (although the official weekend is Friday and Saturday). NOTHING will be open till at least 1.30pm.
Those few hours on a Friday morning are the only time off a lot of workers in this area will get in a whole week. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that fact when you’re hungry, grumpy and confused on the sweltering streets of Bur Dubai, waiting for 1.30pm to roll around so you can get that paneer tikka masala or shawarma of your dreams.
So a weekday lunchbreak was the perfect opportunity to finally visit Mumbai Masti, which specialises in fresh juices and Indian grilled cheese sandwiches. Wtf is an Indian grilled cheese, you ask??? Well, it turns out spicy sandwich stalls are commonplace on the streets of Mumbai, serving up buttery varieties stuffed with paneer cheese, green chutney, and vegetables smothered with tons of masala and chilli.
Schezwan pavbhaji paneer roll comes overflowing with curried potatoes and veg, pressed in a crispy buttered roll. It will fill you up before you’re halfway, but trust me that won’t stop you from carrying on. This is essentially a cheesy vegetable curry in a sandwich, and if that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then we can’t be friends.
Chilli cheese grill does what it says on the tin. Melty paneer cheese, hot green chutney, and a generous helping of fresh green chilli slices. And yes it is as addictively and deliciously painful as it sounds; at least if you’re a chilli masochist like we are.
The classic pavbhaji paneer roll is another winning combo of cheese, chutney, and this time just spicy potatoes. Hot stuff! Fuhgeddabout your American grilled cheeses or boring Breville basic toasties, these flavour explosions blow them right out the water. Mumbai is a city that knows how to do street food right.
Mumbai Masti is packed on a daily basis, and nothing costs more than about 12dhs. And if you stop one lunchtime in the next few weeks you’ll probably see me in the corner stuffing my face, while my nose streams from all the chilli.
In the very first week of moving to Dubai last year, my views of the city were completely different to how I see it now. It’s a city split into two: new and old. New Dubai is intoxicated with glamour and wealth. This showy side of Dubai’s personality is the side it projects to the rest of the world, and for a while, if you don’t delve a little deeper, it’s easy to think that’s all there is to this place. But a city of 2million people could never be so one-dimensional.
Then there’s Old Dubai, which houses many of the migrant workers from the Indian sub-continent. Old Dubai feels rundown, unpolished, genuine and lively. This is the underbelly. The hidden cogs that keep the machine whirring. It’s my kind of place, and it’s easy to while away whole days exploring the neighbourhoods of Satwa, Karama, Bur Dubai, and Deira.
It was in my first week in Dubai that we found Yak & Yeti, a Nepalese bar and live music venue with so much charm and authenticity that it threw me completely off guard. We were walking down the bustling streets of Bur Dubai, looking for a portable boombox to play the many musical tapes Kamal had collected in the Bahraini souq. It was humid, we were getting sticky. A cold beer seemed appealing. We simply asked for directions to the closest bar and were pointed towards a nearby hotel.
‘The Astoria Hotel’ is a place with real ‘character’, you might say. You also might say (Yak & Yeti aside) it’s a little cluttered with prostitutes. This place is a time-warp right back to the 80s; marbled walls, concrete architecture and chipped faux-wood panelling surround you as you walk into the massage chair-lined lobby. It is home to such great establishments as American sports bar ‘TGI Thursdays’, and Pancho Villa’s, a supposedly ‘Mexican’ bar, with suspiciously Eastern European-looking performers, lifelessly swaying to Tom Jones karaoke hits. It’s a special place.
Something unexpected I’ve observed in this hotel, and in bars around this area, is the free popcorn! No peanuts here, buddy. Every bar offers a complimentary bowl of salty popcorn as soon as you sit down and order. It’s as if this is some parallel universe where peanuts were never appointed ruler of the bar snack world. One time in TGI Thursday’s a ‘single lady’ casually squeezed herself into our two-person booth and brazenly started eating our popcorn. What do you do in this situation? She finished the whole bowl, man! And we just let it happen!
Now Yak & Yeti is a special place, sacred even. It’s something totally apart from the hookerville that surrounds it, another standard completely. It’s the only Nepalese bar in Dubai, and as one could guess, it is filled to the brim with Nepalese natives, looking to catch a little glimpse of comforting home life. In the numerous times I have visited, my companions and I have been the only outsiders visible, and have been invited in graciously and kindly.
There’s a pool table at the side (though when it gets packed, the staff swiftly cover this with a wooden board, and it doubles as another table), and a ceiling adorned with cultural artefacts, statues and ornaments. It’s a garish but beautiful sight.
The music is a mystical combination of South-East-meets-South Asian vibes. With Nepal bordering China and North India, you can only imagine the allure this style of music has. It’s easy to dance to, and hypnotically repetitive, the call-and-response style songs looping back on themselves over and over again. The stage is packed with about 10 different musicians, many of whom are singers taking it in turns to sing. Everyone dances. The live instrumentation is what controls the tempo; swaying whimsical beats are played, while the drone of a pump organ drags it back and forth. There are Indian tablas and pump organs, mixed with an array of Nepalese drums called madals.
On occasion the singers will break into theatre, acting out plays of lust and betrayal in time to the music. This seems to be the underlying theme of Nepalese music, the idea of fighting for love. Singers will go back and forth, harmonizing and sassing each other out. It all makes for a pretty enthralling show.
Every now and then, the band plays a song that everyone in the bar knows, and the atmosphere completely changes in the space of a second. Bodies raid the dance floor, throwing their limbs to familiar sounds and rhythms, singing out loud and proud as they dance.
Much like the music, the food is an exotic mix of eastern meets south Asian. Many of the dishes on the menu were completely foreign to us at first, but since our trip to Nepal, we’ve got a better understanding. These are typical comforting Nepali dishes that you’ll find everywhere back in the homeland. So while Yak & Yeti don’t necessarily have the best versions of these dishes out there, that reminiscient taste of Nepal is always pleasing.
If you get just one thing at Yak & Yeti, it’s got to be Bhatmas Sandeko – a vegetarian dish of fried soybeans with a great crunch. The manager tells me ‘this is perfect drinking food’ and god damnit, he’s right! What better to dish with which to savour your choice of beverage but a concoction of salty, crunchy beans, slices of sour green mango, onion and coriander, all dressed in a sticky, smoky, tomatoey marinade that’s smoking hot! A bite of this has you reaching for a sip of refreshing beer, and then you’re back for more! Eating this in big spoonfuls is a necessity, and gives the sensation of eating the spiciest bowl of cereal ever.
Hyakulla Fry – this is my favourite dish, I’m also a big fan of the name. Hy-a-kuuuullaa. Soft chunks of mutton, in a spicy tomato, ginger and garlic marinade, with the added surprise of the occasional crunch of those same soy beans. The beauty of this dish beholds me. So tender! So juicy! So hot!
Then there’s fried Chicken Chilly, this is what all the regulars get! You see it on nearly every table; that gooey, sticky marinade glinting and glistening in the corner of your eye. This is a Chinese-influenced dish, but really no less Nepalese than bhatmas sandeko. A lot of the same flavours come up again in all these dishes – what they’ve done is master the ideal food for accompanying drinking perfectly. You follow every flaming bite with a guzzle of cold beer; and the more beer you drink, the more you get the urge for more sticky chicken. It’s genius! And of course, the second your glass runs dry, a helpful waitress appears just in time to offer another.
Yak & Yeti is the place we take everyone. Any visitor to Dubai, anyone looking to experience something a little bit different to the usual tourist spots. And just like us on the fateful first visit, they sit shovelling popcorn in their mouths, eyes wide, mouth grinning, minds blown. There’s something so universally appealing about a place where there’s no ulterior motive but to have a good time. No one’s there to look cool. They just wanna party! Long live the Yak.
Back when we were living in London, we had this Korean joint we visited on occasion just off Carnaby Street. It was a bit more expensive than our usual eatery but hot damn they had the best Korean BBQ I’d encountered in my time there. One of my favourite dishes on the menu was simply titled ‘Korean Beef’ and though that sounds simple enough, the flavours were all there man.
Four years down the line and I now find myself in a Korean supermarket in Dubai staring down all these ingredients that could potentially create this dreamy dish I once had. A quick internet research and a youtube clip of this cute Korean women cooking up a storm gives me the capabilities I need.
So what is ‘Korean Beef’ anyway? Well more times than not it’s marinaded in bulgogi. This is a classic Korean sauce featuring the Holy Trinity of soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil, as well as a sweet fruity element - in this case pear.
1. It’s important to get the right cut of meat for this, beef belly, flank steak, or tenderloin will do. Cut it into thin slices and put in a big bowl.
2. Blend (or grate): 1/4 pear, 1 red onion, a little bit of ginger, 3-4 garlic cloves and add that into your big bowl of meat.
3. Add grated carrot & diced spring onion, a big glug of soy sauce, cooking syrup (this is something we’ve been using a lot lately - used to sweeten and thicken up sauces or marinades) and a generous serving of sesame oil.
4. Ideally, you want this marinading over night, but if you’re shorter on time leaving for at least 1 hour will do as well. Get a pan or grill at a high heat and cook dat shit! It only takes about 3 minutes. In Korean restaurants, this will usually be served with lettuce leaves to make mini-wraps, with raw garlic and chilli slices, and a spicy dipping sauce.
Our good pal Amy works for Emirates - so she travels a lot, and loves trying out local foods along the way, just like we do! So with that in mind, we’ve asked her to contribute some posts to I’m Not a Fiend, featuring her favourite experiences with cuisines from around the world. First up, proving she’s a girl after our own hearts, Amy visits Manila, and eats the classic Filipino pork melange sisig.
If the word “sisig” doesn’t have any meaning for you, it should.
By definition, it’s a Filipino dish made up of various parts of a pig that are boiled, broiled and grilled. By practice, sisig can be made using other meats, and, if consumed at the laudable Sisig Hooray! chain in Manila, will combine a number of other ingredients that will host a little Filipino fiesta in your mouth.
When fellow foodie friends heard i was headed to Manila for a day, I was encouraged to try it. My encounter took place at the Robinson’s Galleria in Central Manila, in a food court that, had it not been covered with three more floors of stores and shopping, could have just as easily been a street food heaven, with little eatery after little eatery showcasing various Filipino, Korean, and miscellaneous Asian delights. Knowing my love for trying new and great foods, several people made mention of this mall’s food court, with a far-away look in their eyes as they reminisced happy food memories that had occurred in that very place. In short, it was apparently a culinary sight to behold—and it didn’t disappoint.
But back to sisig. My first “real” intro came by way of the classic sisig dish—lechon sisig, as I was told it was called, only to be asked by the girl behind the counter at Sisig Hooray! “You mean pork sisig?”
Yes, sure, fine, whatever we’re supposed to call it, I just want some of that yummy goodness in me. I had been told by someone, in not exactly these words, that my life may be potentially forever changed.
In the version of the dish that I tried (and I’ve been told by Filipinos that there are several), a slosh of fresh pork (which was being efficiently chopped up to the tune of a Colbie Callait song blaring overhead) was placed on my plate. Added to this was a spoonful or so of diced purple onions, some chopped green hot peppers, a dollop of a mayonnaise mix, and a generous sprinkling of chicharrón (a deep-fried pork skin delight well known in Spain and Latin America that I had managed to avoid eating up until this point). This pile of goodness was then mixed together, with a scoop of rice added next to it along with a couple small limes (the juice of which was integral to the ultimate enjoyment of the dish, I found). The result was a crunchy, tangy, Filipino pork salad of sorts, a combination that speaks just as much to the Philippines’ mash up of cultural influences as do the people themselves.
My initial sisig experience was so good that a few hours after my first encounter I returned, this time for some kind of fish variation (that I had mistakenly chosen because on the menu picture it looked mostly like vegetables; I was to discover that non-meat dishes are not really a thing in the Philippines). The fish, mixed up in exactly the same way as the pork, was equally delightful. In future visits, which I hope I’ll have, I am determined to try their beef and chicken types as well. (and if you think my food court experience stopped there, you’re so wrong; also consumed in the span of a few hours was the much-talked about pork adobo, a coconut-pandan smoothie, and some kimchi).
My visit to Sisig Hooray! was a sisig success. If you’re ever in Manila near the Robinson’s Galleria, you should definitely stop by the food court, or search out sisig in one of its many forms any place you can get your hands on it.
We came across this cute little joint in Barsha by chance while roaming the streets like lost hyenas in search of a carcass to snack on. You can’t quite see it in the photo, but there’s a little bicycle outside the window of Bab Sharqi, with plastic flowers and fruits blooming out of the basket. Such overt shows of adorability are rare in Dubai, so we had to step inside to see more.
Inside the little Syrian restaurant, it feels like entering an old person’s living room. There’s overflowing bookshelves (all Arabic), and old photos covering almost every spare scrap of wall. One of the photos was a rather flattering airbrushed black and white snap of a mustached young man (seen top-left in the ornate frame), that upon closer studying revealed itself as the now middle-aged Syrian owner. This guy has clearly worked hard to create a cosy corner of old Damascus, right in the middle of concrete identikit Barsha.
The menu is nothing new, just all the old school levant faves. We went for a couple of classics - shawarma plate and Arayes meat (grilled Arabic flatbread stuffed with meat and spices) - and one new thang we hadn’t tried before just because it looked so deliciously saucy - Batorsh, which is essentially moutabel topped with minced lamb in a tomato sauce. Sauce on sauce, baby!
This was some good ol’ wholesome traditional food, and I won’t deny I found it all very comforting. Also in the list of pros that Bab Sharqi is racking up, they are very generous with the complimentary salad, in particular carrot sticks! Though the food did not blow our minds, it’s nice to see a cosy joint like this existing. Perhaps a next visit for helwa and tea is in the pipeline.
This is a little embarrassing. We were first inspired to make Korean meatballs from a kind of dubious source. Spiderman 2. There’s a scene in this crappy movie where cuteness-on-legs Emma Stone talks about a new Korean meatball place that’s she’s become obsessed with. After a pause, we simultaneously turned to each other and whisper-exclaimed, “Korean meatballs?!? That sounds amazing!” I could barely concentrate for the rest of the movie, because a) it was terrible, and the flimsy plot was flapping all over the place; and b) I was dreaming of Korean meatballs.
As soon as the movie was over and our misery ended, I was googling that shit like my life depended on it. We pieced together what seems to be a fairly typical way of making these little balls of delight. Here’s how we did it:
To make the meatballs themselves, combine equal parts minced pork and beef, finely chopped red onion and spring onion, grated ginger and garlic, and some finely chopped mushrooms. We used oyster mushrooms, but shiitake would also be great, I’m sure. Add some flour and a couple of egg yolks to bind it all together nicely. The mixture of fresh and fragrant smells all up in your nose at this point is a PLEASURE. Mush it all up with your hands till it’s all thoroughly mixed, or till you get bored of squishing meat through your fingers (I could have gone on forever).
Next roll the balls, and coat them in flour. In batches, fry them till brown all over, and set aside. Then you get started on the glaze! This is the good stuff.
Simmer sliced ginger and garlic in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and we added something called cooking syrup we picked up at the local Korean supermarket. This sugary nectar got everything good and sticky! But any sugar-based substance should do the job. Once this mixture starts to thicken, add your meatballs. Turning all the balls around regularly, make sure they get a nice shiny coating all over, and cook for around 5 minutes.
The result is meltingly soft little meatballs coated in a sticky glaze that’s both sweet and salty in equal measures. We served with rice and smacked cucumber salad, which is basically cucumber dressed in some some fried garlic, spicy soybean paste, sesame seeds, and olive oil.
I’m presuming the script-writer for Spiderman 2 must have had some awesome Korean meatballs, then found himself filled with a violent urge to share their beauty with the world. But how?? The only way he knows how. Through Emma Stone’s words. I myself am filled with that same violent urge to share Korean meatballs with the world. But luckily I am armed with a slightly more suitable outlet. Korean meatballs, man!!! Do it!!
Jumeirah is a nomansland to us. You see, because we don’t drive and it’s one of the few areas in Dubai without a metro stop, in remains unexplored. UNTIL! We befriended an Armenian dude who lives there and insists on taking us around to see what we’ve been missing.
Thus, Bar.B.Q. Tonight. A Pakistani BBQ joint that serves the largest variety of tenderly cooked meat one could ask for. Though from afar it may look like a hole in the wall, this is a big business. People get dressed up for the place! I’m pretty sure a wedding reception was casually taking place here during our visit, as well as an ever-growing queue hustling around the buffet.
Now one does not simply order from the menu here, you go for the all you can eat buffet! I’m not the biggest fan of buffets and have made myself vocal about that in the past - but it’s different here, believe me!
BBQ is the specialty and they are not fucking around. Behind the buffet platters are circular arches for you to see into the kitchen, where dozens of men manning different BBQ stations are cooking up a storm. The smells that come from this emit a smokey, flavoursome mist.
From the perfectly charred Chicken Shashlik to the spicy grilled Devil Fish and Bihari Kabab which almost tastes like pulled pork (it’s actually chicken) to classics like Aloo Zeera and mutton chops. It’s a gigantic selection that’s as intimidating as it is delicious.
Seriously, I tried my best to try everything there but got hit by that brick wall of fullness. We’ve had a lot of grilled meats in our time, but we may have a winner here folks, if it’s South Asian BBQ you like, this is the place for you.
Any excuse and we’re back at Xiao Wei Yang - aka Little Lamb! This Chinese restaurant is known for their Shabu Shabu hot pots, which we have enjoyed on many an occasion. This time however, we had something else in mind, the unassumingly named ‘Spicy Prawns Place’.
Now these ain’t no ordinary prawns sonny. This is serious bizniz! Presumably flash fried until golden crispy and then soft and gooey on the inside. Any description I may offer you will not do them justice; the silky marinade is a mystery but the usual suspects are there: peppercorns, chilli, garlic.
And the best thing about them? No doubt the unctuous prawn heads. Bare with me now - if you have not enjoyed a prawn head, cooked to crispy perfection and eaten whole, you have not lived my friend. Don’t think, just throw that sucker down your throat and ya’ll will be in heaven.
We first came across Crispy Pata at one of Dubai’s many outrageous Filipino night clubs. They know how to put on a show, man! In these establishments the party starts when the band comes out. There’s usually no less than 10 people on stage at any time; including a ton of dancers, whipping their hair around, and showing off some seriously well choreographed dance moves. Flashing lights, headbanging, spangly bodysuits, hotpants, cheesy guitar solos, air drumming, Victoria’s Secret style feathers sprouting from shoulders. It’s like low budget Las Vegas in the middle of Bur Dubai. You don’t know where to look, or what’s coming next. It’s complete sensory overload.
Their repertoire usually covers everything from Metallica to Celine Dion and everything imaginable in between. While you enjoy the show, plates of various pork dishes seem to appear of their own accord, followed by endless pitchers of suspiciously watery beer (which were almost definitely whisked away from the table before we finished them).
Crispy Pata is my favourite. This is a pork knuckle, deep-fried till the skin is a salty, crispy DELIGHT, with soft, gelatinous fat clinging to it for love and life. Under all this beauty you’ve got softly flaking, juicy and tender nuggets of meat, just begging to be ripped off the caveman bone. That’s right, this is the perfect beer food!
We have had a pork knuckle hidden away in our freezer for a while, and after a visit to Boracay this past weekend (mind = melted), we finally got around to making it ourselves.
First get a pig saucepan, and simmer the knuckle in water with an onion, a bunch of garlic cloves, some lemongrass, and tons of salt and pepper. This will need about an hour and a half to get tender. Take it out, let it cool. Rub more salt and pepper into the skin. Let it sit for 10 mins.
Deep frying a big joint of meat like this whole might seem daunting - but as long as you don’t make the same mistakes we did, you’ll be just fine. The trick is to heat up oil (enough to submerge the knuckle about halfway, again in a nice big saucepan) on a high heat, then turn it down to low as you put the pork in.
We left it on high at first like over eager dumbasses, and suffered a few terrifying oil explosions. This shit was bubbling up ominously like an volcanic eruption. Thus we had a nice and greasy kitchen to clean up after enjoying the pata. No fun.
Luckily I realised the mistake early enough, and the pork simmers gently in the oil for around 10 mins each side (turn regularly so it doesn’t stick), till golden brown and crispy. Got a craving for suckling pig but held back by just a few logistics? Crispy pata is your answer.
Serve with a typically Filipino dip - soy sauce and vinegar with chopped onion, chilli and garlic - and a cucumber salad dressed in vinegar, sugar, chilli, and chopped onion. And obviously a beer, if you’ve got one handy.
Tikka is one of those food words that has different meanings depending where in the world you are. In England, you’ll order tikka probably expecting a mild chicken curry in an bright orange sauce. In Dubai, it refers to grilled meats in various forms, most commonly deriving from South Asia. In Bahrain, tikka is skewered meat that is marinated overnight in black preserved lemon powder. Traditionally Iranian, I grew up eating the stuff religiously!
To the most part, it’s a hole in the wall affair, you’re not gunna find no ‘gourmet’ tikka restaurant, no sir! It’s more of a rock up to a nearby village in your sandals kind of thing. You order up and watch as they grill them over an open lit flame, waiting patiently, drooling at the even thought of those hot nuggets of fatty meat sizzling away.
For the past year that I have lived in Dubai, I’ve been searching for a Bahraini-style tikka joint high and low, asking around, desperately pleading until late last weekend I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and make it myself. We made it with mutton because it’s a totally underrated meat and ya’ll are stupid if you disagree.
1. Chop up your mutton into small pieces and marinate overnight in an excessive amount of preserved black lemon powder (you can find it in older parts of Dubai such as Satwa), salt & pepper and a squeeze of two lemons.
2. Skewer them up and grill them, if you got a BBQ use it, if not, a griddle pan will do the trick fine! You want it to be moist with a healthy amount of char as well.
3. Make a small plate of pickled onions by chopping up slices of red onion and mixing in white wine vinegar, somac, red pepper flakes and salt & pepper.
4. Serve with flat bread, accompanied with some limes to add dat tang!
It may or may not surprise you to learn that I am a karaoke demon. I LOVE THAT SHIT. Especially if I’m one or two or three beers down, crank up the Limp Bizkit, I’m on it. My karaoke tunes of choice gravitate towards late 90s - early 2000s grunge and pop-rock. Fred Durst and Sk8r Boi being classic options. I’m not ashamed.
For a friend’s recent birthday, we got invited to Kung, a Korean restaurant with private karaoke rooms, in the Byblos Hotel in Tecom. We decided to return on a more sober occasion to try out the food. Needless to say it was a meal haunted by flashbacks of my foolish end-of-night rendition of Taylor Swift (not feeling 22 anymore). Luckily the food was good enough to distract from the painful memories. We sat cross-legged on floor cushions, legs going numb. A group of Korean business men in the corner cheered HEYYOHHHH! and did shots every ten minutes. I wanted to join their party.
Much as I am a bibimbap luva 4 lyf, we tried to branch out to try new things in this meal, and with a little help from our waiter, ordered the following.
Sliced pork belly with kimchi, vegetables and chilli paste, which came with the perfect sized bowl of sticky rice. This was deliciously tangy, with that garlicky-spicy kimchi flavour smothering everything. It maybe could have done with a little more pork but I’m not complaining too much, this was tasty as hell!
Ok then we got cocky. We definitely weren’t ready for this shit. This murky-looking cauldron was a hotpot of pork stomach, shrimp paste, and various other insidey bits. I’m sure the description mentioned sesame oil and other tasty things?? Well, it tasted like dank guts. Sweaty, clammy, fleshy, tripey soup. Andrew Zimmern, we’ve got a long way to go. I tried. i wanted to like it! But one spoon was all I could handle before this was pushed out of my eye-line and away from my nostril-zone.
Thank God, the third dish we ordered was the best of all. Korean sashimi, baby. It came in a mountain of shredded vegetables, almost like a slaw, and drowned in a lethal chilli sauce. A monstrous pile! The fish (hammour) was chunky, perfectly soft, and fresh. This was super tasty, with hints of nutty sesame and sweet gochujang paste, and a generous enough serving to feed me for lunch the next day. Holla at me, my packed lunch crew!
On the side of all this, lots of little bowls of tasty appetizers were provided. Hellz yeah, free food! These included sesame dressed mushrooms (which were deliciously slimey), warm vegetable pancakes, crazy tangy kimchi, pickled radish, and some weird grey egg dish. Who knows. I’m pretty sure they said it was called stink egg, but haven’t been able to find anything about that online, so the mystery continues unsolved.
The prices at Kung are a little on the high side (with two beers this came to nearly AED400). But aside from our MASSIVE ordering mistake with the hotpot, I loved the food, the atmosphere was great (HEEYYOOHHH!!), and I’m sure the karaoke will tempt me back sooner than is advisable.
You think fattoush is just a salad, do ya? Do ya??? You know nothing, Jon Snow.
You’ll see fattoush on the menu at Lebanese restaurants, Egyptian, Palestinian; it’s a staple dish of the Levant. A stalwart you might say. Essentially it is just a mixed salad, but what elevates a successful fattoush to greatness is a) the fried crispy bread, and b) sumac. Sumac is a super sour spice which is added liberally to fattoush dressing, making everything turn red, tangy, and delicious.
The addition of the fried squares of bread was initially conceived as a way of using up stale leftover flatbreads. It adds that essential crunch and stop the whole affair from being too boring and healthy. It also soaks up that acidic dressing quite brilliantly, make each bite a literal burst of flavour.
To make fattoush, just chop up tomatoes, cucumber, radish, red onion, and crisp lettuce into rough chunks. Cut flatbread into squares, and quickly deep fry till crispy. Add fresh parsley or mint leaves if you have them, they’re always welcome here.
Mix everything and dress with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and looooads of sumac. If you think you can handle it, add our secret ingredient to achieve levels of ultra-tang you had only dreamed of - a drizzle of pomegranate molasses!
Serve with anything you bloody like.
Footsteps away from where we were staying in Kathmandu was Thamel House Restaurant, tucked away in a courtyard behind a tiny store selling carved wooden masks, and dusty beaded necklaces by the dozen. Of all the places to eat in Thamel - which is an area undeniably designed for backpackers and tourists - Thamel House Restaurant was one of the few to offer local food in a more legitimate restaurant setting. As such, it comes with a slightly higher price tag (not to be confused with an actually expensive price tag. We spent like max £6 each here).
It turned out to be some of the best food of the trip, so much so that we paid Thamel Housel Restaurant two visits! The cosy courtyard was a lovely, peaceful retreat from the crazy death-trap streets outside, with a great atmosphere both in the afternoon sunshine, or in the evening with a bottle of local wine.
We ordered a mixture of dishes to share - the servings are a little on the small side here considering you’re paying a little more, I will admit, but the quality of these little servings was BANG ON. Alu tareko was a traditional fried potato dish. These were salty and herby; perfectly textured, crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle like a spicy roast potato. Completely addictive.
Mas ko bara - mashed lentils prepared in local style, like a pancake but salty. That is the description from the menu, ordered more out of curiosity than anything. It literally was a strange, salty pancake. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. I was confused. Luckily the other dishes did not confuse me so. They delighted me!
Khasi ko chhowela - mutton cubes barbecued and marinated Nepali style - think ginger, garlic, coriander, spices, all that good stuff. This shit is so good!! And tangy as hell. To the extent that your tongue is left tingling tantalisingly for the rest of the meal.
Gundruk ko achar - fermented dried spinach, served cold in the form of a pickle, with potato. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, the Nepalese know their way around a potato alright. This unusual dish had really great umami flavour, with more of that typical Nepali tang.
Finally Paneer Sandheko, marinated cottage cheese. My eyes have been opened to the beauty of paneer since visiting Nepal. All I’ve had in the past were bland, soggy chunks of nothing from local UK Indian takeaways. It wasn’t so, here in Thamel House Restaurant! Chunks of paneer tasted creamy and rich, slathered in tons of spicy coriander, just the way I like it!