A few weeks ago we visited Bur Dubai to take some photos and investigate into an article we’re writing for a magazine - we were looking into Dubai’s clashing identities - old Bur Dubai seemed like the best place to start.
We walked down the alley ways, talked to the venders and shop keepers, collected fabrics and smelt the fresh whiff of shawarmas being grilled in masala marinades right in front of our eyes. It’s safe to say that this is our kind of place, we feel at home in these types of surroundings.
We later went for a beer at the Sherlock Holmes Pub, an English style pub within the chintzy Arabian Courtyard Hotel, that has a happy hour of 12 - 8 PM. Our friend Hala was performing poetry here, and amidst the almost time-warp like surroundings, we spotted Lassi King right outside the window. We had a few beers down us and were pretty hungry - this looked promising.
Lassi King’s setting is something I’ve been seeing a lot of in Dubai - a mix of traditional meets modern, that results in a surprisingly cozy atmosphere. It’s not that I have anything against modern surroundings taking on traditional motifs, but it’s just that it’s something that can easily go wrong. Luckily, this place isn’t particularly classy or pretentious, just a clean-cut, fun-hearted kind of place - as they describe it on the sign, “a desi fastfood hangout’. ‘Desi’ refers to people of Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi descent, so has much the same welcoming implications as the Filipino ‘Kabayan’.
We sat in the seating area outside on the pavement, right next to the road and immediately ordered two lassis - one salty and one sweet, it had to be done. It’s all in the name! Lassi King make lassis the old school way, a traditional style of using a pestle and large jug, grinding yoghurt and swirling it around until frothy and delicious. You choose your consistency, some like it thick and some like it runny, everyone wins.
We then ordered some chaat - something we’ve been exploring recently, and have completely fallen in love with. It’s unlike any Indian food we’ve tried before. It’s a street food favourite that mixes in a whole bunch of surprising elements, in all sorts of varieties - often including chickpeas, broken crispy fried bread, maybe some potato, loads of yogurt, coriander, chopped onions and tomatoes, and lots of tasty masala spices. That mixture of fresh flavours and textures is pretty damn addictive.
Theres a lot of chaat joints around areas which have a large Indian population - like Bur Dubai - and I’m guessing it gets quite competitive. Lassi King’s is an exceptional contender, and though I’m no professional when it comes to chaat, this was some good shit, my friend!
We also went for Pani Puri, another street food favourite that consists of deep-fried hollow nuggets of dough (puri), spicy water, tamarind chutney, and chickpeas.
While we were eating, a bystander in the table next to us noticed that we were doing it all wrong. I had earlier taken a photo for him and his wife and we therefore had a chum-like relationship going - he was not going to let me do it wrong. The technique as he taught me involved cracking the puri open, adding your condiment of choice and filling it in chick peas, leading to quickly putting the whole thing in your mouth in one big bite of flavour, before the water sogs it through.
This was a good day - one filled with true interaction and good, honest grub. Theres something endearing about walking around aimlessly and trying to find new places to eat, it’s a nice feeling that runs warm and deep. Drifting yourself away from the city glitz of Dubai is a must, especially if you want to come across such lovely independent ventures such as Lassi King.
Words // Kamal
Sometimes when I’m feeling generous (and lazy), I let Kamal go trotting off to the shop by himself to buy whatever ingredients catch his eye for dinner. After one of these such trips recently, he came bouncing back through the door, clutching in his happy hands a huge pack of endles chops that had been on special offer.
"Look at ALL THESE CHOPS!" He shouted, quite delighted at his meat haul. And I too, was excited. We decided to cook them with an oyster sauce glaze - as oyster sauce was so very in vogue in our kitchen that week.
First we pounded their asses till the chops were thin and floppy, to tenderize the meat. We seasoned them just with salt, pepper, and shichimi pepper (a Japanese blend of peppers, sesame seeds and ginger. Every time we remember that we have this in our cupboard it’s a good day, this stuff adds so much flavour and punch to anything in a second!)
At this point you need to start heating up the pan - you want it smoking hot!
While it’s heating, in a small saucepan pour some good quality oyster sauce to slowly bubble and thicken. And I mean GOOD quality! We got ours from our favourite Korean supermarket (1004 Mart in Barsha), it’s called Beksul Abalone Oyster Sauce, and it tastes so goddamn rich and beautiful. It says Premium on the bottle, man!! You know what that means!!
Place the chops in the pan carefully - by now it will be going crazy from the heat, so watch out for flying fat. All they’ll need is about 3/4 minutes on each side to cook through, get a crispy char on the outside, and remain a tiny bit pink in the middle.
All we did next was pile them all on a plate, and poured the sticky oyster glaze all over them. Eat with your hands, there’s no other way.
Words by Kamal
I visited Dragon Mart for the first time the other day. I had to pick up some supplies for work with my friend May and had heard a lot about this place; a big Chinese run warehouse filled with traders selling everything from wallpaper and chandeliers to specialist tea and toilet seats. Basically a whole lotta’ junk.
I’m usually really into these kinds of places but in a way, Dragon Mart had too much undesirable junk for me to handle! A never ending spine of market stalls pushing tacky to a whole new level.
Within the warehouse, we spotted an Asian supermarket. Me and Beth usually go nuts around these kind of shops and browse for what feels like hours, so much food we’ve never heard of, so many exotic flavours we want to delve into. The romantic thought of being introduced to new experiences always a constant in our minds.
Can we just take a second to appreciate the beauty of Asian food packaging - the outrageous, the colourful, the downright sassy. They never fail to grab my attention, curiosity dragging me towards purchase, in a similar vein to why you bought kinder eggs when you were a child. The mystery of what’s inside, too tempting to resist. Please enjoy; the chicken mama is my favourite by a long shot.
I was immediately suspicious of Koreana. The name was just too obvious; it’s clear to us that a lot of times, when a restaurant is named after the country’s food they’re serving up, it’s gunna suck. Located on an empty sandy corner next to the highway, surely, they couldn’t actually be churning out high quality Korean food? So to say the least, I was a little apprehensive.
The meal was prefaced with complimentary hot and spicy kimchi, sesame dressed cucumber, a surprisingly tasty soft potato salad in a soy-based sauce, and fresh, crunchy beansprouts, also dressed in sesame oil. I’m BIG on kimchi, but definitely appreciated their effort of providing a different variety of free starters. I have a mild obsession with sesame oil and it’s smooth, silky dreaminess (I could drink it. Bathe in it), so all of these dishes were fine by me.
Bibimbap is something we always order in Korean restaurants - it’s like the measure of the restaurant’s worth. If they pull off a good bibimbap, they can be forgiven for a multitude of other sins. A hot stone bowl of rice, meat and vegetables brought to your table still sizzling, it always comes with an egg on top, and a little pot of gochujang red pepper paste on the side for stirring in - though the neatly laid out meat and the vegetables can vary widely.
Koreana’s bibimbap wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it certainly did the job. The best part about eating bibimbap is always scraping up the crispy rice stuck to the bottom of the hot bowl - so chewy and satisfying.
Another Korean restaurant favourite is barbecued meat, which often come with a plate of lettuce to make wraps with. That fresh crunch of a juicy lettuce leaf feels totally healthy, no matter what sauce-laden meat it conceals. We went for spicy grilled beef in a bulgogi marinade - that’s the red one, with the onions, and some tender beef short ribs, which had a gorgeous smokey, salty flavour. These were the highlight of the meal, and an absolute must order for anyone in Koreana.
You spoon a little helping of meat, along with some tamarind peanut dipping sauce, into a lettuce leaf, roll it up, and shove it in your mouth. This is the beauty of Korean food that makes it such an experience - it’s so interactive. The meal comes half-ready, and you finish all the assembly yourself.
Although we didn’t go for it this time, quite often with Korean barbecue, the meat will be grilled by a waiter on a mini barbecue in the middle of your table. Who wants a prescribed amount of meat and two veg placed in front of you on a plate, when you could have it this way? Koreana blew all my low expectations out of the water.
And to finish - complimentary melon! Hooray!
We’re in print! Kamal and I both recently wrote articles for our favourite food culture magazine, The Carton (which I previously posted about here), and we’re pretty damn excited for everyone to see them now the issue has been published.
Both of us took a look at Filipino food for the articles. Kamal told the (true) tale of a sassy Filipina selling home-cooked wares against the odds in a busy financial centre; while I investigated why the cuisine doesn’t have more of a mainstream presence in the Middle East, where the Filipino population is huge. For my piece, Kamal also took the photos.
Plus, we must give a special mention to Rachel from Halo Halo for providing some truly radical illustrations for Kamal’s article - brilliant example below!
Find out where you can pick up a copy HERE on their website. This season’s beautiful issue is all about ice-cream (among other things), and is truly a treat for the eyes and mind.
Continuing our quest to make pasta interesting again, this conchiglie is in a sauce of labneh, basil, olive oil, chunks of feta cheese, pine nuts, and slightly crushed pistachios - made tangy and delicious with garlic and lots of fresh squeezed lemon.
As you might expect from a dish that’s almost entirely dairy and carb, this is pretty rich. You won’t need a huge bowl. And take that coming from me, the biggest pasta fiend going. That doesn’t detract from it’s deliciousness though - believe me.
The recipe was slightly adapted from one in ‘Jerusalem’ - a truly excellent, vivid, and fascinating cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi, which many of you may be familiar with. I’m obsessed with it right now. This recipe called for Greek yogurt - something which is bizarrely difficult to get hold of in Dubai. I mean, we’re closer to Greece here than we are in London - what the hell is this! So we went for what we thought was the next best thing, labneh.
Labneh is a variety of strained yogurt common in Levantine cuisine, it’s very thick, rich, and creamy. It makes a brilliantly luxurious dip for bread when drizzled with olive oil and herbs (maybe a little garlic too, eh!), and is often eaten with breakfast. What a great substitute, we thought! A stroke of genius!
But here’s the twist - when later looking up what the difference between labneh and Greek yogurt is, I found an astounding truth - they are one and the same. They’re both strained yogurt. What’s marketed as Greek yogurt in the UK, is basically labneh. I could have been having labneh this whole time when I’d been craving a dollop of the great Greek stuff.
So to sum up - my mind has been blown. It all makes so much sense now. But back to the pasta.
Obviously we can never follow a recipe completely directly. We missed out the peas it suggested (…forgot to buy them), but added pistachios along with the directed pine nuts, as well as the juice of two lemons. With all that dairy, the sauce was just crying out for that refreshing, tart tang of lemon. Finally we added za’atar - labneh’s best buddy. That just seemed obvious.
They said in the cookbook that a pasta dish with a hot yogurt sauce might seem a bit odd, but to just give it a try as an alternative to the Italian classics. And I have to agree - to me this is so much lighter, and more interesting than a heavy, standard, creamy sauce.
And is there anything like a handful of fresh basil? It added a fantastic refreshing fragrance and flavour, while the gooey, sour richness of the feta cheese chunks were like amplified little flavour bombs of the sauce. Just so good man.
We ended up calling this dish ‘Warmsound Tagine’, named after the music mix we were listening to while making it! Beaty Heart, a band who are good friends of Kamal’s, made this excellent mix (which in turn featured a beautiful song by them, also called Warmsound Tagine). It provided a relaxing soundtrack to the whole cooking experience and kept me calm throughout creating this tagine of tiger prawns and feta cheese in a tomato sauce, accompanied by couscous with almonds. The music was like a warm, tropical blanket for the room.
So, here’s how we made it. Fry a couple of cloves of garlic, then add a ton of white wine, and boil till it’s reduced down to about half. At this point, the smell of the garlicky wine wafting out will make you weep. It’s so damn tasty.
Next add two tins of chopped plum tomatoes, lots of chopped fresh parsley, the juice of a very juicy lemon (or two disappointing lemons), and season with paprika, salt and pepper. Let it simmer slowly for 20 mins to thicken up and for all the flavours to start having a good time together.
While it’s simmering, prepare some couscous (be warned - I accidentally made enough to feed ten Catholic families, and now have tubs and tubs of leftover couscous in the fridge. What you see on this plate barely scratched the surface), and pile pretty much anything on top of it. Whatever nuts you’ve got, toast them, salt them up, chuck them on. Maybe some raisins, if you are so inclined. Some herbs, a little spring onions never hurt nobody. Sprinkle over some za’atar, and you’ve transformed what could have been a deathly boring side, into one that’s almost as exciting as the main dish.
Add six big, fat tiger prawns to the tomato sauce (this amount will serve two people), and carefully sink in some chunks of feta cheese. Then cover the pan, and let it cook for ten minutes or so, till the feta starts getting gooey and crumbly. That’s the good stuff.
Add sliced spring onions and chopped parsley on top when serving. What you get is a part of textures, and a slightly sour, rich sauce that is the perfect base for seafood. You could easily also serve this with flatbreads, and we will definitely experiment with adding clams, mussels, or other seafood into the mix.
I can imagine this tagine as the steaming hot dish in the centre of a welcoming feast for family and friends, plate after plate all laid out on a low table, surrounded by embroidered cushions and blankets. The ingredients can easily be multiplied to cater to more hungry guests, ready to ladle themselves up a generous helping of couscous and tagine, some somac-sprinkled salads, freshly blended dips of all colours - hummous, of course, making an appearance.
And the name - Warmsound Tagine - is perfectly fitting. As you eat, it conjures up the sensation of a comforting hug from a treasured friend, who’s probably wearing a soft, time-worn poncho, with lazy rhythms playing behind us.
This traditional local Bahraini fish joint is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by scrapheaps and piles of dust nearby. It looks like nothing much from the car park - the massive Coca-Cola sign giving a totally misleading impression - then you enter into a garden courtyard with fountains and greenery. It was weirdly like stepping through a portal into a little oasis retreat. But it was goddamn hot outside (this was Bahrain in mid-June), so we headed inside through one of the many doors. Seriously, there was a mind-boggling number of entrances to this place.
Inside, it’s a large canteen-esque room, and all the walls are decorated with murals of local scenes and pretty little birds in trees. It was rather charming, actually. Little children kept appearing and running around out of nowhere - their families were hidden away next door in the family room - so it looked to us like these kids just popped out to get some grilled fish on their own accord. Especially this one tiny guy with slicked back hair and loafers on. He seemed totally serious about his fish.
We were handed floppy pamphlet menus speckled with grease and stains, while the waiters laid out thin plastic sheets over the table and showed us a selection of the fish available that day. Those tissue boxes were everywhere, you know the ones you can’t escape at restaurants in the Middle East. As a messy eater, I love them and their tacky box designs.
Kamal’s dad ordered us a selection of bahraini seafood treats, including lots of machboos. This is a rice and meat dish that everywhere in the Middle East has some version of, and is heavily spiced with fragrant flavours such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and saffron. Stuffed underneath all that rice was layers of chunky hammour and prawns, with almonds appearing throughout for that satisfying crunch! It’s the kind of dish you can easily eat a few tons of before realising what you’ve done, especially when adding garlic and hot sauces to the equation…
Fried spicy prawns with tomatoes were excellent. Most older Arab people are really into eating the heads of fish, which is smart as they are often the best part! Don’t shy away from them. I’ll admit that I didn’t even take my own advice on this occasion though, they just looked too crunchy, man! Kamal’s warrior instincts took over however, and he expressed how great they were.
And best of all, the show stealer, grilled sea bream! Topped with diced red onion and tomatoes, soaking right up into the juicy flesh rather like a fried salsa, these babies were charred to the maximum, smoked up, and really, really tasty. Even our visiting pal Charles who claims to be “allergic to seafood” absolutely loved it. And suspiciously enough, he’s still alive…
As well as this, we had hammour and prawn curries, which were swimming in a scrummy soupy sauce. Well you know what I did with this… poured it all over my mountain of machboos, baby! And you know what else I did with this… scooped it up with a little khobez, baby!
These kind of places are made for communal eating, everything’s put in the middle, the table’s covered in it’s protective sheet, and you just go in hands deep. The fish is caught daily, so you know that shit’s fresh.
It’s safe to say that we destroyed this meal. What was left over were the scraps and bones of our discarded fishes, only but a memory. After the meal Kamal’s dad drove us around the village near by, giving me a chance to see a side to Bahrain I hadn’t yet experienced - it felt like a ghost town, totally untouched by the Western influence. Tabreez symbolizes just that; a simple fish shack providing traditional Bahraini cuisine. Without any pretensions, the food does it all.
Words by Kamal
Wafi Mall is one of those once very popular, now rather deserted malls which are commonplace in Dubai. Among the huge amount of bigger, more diverse malls that have been spreading like wild fire over the past few years, Wafi just doesn’t seem relevant anymore. With its Ancient Egyptian theme, Wafi is like an abandoned, long-lost city, a big chunk of cement left behind. The theme runs deep throughout the mall, giving it an actual identity, compared to the faceless malls we’re used to.
We’ve explored the mall a few times since we’ve been here, not because we’re particularly fond of malls but because they recently quite cleverly placed the new UK visa centre here. Yes that’s right, the place I need to go to for my UK visa applications is in an outdated, ancient Egyptian themed mall - it’s pretty ridiculous. But also a good way to get people into the mall. Hey, I’m a big fan of ancient Egyptian culture so I don’t mind too much, it’s kind of tacky but I’ll get over it.
Within the mall is a souq, which is meant to serve as a sort of indoors market with A/C, much needed for the summer months. Again, it’s pretty empty most of the time. But within this section sits Khan Murjan, a restaurant which operates as an ode to the traditional Arab world. Water wheels, shisha pipes, lanterns, clay bread ovens, copper plates - it could easily be seen as cheesy or cliche, but somehow it’s not.
As I walked in, I took a casual shot of the place, only to see a man in the far distance jump angrily out of his seat, and demand I remove the ‘photo of his wife’ i just took. This guy’s wife was so covered up, that in the photo she appeared as nothing more than a splash of black fabric in the background, so I was little confused about how he thought she was being exposed. Or what he thought I was going to do with the photo. After convincing him that I had actually deleted the photo, he finally leaves, and I progress into the restaurant only to be greeted by these guys!
The waiters were definitely not shy of the camera and insisted that I take a bunch of photos of them in what would end up being a mini photoshoot. I haven’t seen these kinds of poses since the 90s, man! Don’t really know what to do with all these photos now but I’m sure they’ll find a home someday.
The food is an eclectic mix of authentic Arab delicacies - Lebanese. Egyptian. Moroccan. Gulf. Persian. If it’s Arab, it’s here baby! Even though it doesn’t focus on any particular Arab cuisine which most times can lead to disaster, it doesn’t here and they seem to maintain the large task of housing consistency with a wide-spread menu. This may be apparent due to the large amount of different ethnicities present - the waiters explain to me that there are different stations manned by different nationalities. For example, Persian guy manning the bread section, Egyptian guy cooking the koshari and so on.
It’s a cozy courtyard cafe-restaurant-shisha joint that serves, no joke, the best bread I’ve had in Dubai. The flatbread they cook is called khobez, something that most people who grew up in the Middle East are very familiar with. It’s a little crispy from the heat of the clay oven, a little bit chewy, and perfect for tearing and scooping.
We only went for a little snack so just sampled two dishes. Kind of an unusual dish but one we’re really into - kibbeh. It’s essentially a raw meat patty, blended with bulgur wheat, mint, and chilli, and has a delicious, satisfying mushy consistency with a nutty flavour.
The second dish was grilled chicken wings, marinated in their ‘Khan’ sauce, which seemed to be a concoction of yoghurt and spices. These wings were barbecued to a crisp. This was served with a garlic dip, khobez and pickles.
It’s hard to describe how good these wings were - you know were fans of wings, we’ve discussed and shared it many-a-times. Grilled, baked, fried, deep fried, smoked; if there are chicken wings involved we are there. And these were some exceptional wings. What I love about grilled wings is the mixture of textures; the juice soaked in from the heat, the crunch from the char and the marinade holding all these flavours together, in what I can only describe as great teamwork.
Khan Murjan is definitely a surprise. Finding it inside this mall makes it seem like some sort of a mirage. The theme, surroundings and huge cuisine selection could have easily led to disaster, but it actually pulls it off. Sometimes you just need to taste a restaurants bread to be able to take them seriously.