Why would you go to a place called the African Restaurant?

Because it’s one of those rare super authentic places serving up…in case it wasn’t spankingly obvious…African food. East African food to be precise.

Because I can bet dinner last night wasn’t half as exotic as what matooke sounds like. When was the last time you had mashed up steamed bananas from Uganda?

Because The National wrote about it. Not like I go try every place listed in a newspaper or magazine. In fact, I do anything but that because they typically focus on the fancy pants places in ‘New Dubai.’ I’m an old town kinda gal who’d rather just dig her paws into a bowl of crab masala fry at some seedy place in Deira than be surrounded by a mountain of silverware to confound the crap out of me.

…BUT, the reporter had done a darn good job at scouting out a restaurant scrunched up in some non-descript hotel at an overcrowded corner of Old Dubai, and describing those mashed up steamed bananas in gory foodie detail, just the way I like it (the detail, not the steamed Ugandan bananas which I’d never tried thus far). In fact I got so excited that the media had batted an eyelid at an unknown ethnic restaurant in Old Dubai that I did what I normally do when I get over-excited and jumpy over a foodie issue. Open up gmail, put in the reporter’s email addy, and in a fit of passion, tell the dude how I loved his article to bits. Send. [I just re-read the sent email a few minutes ago, and it sounded like something a flush-faced teenage admirer would have spewed out in a moment of giddy infatuation. Yeah no, the reporter never wrote back to me.]

Because I love restaurants that play hard-to-get by shoving themselves in some hideously overcrowded jam-packed corner of Dubai…anyone remember Nasr square in Deira from the old days?? Yeah, it still exists people. While the Burj and Atlantis were planting their feet on desert soil, this hub of teeny retail stores and probably scores of wholesale traders all piled up over each other has continued to pump away, oblivious to all the glam being imported into the newer parts of the city. There’s so much noise, traffic, random trinkets and electronics shoved against your face as you walk down those alleys that within seconds of reaching there, Elaine and I had momentary amnesia about why we’d even gone there in the first place. Nasr Square is a haven for the A.D.D.

Because the one-page, one-side menu is super simple…perfect for if you’re an African Restaurant newbie. There are just fewer dishes and crazy names to schmuck up. Plus after reading this review and The National article, you’ll know exactly what to order, even if you’re totally clueless about how to pronounce that mashed-up steamed banana dish that The National will make you lust for…matooke (Maa-took? Maa-too-kay? Maat…oomblemumblemumble yeah steamed banana please.)

Because they make the steamed banana mash (that you’re all lusting for now because I’ve been harping on about it every two lines into this post) using this laborious bundled banana leaf parcel technique, with “strips and chunks cut from the banana tree stem [that] are used to build a platform at the bottom of the cooking pan so the boiling water does not touch the matooke bundle.”1 That’s called love folks, that’s called love…freshly steamed every day. And voila, here’s the lusted-for matooke!

Yeah. Yellow mush. That’s as good as steamed banana mush will ever get I guess. And one bite of it later, we sort of realized that it tasted like…like nothing. Not sweet, not salty, sort of tasteless and…mushy textured. The same was true of the white gelatinous mound of cornmeal posho right behind the matooke.  We all stared at each other in this terrible awkward silence. Awkward anticlimactic silence especially after I’d gone around touting the matooke-National article like it was gospel.

Until it dawned on us that, doops, the two starchy mushes were meant to be dipped into gravy or beans or something curry-like, the same way you’d dress up a bowl of rice or steamed noodles. Oh. Dippity dip in some goat curry. Oooooo. Me like. [in cookie monster voice]

Which brings me to my next reason for why you’d visit this place…

Because they dish out this smackingly salty perfectly seasoned goat curry. No scrimping on the sodium here. I’m one of those creatures who’s been known to sprinkle salt on my pizza…or on dumplings before I dip them into soy sauce (the ultimate salty high), so the tender chunks of goat bobbing about in a generously salted curry totally hit the spot. [I get the feeling that my salty description ain’t doing the best job selling you on this dish. But trust me, it was GOOD.]

Because they serve this colossal-looking modelesque fish (tilapia?) in curry, that just screams “Look at me BABAY.”

So I looked at it. I photographed it. I sampled a super-bony tiny piece of it. And then I turned my attention back to the goat curry. But as Elaine’s hub pointed it, it was worth a try, if just for the glamour shot value.

Because they serve African roti and beans for our veggie compadres. Yay for token veggie items.

Because they display and serve up African-style doughnuts, which makes your tastebuds swell with happiness because who doesn’t love deep-fried flour goodies? A grin spread across my face…they’d spelled it as ‘d-nuts’ on the menu. How cute. Yes yes, we want this from the menu, an order of these [cutely misspelled but we know whatchya mean] d-nuts. And lo and behold, your coveted deep-fried doughy d-nuts emerge as…

…a bowl full of some sort of groundnut or sesame paste with smoked fish buried within. Yeeeah. Guess d-nuts aren’t misspelled doughnuts after all. It’s a real dish, and a ploy to make wise-ass grammar-mocking outsiders like myself have a nice walloping taste of our own snooty medicine.

Because when you clear the confusion with the server and the true doughnut does make an appearance, this will be the scone-like beautiful tanned body it will strut out in…

A massive hunk of a mildly sweet, cardomon-infused doughnut that could be noshed on just plain, or drenched in a cup of steaming cardamom tea (I don’t know if doughnut dipping in tea is considered blasphemous in Africa, but whenever I’m faced with a cup of milk tea, I get overcome with this massive urge to dunk something in it. Sorry Africa.)

Elaine, (aka Lady Scribblelicious) holding up a cardamom chunk of the anti d-nut.

Because you can eat a meal that’s cooked with love, that’s unlike anything you’d get in the rest of the city, that will be learning experience in East African food culture, and that will leave each of you no more than thirty-five dirhams poorer after you and your foodie crew have eaten through everything. D-nuts and all.

Special thanks to Lady Scribblelicious and her hubs, Boy Naihar, and Mehul who trekked out to Nasr Square to try this place with me. Thanks guys!

1 Quoted from The National article, Dubai restaurant brings taste of Africa to the UAE by Yasin Kakande.

African Restaurant
Pacific Hotel, Mezzanine Floor
Sabkha Road, diagonally across from the Sabkha Bus Stop, Al Nasr Square, Deira, Dubai

Phone: +971 (4) 223-6670; +971 (56) 745-5098

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 I Live in a Frying Pan

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

12 thoughts on “Why would you go to a place called the African Restaurant?

  1. DaddyBird says:

    Great to see this! Hoping to get to the African Restaurant sometime when we’re back over in Dubai!

  2. ninu says:

    okie now… this is going to sound just downright freaky… but 3 days back we were trudging through deira trying to figure out a way to get to the spice souq. Now i know the easiest way is to just catch the abra from the meena bazaar textile souq side and et voila u end up bang outside the spice souq but considerin im 9 months preggy and i dont know how to swim, this dint sit right with the hubs…so we were weaving in and out of this side and that of deira trying to get to the souq and i happen to see – THE AFRICAN RESTAURANT . i even went " hey look ppl !!! its an african restaurant named THE AFRICAN RESTAURANT !!!! Whos inside??? and then i saw some pathanis getting out not that they cant eaten african food but i somehow expected to see africans instead.. and then i realized they had burgers sandwiches and curry and biryani written on the glasss windows… i suddenly felt stupid for going " hey look ppl an african restaurant named bLAHBLAHBLAH "
    are we talkin abt the same place ?? =)

  3. Rishi Talwalker says:

    Loved this review – would love to invite you to do a review of one of my clients – Balance Cafe. How can we get you to trek down to Oasis Centre? :)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @DaddyBird – You must, this was in and about your old hood in Dubai!

      @ninu – hahhahahahaha….I love your sagas woman. Hate to kill the mood, but no, we are not talking about the same place. This place couldn’t be seen from the street, it’s up on mezz floor of the Pacific Hotel, and definitely doesn’t serve burgers as far as I can remember. Which means you need to go back and look for the REAL African restaurant, because this story must have a happy ending!

      @Rishi Talwalker – Thank you! Would you believe I have eaten at Balance Cafe a bunch of times since their recent revamp from the old concept…it’s right next door to work for me. Love that place, especially that lasanga…it was so cheezy and yummy and oozy gooey that I just couldn’t believe it was as healthy as what they’d said on the menu. Begged them to have the chef come out and dissect it for me, and he did :) When I want to detox after all my crazy meals here there and everywhere, that’s definitely one of the places that comes to mind!

  4. Ameena says:

    I really want to visit Dubai again because clearly I missed out on SO many amazing restaurants.

    Love your "About Me" page. As someone who loves to travel your life sounds so fascinating to me! Looking forward to reading more.

  5. ninu says:

    oh my god. fancy this fancy that ameena of fancy this fancy that claim!! Im stumped.
    and oh yes i cam back cause i wanted to tell u , there is a restaurant by the name of Zagol , in the same row as Betawi cafe…its african. ZAGOL that is and it looks totally quaint from the outside. all of 2 tables or 3 at max …if u can call them tables..And after i saw it i googled it and saw some good reviews as well…. i have stared longingly long enough. Please be gone and stuff your face so my tummy can live vicariously through you.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Shalaka – Thank you! I read through your Gulf News article – it’s fabulously detailed and rich in historical context. I’m so glad you shared it with me, would love to learn how to go fact finding the way you did for that write-up! That, and I have to try fufu… ;)

      @Ameena – Ah but you must visit Dubai again…we have a massive group of food bloggers in the city and would be awesome to have a talented blogger like yourself join us for one of our dinner escapades around town. Checked out your blog this morning, love the wit!

      @ninu – you my lady continue to crack me up. Keep sending me these restaurant recommendations, I noted down Zagol and it’s on my list of must-trys for sure. 2 or 3 tables sounds exactly like my kinda ambiance. Stay tuned for a review :)

      @Elainegan – hahaha…you hand model you! It’s tradition now to have a red-lacquered snapshot if you’re at the dinner table, it’d be bad omen not to take one, chipped or not!

  6. Saleem says:

    Well written article – though not a fan of African food, had some experience eating on a highway to Zaaga from Dar-es-salam in Tanzania, food was a bit tasteless – just had to eat it because I had no choice, had not eaten for hours and was not sure what I would get after reaching my destination!


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