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