I love my meat. And I love my bread. And when you throw little juicy slivers of meat over chunks of bread drenched in warm yoghurt and melted butter, dousing it all in a delicately spiced tomato sauce, I experience UBER-LOVE.
I speak to you of none other than the Iskender Kabab. The Turkish kabab that you could find at Shikidim and that I’d raved on about as one of Dubai’s Top 16 Ethnic Eats…only to learn a day after the article was published that Shikidim had shut down. To any lonely tourist who read the article and was out hunting for those now non-existent meaty sauced-up chunks of Iskender on Murraggabat street…yes, I do deserve to be pelted with rotten tomatoes.
But such is Dubai. The land of imports, the land of transience, the land of I-saw-this-in-NYC-and-I-want-it-here-too. I-want-it-NOW. Oh-and-one-year-later-I-am-bored-of-running-it-so-let’s-call-it-quits.
Often, I don’t even realize when something gets shut down, unless some wise foodie reaches out and warns me that I should probably stop raving about the kababs I had ten months ago because they’ve long gone [on that special note, thank you Daddybird, for keeping me honest.] I get so distracted with constantly hunting out new places that I rarely go back to the same place again. Shikidim and its award-winning [I Love You So Darn Much in My Frying Pan Award] Iskendar kababs had hit the cemetery and I hadn’t even mourned the loss. RIP.
But if Dubai can be fickle with me, I can be fickle with Dubai. I’ve switched my loyalties to my latest Turkish find along the Deira Corniche, Ankara. Admittedly, the Iskender at Ankara was a couple of notches less awesome than the one I’d had at Shikidim. They didn’t have the wider chunks of chicken alongside the tiny shawarma slivers that Shikidim had served, and the narrower surface area meant less sauce was soaked up per sliver of kabab. I also committed a faux-pas and ordered a somewhat bastardized chicken version that didn’t have the beefy juices lurking about in Shikidim’s mixed chicken and beef Iskendar plate. Neither version is authentic really, the way to go probably pure lamb, and Ankara does offer that too (I stupidly didn’t order it. yeah, don’t ask.)
But comparisons with dead restaurants aside, Ankara’s plate of saucey kababs was still a worthy balm for the emotional wounds I had suffered after Shikidim had shut down so abruptly. What’s more is that the owner is visibly passionate about the food and how it MUST be served. He threw a hissy fit when I arrived late to pick up my first take-out order of Iskender kabab from them. The plastic tub of chicken shavings over juicy bread had waited for an entire 30 minutes for me to arrive, which is unacceptable in the land of optimal Iskendar consumption. Before the dish could become a weeping soggy mess, he gave it away to another customer, and prepared a fresh one when I arrived.
THAT is called passion for food. And I rarely see it in this city.
Another must-eat at Ankara is the lahmacun (pronounced lahmajoun), a Turkish pizza that’s been snowed over with minced meat and optionally traced with beaten eggs that have meandered through the meaty fissures and baked up into omelet rivers in the oven. I’d totally recommend going with the eggy version, and putting a spot or two of sweet bottled ketchup if you’re a proud ketchup freak like I am. There’s no cheese on the lahmacun, and I’m glad there isn’t, else it would stamp out the fresh parsley and subtle seasoning locked in by the ground meat.
Ankara kick starts your meal with a free bowl of killer lentil soup, fresh pide bread, and heaps of chopped veggies dressed in olive oil. I could have skipped the lahmacun and the kababs altogether, and just sat there, philosophizing about life between dunks of pide into lemony lentil broth. After years of having complex Indian dal spiced with every ingredient available in the bottomless masala dabba, the sheer simplicity of minimalist Mediterranean and Middle Eastern lentil soups always catches me off guard. In a very, very good way.
I’ve also tried a stew with velvety mutton morsels, eggplant and other veggies that had melted into soft succulent cubes of meat broth flavour. The stew was a discovery during my first takeout experience, when I took a shot in the dark and asked the phone attendant whether they had any meaty curry with eggplants. It’s definitely not on the menu, though it may be one of the tantalizing dishes sprawled out in the display to your left as you step into the restaurant. When reheated the next day over lunch, all the earthy mutton juices in the stew had intensified and screamed out for a toasty Turkish pide to be drowned in them.
There’s a good reason I’d go back to Ankara. Or maybe three good reasons. The first being this dreamy bundle of glistening chicken stuffed with rice that I saw in the display, and that I shall willingly befriend it on my next visit. The second is for dessert. The sign outside suggests that they have the clownish Dondurma (Turkish ice cream) show happening within, but sadly, I didn’t see anything of its kind within. What they did have was a tray of some sort of fried dough soaked in syrup. If I hadn’t already devoured half a plate of Iskender and a couple of Lahmacun strips, that dessert would have made it to the table.
Imagine if they served mysterious deep fried syrupy dessert under a thick creamy scoop of Dondurma? I know. I’m drooling too. Over something that neither of us has even tasted just yet.
And the last dish I’ve got to stick my fork into would be the yogurtlu kababs, long skewers of minced meat bathing in yogurt sauce.
This time around, I’ll make sure to go back. I’m going to dabble about in as much Turkish goodness as I can at Ankara until…oh, I don’t know…fickle Dubai steals the kabab plate away from me again.
[psst. You really can’t miss Ankara on the Deira Corniche. Unless you’re still mourning the loss of Shikidim and would never betray them for another Turkish restaurant. Or more likely, unless you never drive down the Deira Corniche. But it’s there, right next to the Belhoul specialty hospital, with a big flickering green and red sign overhead. Droves of bachelor men or married men who need minimal conversation and piles of meat are scattered across the tables, starting out on the pavement and leading into the restaurant. For a lady seeking her share of meat, the servers are kind enough to escort her away from the male turf and into their private family dining room at the back of the restaurant.]
Deira Corniche, next to Belhoul Specialty Hospital
Phone: +971 (4) 273-1855