A secret about my blog. And a slice of kanafa.

People, here’s a dirty little secret about this blog.

I tell you about tiny little restaurants hidden away in some Godforsaken corner of Dubai. Places that don’t have great access to parking. Places that don’t have glittering silverware or white linens. Places that don’t necessarily have English-speaking servers. Places that…get ready, here’s the dirty little secret…

Places that sometimes, don’t give a rat’s derriere about service.

It’s true. I’ve often told you about my love for a restaurant, raving about the creamy fish fillets or serenading the hot floofay buns. Yet, I rarely whisper a thing about how the server forgot our order of fried calamari…or how he grunted in our faces with disbelief at our ever having ordered calamari in the first place. Sure I’ll tell you if the calamari was bad…that when it came out, it looked like the poor soggy creature had died twice before it reached the basket – once at the hands of the fisherman who caught it, and twice at the hands of the chef who’d drowned it in his Canola oil spill. But I just don’t dwell on service. Because if I did, I should really be walking up to the poshy big-name places in Dubai first – and we know, hell we know, even those places often don’t get it right. So I’m willing to cut the small fish some slack….small fish like this tiny Kanafa café in Hor Al Anz that I dragged Sheban into after our little Moroccan tagine feast.

The slogan of Bait Al Kanafa (The House of Kanafa) should be:

Kanafa from the heart.
Service from the ___*
*fill in the blank with your least favorite body part or rhyming bodily action.

But kudos to the restaurant, they had done justice to this famed Lebanese dessert. It was good, so good, that I’d become numb to the atrocities the servers were inflicting on us. And watching me go numb made Sheban [once my dinner compadre. now a quivering furiously boiling kettle.] realize that the crappy service wouldn’t get more than a side mention on this blog. The thought of it was killing him.

SO, in a little departure from my self-obsessed blogging norms, I’m going to give him some space to vent, and to augment my review with his own personal rant point of view of the place. So that you, my fabulous reader, will be fully aware of what you’re walking into when you go in to order that deadly yummy plate of cream kanafa.

Here goes: the good, the bad, and the…dayaaam that kanafa was GOOD.

Kanafa from the Heart. By Me.

The last time I wrote about Kanafa, I referred to the cheese-filled one. It inspired me to the point where I came up with a shockingly brilliant idea of revolutionizing Mickey D’s menu with kanafa. I always thought that I preferred the cheese-filled kanafa over the cream one, until the cream kanafa at Bait al Kanafa converted me. Actually, they don’t keep the cheese version at all. All you can order is this full moon of cream, covered with a crispy skin of toasted semolina noodles.

If I were Goldilocks, there’d be three types of cream Kanafa on the table. Too thick: overpowering blanket of cream that threatens to suffocate you. Too ick: watery, milky, icky layer of cream that spills out and violates the notion of a well-assembled dessert. And then this one, the Bait al Kanafa one. Thin layer of cream, super dense, yet impossibly light, crowned with a crispy sheet of golden semolina noodles – and not drowned in this sea of cloyingly sweet sugary syrup that often tends to mute out everything else in the dessert. This was juuuuust right. (On a side educational note, I’d recommend all kindergarten teachers to switch the Goldilocks story from blah porridge to crispy-creamy Kanafa. Let the kiddies live a little.)

Also worth mentioning was our beverage choice: a styrofoam glass of warm saffron milk, which was really supposed to be saffron and cardamom tea, but the server messed it up. And I’m glad, cause saffron milk with creamy Kanafa deserves to become the new oreos and milk of midnight snacking.

Service from the ___. By Sheban.

Here’s my review of the Kanafas: They’re brilliant, squishy and delicious – and you must try one before you kick the bucket…also, they’re really rich, so you may kick the bucket because you had one.

And…now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what follows is my opinion on The Bait‘s service, which was really, really bad. How bad you ask? Well, for starters – we took more than a minute to order, so our server came up to me and in Clint Eastwood style went “You going to order??…(punk…) Ouch. That set the tone for the rest of the experience.

Before ordering, we asked if they were made with Cheese, the guy frowned on us – and a whole bunch of them chimed in together “NO cheese, Only cream”. Okay, Choir boys – we’ll have the Cream ones then – with a Zafrani Chai. After confirming our orders twice, the Choir boys slinked away to aggressively discuss our order. Yes, they spent about five minutes talking about kunafas in an Indian sub-dialect I couldn’t put a finger on – and I’m Indian. I sensed a disturbance in The Force…we noticed the choir boys didn’t really seem to get along very well, it was a bit like watching  Indian MP’s in parliament. Thankfully our Kanafa arrived before the chair-throwing started, with what looked like…milk. I didn’t feel like arguing with Clint Eastwood over the milk-tea mix up, lest he shoot me with his .44 Magnum, so I decided I was going to have the milk, and I was going to like it, dammit.

One bite of the Kanafa, however,and everything started to seem better. This place wasn’t really that bad… maybe I was just being cranky because I was hungry. I cheered up, wolfed down my Kunafa, decided I was going to like this place, and asked for the bill in the customary “Write in Air” fashion. Clint Eastwood looked at me, nodded, and promptly came back with a…paper and pen. Realizing that war was imminent, the very tactful Fryingpan stepped in and asked Clint Eastwood for the bill, in her voice – in hindi.

And then the bill arrived (it was 17 AED btw). I paid, but before we could scramble we were informed that we’d paid only part of the bill. I guess The Bait does its bills in installments, you pay once before you leave the table, you pay the rest before you’re out the door. I proceeded to tell Clint that a bill usually entails ALL the items you’ve asked for, fished out more money, paid my debt…and not feeling particularly generous, waited for my change. Clint got me change – which was more than I was entitled to. I could’ve corrected him, but the thought of being 6 AED richer was just too good to pass up.

So there. This time, you have BOTH sides. Sometimes restaurants with hidden yummy gems just have shiaatty service. All you need is a big spoonful of thick, sweet noodle-studded cream to swallow the crappy service down.

Bait Al Kanafa Restaurant
Phone: +971 (4) 2689900
Abu Hail, Deira. Behind Ramada Hotel, close to Emirates NBD Bank. I’ve tried to shove the general location on a google map, though you may need to ask someone once you’re on 24th street, or just walk down the road a bit, cause my directions are far from scientific.

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.

25 thoughts on “A secret about my blog. And a slice of kanafa.

  1. Devina Divecha says:

    +1 to Sheban for getting a Star Wars comment in.

    I have had kunafa once and I didn’t like it, and I didn’t like it SO much that I don’t even remember where it was from. Maybe a retrial?

    When I click on the google maps link I get to see the Yoonaited States of America :-/ Is it just me? :S

  2. Angie C says:

    This sounds so delicious…you have me salivating over my keyboard!

  3. Raji says:

    I so much love to read your posts Arva….enjoyed reading Sheban’s description too :) I have always wanted to taste kunafa and the pictures are just too tempting…Wow :) I too am seeing USA on the google map.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @ninu – It is…GO. GET. NOW. ;)

      @Devina Divecha – He’s the brains, sweetheart! ;)
      …and I have updated the map, thought I would give my readers a little bit of a run round the world for kicks, but I feel overcome with guilt at my petty acts of amusement now. Sowwiee guys.

      @Angie – no no no…gummy spitty keyboard, no-no. kunafa run, hells yeah. Do the right thing.

      @Raji – thanks Raji! and in return for your sweet comment, I present to you the correct link to this kunafa kave. http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&a

  4. Farwin says:

    I couldn’t agree with you and Sheban more.These little shacks have poor service sometimes.Now we know what we’ll get ourselves into when we visit this place.The kunafa is so tempting I will have my armour on when I can persuade my hubby to a trip to the restaurant for a dessert.

  5. nadia says:

    I shouldn’t have read this post at work, people must be thinking I have gone crazy – I am laughing out loud at Sheban’s account, specially after reading the part where Clint Eastwood returned with a pen and paper :D

    I must try this kanafa; it looks really good.

    "I’d recommend all kindergarten teachers to switch the Goldilocks story from blah porridge to crispy-creamy Kanafa" Haha. I totally agree with you!

  6. Minna says:

    Thank you Arva, again I enjoyed your review, I love your style! I think it is a nature of those places and you do not really expect all that goodness in service side and in fact I normally do the opposite I praise the service of restaurant or kiosk when it is really extra good. Well I am not blogging but if some one asks about places. Arva have you made simple list of places with phone number or address, I think I have to start Little Black Arva’s review book, because most of the places you visit and review I feel like testing as well, but I am falling behind already now.

  7. accordingtodina says:

    I want kanafa… I have always seen it, but I’m a bit weary of semolina desserts..they are never my favourite, but Arwa’s Mom did surprise me. Gorgeous pis and my belly is rumbling just going through this hilarious post…

  8. mymezzaluna says:

    I personally am a great lover of eating authentic food. No fuss, just good, honest food. I think when you go to some of these hole in the wall places, service is the last thing on your mind. I usually am just happy my vaccinations are up to date. Then I relax and enjoy. Lovely post as always.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Farwin – I can imagine you clanking in with your steelsuit and shield ;) But why persuade the hubby, does he not know the cardinal female rule?…
      A woman with her dessert is exponentially easier to love than a woman without.
      [Hides before the feminist volcano erupts]

      @nadia – He’s good right? (Sheban, not Clint Eastwood…though him too) I’m thinking of permanently outsourcing the writing for this blog to him, that way I just get all the fun bits of eating, without having to move a finger muscle writing anything. ;)
      Sheban, you’re hearing me, aren’t you?

      @Minna – Thank you! I’m so flattered by the little black book idea…I should do that too, read so many great blog recipes and reviews every day, and all those fabulous ideas to act on often get lost in this deep dark abyss in some inaccessible recess of my brain. It’s really quite depressing. I need to buy me a black book.

      @accordingtodina – I’m less a fan of semolina halwa and other similar sugary semolina mushy things. But crispy crunchy semolina noodles over cream or sweet cheese, God Yes. I will change my standards for that.

      @mymezzaluna – oh dang. THAT’S what I forgot to check on a month ago…when I got my last vaccination…uh oh…

  9. Priya Srinivasan says:

    Enjoyed reading arva!!! My hubby is so daring he has tried eating in all those small shops, but i am a bit scared to try!!! Pic of kunafa is so tempting!!!!

  10. @shebanx says:

    @Arva – i am indeed listening – but as i’ve always said… you’re an insanely brilliant writer!! i just get lucky. :P

  11. Sliceofmylyfe says:

    Very nicely written , both of you. I enjoyed this piece immensely. * gets busy taking notes on how to write a good restaurant review*

  12. Nash at Plateful says:

    I love, love, love kanafa. But until I read this post I admit I didn’t know they had the creamy version and the cheesy one, hmm. I’m sure this explains the taste difference I’m come across, next time I better check out which is my fav :)

    And before I hit the submit button, I gotta say this again– I’m a huge fan of your writing. Really, you have amazing talent!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Priya Srinivasan – Never be scared darling, use mymezzaluna’s rule from the comment above – just get your vaccinations up to date! ;) But honestly, I have fallen sick at a well-established chain in Dubai once long ago, though have yet to fall sick at one of the small joints. Fingers crossed that never happens!

      @shebanx – we’ll just have to do a few more posts together then to see how long your luck lasts ;)

      @Sliceofmylyfe – thank you (from both of us!)….lemme know when you’re done taking notes about what makes a good review, clearly even Sheban and I are pretty clueless about what made this post tick with people…gotta move from unconscious occasional competence –> conscious continuous competence. :D
      Wow, that was pretty deep…I really shock myself sometimes.

      @Nash at Plateful – I think I’m divided now on cheese vs. cream. It’s more a question of place…some places do it well, and some don’t. Had a sub-par cheesy kunafa last night (though admittedly, it was a reheated takeout – which usually kills even the best tasting food), and it made me seriously doubt cheese in my kunafas. But then again, places like Al Samadi do a killer cheese kunafa, so whether cheese or cream, just gotta make sure you latch on to a place that really knows how to make it well!
      …and when it comes to talent missie, all I can say is…likewise darling, likewise. :)

  13. saleem says:

    You should have packed some and got us to try that at home

  14. Sally says:

    Arva, it’s not just the cheap eats that have Charlie Chaplin service. There’s a certain Lebanese restaurant (she says mentioning no names but it has the most brilliant view of a lot of cold, white stuff which people slide down on skis!) which is a wonderful place to take guests, brilliant mezze, but the frankly dishonest and rude service (UNLESS you go with someone who is Lebanese) means KP refuses to return. These things are guaranteed every single time: 1. Book a table by phone, specify best seats (i.e. in the window), when you arrive booking mysteriously not found so relegated to inner regions) 2. Ask for wine list, cheapest never available, order next one up, wrong (very expensive bottle ) brought and although waiter agrees not to charge difference, it appears on bill. 3. Must pay set menu price for whole table no exceptions (even though vegetarian!). We laugh about it now but it is a comedy that is played out with predictable repetition. Got that off my chest now – so sorry for clogging up your blog comments! Great, great post as always :)

  15. anamika says:

    Shame on me on missing these great posts of urs for so long…I guess I just to get under covers, for unknown reasons at times :)
    Loved the way you write girl..BTW have you ever considered becoming a full fledged food writer/ critque..will do good to lots of us!!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @saleem – kunafa doesn’t taste as good when reheated at home daddy, gonna have to drive you to Hor Al Anz for your slice…and one bite later, you’ll know it was worth it!

      @Sally – hahahahaha….I LOVE RANTING COMMENTS…you’re always welcome to come here and vent any time. Reading your rant, I have just lowered my expectations from restaurants in malls 3 notches lower…and they were already in the minus zone.

      @anamika – t’is no shame, you’re here now and I’m honoured! :) I think I would consider becoming a food writer…but (a) I think I get lucky that there are a few generous souls out there like you who appreciate my rambles. The rest of the harsh world would pelt virtual tomatoes at me the day someone comes up with a cyber-tomatochucker. (b) if I kept it up at the rate I post on my blog, I may be able to earn enough to buy a…I dunno…a bag of gummy bears maybe? And that’s being aggressive.

  16. radz says:

    I LOVE YOU. Someone had made me this Middle Eastern dessert that I was in love with and I could not remember the name for the life of me! Kanafa it is… have a good recipe to make it? I LOVED this.

  17. rrg says:

    i TOTALLY TOTALLY WHOLEHEARTEDLY SINCERELY love this post!!!! so true. its all about the food in the end! dont let people forget, even when their tummies do!!!!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @radz – yay for long lost dessert discoveries!! No recipe for this baby yet…it’s way to easy to procure some of the finest in my little Arabian backyard here [scarcity being my primary motivation for committing to hard kitchen labour…]

      @rrg – thank you!! Tummies Rule.

  18. Zain says:

    that was a wonderful piece of information, unlike saudi and bahrain which sell these kanafas at almost all malls and good restaurants, there seems to be a dearth of cream filled kanafas in dubai but alas i found one thru google and ur blog…thanks…hope they open a branch in new dubai soon!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @eac3d12dafc4ddc59834a1c425863d3f:disqus – it’s worth the trip over to old Dubai for some authentic kunafa! I think Qwaider al Nablusi on Murragabat street might have a cream version too, though I would probably double check that before trekking all the way across. Does Firas sweets on Sheikh Zayed have a cream version? Might be worth checking out…

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