I walked into Bikers Café with the selfless goal of unveiling one of those rare places in the city where you can enjoy an authentic Emirati breakfast. I walked out of Bikers Café with my goal having devolved into a singular, selfish desire to…
win a Vespa.
So Bikers Café is running this Vespa competition. You can finally snap, Instagramize and pimp up every element of their Café dining experience over facebook and twitter for a worthy cause - a Vespa. It's all about lobbying for the most Instagram 'likes,' strategies for which most of us can write theses on far more easily than we ever did for our college majors. So, with the hopes of taking that one winning photo, here’s my instagram entry – *shameless plug* - please like it, won’t you?
(and no - I am not getting paid by them to promote the Instagram contest. I just want that dang Vespa for myself.)
Vespas weren’t on my radar before I walked into Bikers Café. I barely even knew exactly what a Vespa was, other than that it was a two-wheeler, scooter type contraption. Remember Pink Panther whizzing about on his baby pink Vespa, googles and scarf trailing in the wind?
That could be me. And I get the tummy tingles just thinking about it. Can you imagine the facebook fame and the retweets on twitter over my two-wheely win? I'd have to turn off my notifications to avoid being bombarded with the torrent of likes and congratulatory comments. I might even move a notch higher on Klout.
But don’t get me wrong, I’m really not all that fussed about winning.
I’ve lived Vespaless all these years, so I wouldn’t be completely devastated if one of you budding photographers went over and snapped a picture that obnoxiously stole all my likes on Instagram. I'd graciously congratulate you, like a true e-sportswoman. Though a friendly word of caution: wouldn't it be too hot for you to ride around on the Vespa?
Anyhoo, if I did win it, I’d probably have more use for it than most other people would. I weather the heat for my food discoveries all the time, and I could imagine myself riding my Vespa over to Hor Al Anz or Karama in the peak afternoon sauna. A crazed hungry blogger who does cartwheels for good kababs can risk being toasted in the sun, but no, not you. Not in this heat. I'd hate for you to go through that. The Vespa only really makes sense for the sort of thing I do. It would be my co-partner in day and night food endeavours, slaving with me to uncover tiny hidden eats that have been swallowed up into near oblivion by a concrete city. And I wouldn’t just learn how to drive one around Old Dubai, I reckon I could master it. Bring on the notorious traffic and blistering midday heat, I'll vanish from Meena Bazaar and reappear on Naif Road in the blink of an eye (a 100 km/hr eye.). I'd be that record-breaking Vespa woman, adding one more to Dubai's laundry list of world records.
I’ve even started researching Vespas on Wikipedia.
Vespa is an Italian brand, and the word means wasp.
I desperately want to win that Vespa.
If I don’t win, you’ll find me staring like a droopy-eyed puppy at the framed two-wheeler photos plastered all over the walls of Bikers Café. I like the place, I really do. It reminds me of diners back from my U.S. college days, with its red-and-grey upholstered seats and silvery hallucinogen tables. I’ve fallen in love with the cluttered biker photo-framed walls, the thick streams of light gushing over their main dining area, and the location—bang on Jumeirah Beach Road, opposite Town Centre, with the beach just steps behind it. In the facebook’ed words of Potson who accompanied me there: the ambiance is great, it's spacious, it’s not in a bloody mall, it’s mostly empty the 2 times I went there (to clarify I like empty places, though which might be an indication that the place is not good but the 3 of us who went were quite happy, so the sparse crowd might have something to do with the times I went at), and AGAIN it’s not in a bloody mall.
The place was far from empty when I returned to Bikers on a late Saturday morning. It was positively buzzing with customers, including an entire kitty party of 16 breakfasting ladies that was strangely, quite subdued compared to anything that 16 of my friends and I could ever manage. I went there on the reference of an Emirati friend who mentioned that the place was a popular breakfast hangout for Emiratis. They have the usual eggs and sausage and gravy, but the breakfasts I’ve zoomed in on during my first two visits were the Arabic ones that ironically, sounded more exotic than the dime-a-dozen westernized breakfasts available all over the city.
The Flavour of Arabia - essentially Emirati - platter had a mix of local breakfast dishes, a bunch of which I’ve sampled before during the traditional meals cooked in the home of Mr. Abdullah bin Eisa Al Serkal, the founder of the cultural program regularly hosted by the Sheikh Mohammad Centre of Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). I'm still an Emirati food noob, but what I tasted at Bikers was quite similar to the authentic meal at SMCCU. One of the four platter participants was Balaleet: fluffy omelette triangles arranged over cardamom-scented vermicelli noodles. It's a wacko sweet-salty combination, but if the world can do caramel popcorn, chilli-spangled mangos, salty pretzels covered in chocolate, or deep fried chicken over waffles drenched in maple syrup (actually, that last one can be attributed to Texas and Texas alone. Most Homo Sapiens outside of Texas would never dream of that combination.) - if the world can do all of that and much more, then I'd like think that we can successfully experiment with a mildly-flavoured plate of Balaleet too.
More goodies on the plate: a pillowy case of sesame-spotted khameer, concentric porous discs of chebab pancakes that hinted of sour fermentation, and a plain papery sheet of muhalla, very similar to the regag that’s spread thin over a circular griddle, smeared with egg or cheese, and sold like hot cakes at the year-round Heritage Village or seasonal Global Village.
The platter had two tiny sides of thick syrupy dibs (date honey) and cream cheese, most likely straight out of the Kraft bottle. As much as I'd like to turn my snooty nose up against bottled over-processed store-bought cheeses, Kraft spreadable cheese has that sour and creamy and lusciously cheesy childish flavour that I’ve been programmed to love. And it’s managed to splodge its way over many an authentic Arabic dish, bastardizing everything from Labanese fatayer to Egyptian feteer, in ways that I can only begrudgingly adore. Kraft’s chemically cheesy compounds even snuck their way into our Yemeni Egg Malawach, an egg roll that bore a striking resemblance to the white flour parathas snuggled around 3 dirham omelettes at our neighbourhood Keralite cafeterias. Despite knowing that the cheaper, greasier version of the sandwich was probably lurking in one of those cafeterias nearby, the fluffy scramble, smear of cream cheese, and surprisingly zingy tomato salsa actually left two of the three of us noshing that morning like stuffed happy pandas. I'm not sure what I was supposed to do with the side of za'atar, it was that lonely misfit that I felt compelled to sprinkle hastily over my last two bites. And then I quickly forgot it after.
We also snacked on the Mediterranean Breakfast during my second visit. I have a strong inkling that I’ll be making a regular out of that platter, less because it’s earth-changingly delicious, which it's not, but more because it’s a solid mix of familiar, assuring flavours that I could see being paired with a good book and tea on a weekend morning. Or a sneaky weekday morning. On one of those dull mornings where you need to run away from your boss and revive yourself with a stack of something more vibrant than bland paperwork: sour lebneh with a rivulet of olive oil coursing through its creamy layers, a cumin-spiced compartment of homely chickpeas daringly named ‘dango,’ sweet strands of balaleet entwined with omelette nibbles, tart green olives, fatty lobes of halloumi, and a flour-based, lumpy khabees sweet whose toasty almond essence made me linger far longer in the sweet department than I usually would.
The star of the platter was the halloumi: I could graze like a cow on those thick chewy knobs of salty cheese, grilled golden crispy skin and nobbly white insides, all day long. While standing around the coffee machine. While conscientiously crouched over a work desk. While snuggled up under a blankie with eyes glued to Top Chef. While riding my Vespa.
I got the Maramia tea on both visits...
...initially because the name sounded pretty and profound and exotic, and the second time because I was hell-bent on dissecting the spa-like aroma. The aroma dissection didn’t end up happening (though google later revealed that the aroma was one of sage) because I got distracted with a sampling of honey cake.
I’ve seen the same cake at Spinneys, in fact the individual slices of cake in the Bikers Café display and those in the Spinneys cold rack are identical twins...maybe mothered by the same bakery supplier in Dubai? I was always curious about honey cake, and now I know. It tastes of cake, cream, a bit of honey, and of baked mediocrity that won’t have me over-speeding on my Vespa to get it home for the next birthday. But it did appease Potson and me enough for us to scrape the majority of it off the plate, with just two or three spoonfuls and the cream-tipped crumbs left unentertained by the end. I’ll give the local date cake a chance the next time around.
We closed out with a plate of plump dates and endless cups of gahwa, smooth Arabic coffee brewed with cardamom and poured straight out of our personal dallah (Arabic teapot). I must have inhaled half a dallah of coffee that morning, and it left me utterly convinced me that in the land of superior Arabica coffee beans and Arabian brewing methods, I need to stop subjecting myself to instant coffee or watered down espresso drinks. This might just be the month where I slave over google to learn how to make high quality gahwa.
The more I think of this place, the more I realize that I’m smitten by it. Not in the same infatuated, giddy sort of way that I love stuffed kulchas or floofay buns, the food isn’t the kind that’s going to have my tastebuds ever giggling with ecstasy. But I will go back, because the food does have an ability to hit its own happy spots in my tummy in a way that’s simple, unpretentious, and inclusive of an otherwise evasive Emirati cuisine. And because of the diner-like, non-mall ambiance, near the beach, in one of my favourite sunny spots in Jumeirah. And because of all the cute, just short to over-done, biker paraphernalia hanging on the walls and stacked across their displays. And course, because of the Vespa.
[...psssst, I'd kill for any sneaky tips you might have on how to hoard up Instagram likes. Give me the juice somebody, I'm an Instagram noob.]
Thanks to Potson and the man who urges you to StuffYourFace for being such awesome and willing fellow munchers. Muchos grazias boys.
Phone: +971 (4) 349 3585
Jumeirah Beach Road, Dubai (Diagonally opposite to Mercato Mall, and directly opposite to Town Center Mall)
Complete menu and location on Zomato