The restaurant next door. Buhari.

Buhari has been like the guy next door. The one you’ve never met, but that’s driven you crazy with curiosity. The one you see day in and day out cause he’s right next door, all the way back from 1986. And you know, you just know there’s something worth exploring here, something with potential, because 9 times out of 10, there’s a gigantic four-wheel drive illegally parked outside waiting for a takeout.

Of course the day I decided to take a photograph, there had to be a gas cylinder parked right upfront totally killing my story. But I promise, there’s usually an oversized car in its place at most other times.

This baby is popular, and has been for a long time. I didn’t even know what kind of food they served – Lebanese? Indian? Iranian?…but I’d fantasize about what hidden treasures could be buried inside every time I’d drive by, which is pretty much every day. The mystery of it all was driving me wild.

A friend finally agreed to be my wingman for lunch at Buhari. I was tingling with excitement – the mystery behind the place that drew big posh cars all the way to Deira for a takeout would finally be revealed.

For all those of you who were dying to know, or more likely, the 99.9% you who’ve never heard of this place and probably wouldn’t ever have heard of it had you not desperately hit my blog in a moment of blithering boredom at work, here’s what I discovered:

1.       This was a place run by Keralites. One of your typical Kerala corner restaurants, which often serve up home-style cheap food that starved bachelors in this city are always on the lookout for. If you’re a woman, it really pays to rope a guy into your expedition. I was the only woman there. [All said and done, despite my stunning good looks, I wasn’t stared down. I’d like to think it was because the men there were outrageously hungry and laser-focused on their food.]

2.       No menu. I love places that don’t have a menu. It introduces this wild unknown unpredictable element and puts you totally at the mercy of the server. Painfully pleasurable foodie masochism at its best.

3.       Most of those oversized cars double parked outside flout the law for a plate of Buhari’s chicken biryani. Or so said the server. This is definitely one of the better biryanis I’ve had in the city – light, not too greasy, and sweetly fragrant. Would I drive all across the city for a plate of this? No, not with mom’s biryani at home. But if I didn’t have the luxury of homemade biryani, Buhari’s bowl of mildly-spiced tender chicken and fluffy colored rice would be a serious contender in my list of biryani options.

4.       The thaali at Buhari is unlike typical Indian thaalis you get elsewhere. No steel plates with bowls arranged around the edges. No never-ending refills. No bread option unless you ask for a plate of tandoori roti or chapattis. No tiny mound of rice served up at the end with which to wipe up your daal…because true to the South Indian rice-loving heart, they serve an entire paddy field of rice right up front. But no matter that it didn’t fit my notion of a thaali, the little bowls of coconutty vegetable curry, earthy spinach daal, sambar and prawn curry (an added perk if you pick the fish thaali over the veggie thaali) just felt right. down-to-earth. homemade. And so flamingly spicy that I wept like a ditzy damsel throughout my meal and scaled a Mt. Everest of wet tissue paper. Still, I kept eating, and all for good reason.

5.       The prawn curry contained a secret spice that’s one of those things that makes you go hmmm…but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. My wingman-friend who could conveniently converse in Malayalam tried to get the intel from our server – the secret ingredient was something along the lines of molli or malli or some such variant of said word. Unfortunately, the variant that my throat produced as I attempted to repeat the word translates to “I pee.” Yeah. Never playing culinary guessing games in Malayalam again.

6.       The bowl of fish curry – kingfish most likely – was too fishy for me. I don’t think people necessarily drive out miles to double park for this one.

7.       Methinks that what people really drive to Buhari for is really their the sweet-sour mildly spicy dead addictive pickle (see that reddish goop next to the cabbage and fried baby papadum?). It’s one of those substances you want to mix up with everything, with your daal, with your rice, with your curry, with everything and anything. And when you run out things, then you just start using your finger like a squeegee around the plate, rubbing it down with a rigor that’d make your windows at home turn opaquely green with envy.

8.       If you order the fish thaali, not only will they give you the teeny bowl of prawn curry I mentioned before, but they’ll also throw in pickled mackerels on top of you pickle and cabbage concoction. I’m not a big dried pickled fish fanatic, but these babies have my stamp of approval.

Conclusion? The boy next door was fun to hang out around, but he just wasn’t all that hot. In some ways the experience was anticlimactic. I don’t know what I was imagining, some sort of hidden culinary fantasy that would make my taste buds fall tongue over teeth in love? Us women do that to ourselves, build up this outrageous expectation and drama with a blind passion that had best be left in those dog-eared steamy pages of Mills and Boons back from our deprived adolescent days.

Next time I start indulging in self-constructed food fantasies because of a line of parked cars waiting for a takeout outside a restaurant, I’m just gonna rap on one of them car windows, get them to roll it down, and spill their order for me. A gal’s gotta do her homework before she goes in for the kill.

Buhari Restaurant
Phone: +971 (4) 222-9366
Maktoum Street, take the right at Pic N’ Save after the clocktower (driving down towards Baniyas Square). Buhari will be on your left right after you turn in.

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.

11 thoughts on “The restaurant next door. Buhari.

  1. fabez says:

    hmmm..wondering what that secret spice was.. the malayalam word for corriander is malli ..but that is just too boring and simple a secret spice:) maybe it was whole corrainder seeds ground afresh….could be cocum used to sour most fish curries in kerala.

  2. Sliceofmylyfe says:

    … and that’s how you do a brilliant restaurant review. Do you watch ’come dine with me’ on BBC? I do and am a big fan esp of the narrator, David Lamb. You can him a run for his money, Arva, Amazing really!

  3. Mines Davis says:

    Fantastic review! Had me smiling throughout. Will never forget the look on the server’s face when you bumbled around the word "Mulli". He must have thought you were going about your business regardless of the venue. :P I take it we aren’t going back there again? Well, so be it. To infinity and beyond………..

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @fabez – oooh, all these potential things it could be…maybe next time I pull up mini pictures of coriander, cocum and coriander seeds on my crackberry and get the server to match the picture to the ingredient.
      …and no to the rest of you, I am not uber bored. Just intellectually curious.

      @Sliceofmylyfe – would it be appalling that I didn’t know who David Lamb was till you mentioned it…? Either way, I sense this is a huge compliment, so thank you!!

      @Mines Davis – thanks for being my wingman :) and yeah, too many other places to explore, so this one may not have a rerun until we’ve done the rounds of other Keralite joints in town.

      @saleem – sure thing dad, maybe a Friday lunch…

  4. Sukaina says:

    You know, as I read the first paragraph, I was sooooo expecting a picture of a Range Rover parked outside the restaurant. So I laughed out loud when I saw the gas truck. Great review as always. Got to admit woman, you are brave trusting your server to order for you and no menu in sight! Great review as always!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sliceofmylyfe – right, got it. ;) you’re preaching to the blissfully ignorant anyway! Either way, I know who he is now :D

      @elainegan – oh Appa Kadai…that place is something else, definitely many notches higher than Buhari. That super crunchy piping hot chicken 65….

      @Sukaina – I know, such is my luck. Dang that gas truck.

  5. R1986 says:

    OMG! My family and I have been eating from this place for YEARS!!!!!! Their parathas when hot are EXCELLENT! I suggest having them with kraft cream cheese (the one that comes in the glass jar with a gold lid). Or their omlette parathas…or even their samosas…which along with their pakoras are staples during ramadan…try their chicken fry (i think thats whats its called) it comes with a spicy gravy which my parents LOVE!



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