How many times have you walked past those teeny cafeterias on the road and thought, ‘yech. I’d NEVER go in there.’ or ‘hmmm…could be good, but not worth risking my tummy.’ or ‘a place of the workers, for the workers, by the workers. I’m staying the heck away.’
Probably not too many times. Cause most of the time, we don’t even notice the little Keralite mole right around the corner that’s been serving chai and anda (eggs) for the last decade. If we live in the older parts of the city, we’re programmed to walk right past them. Or we’ve packed up and shifted away from them. We've trotted off to the more polished side of Sheikh Zayed, where a squeaky tea stall dare not erect its canopy next to the likes of a milk & HONEY…or…shudder…our beloved Jones.
I’m not suggesting that the food at such places won’t curdle your tummy. Or that something they serve is so extraordinary that by God, you’re a fool for not getting, com’on, at least a takeout? Or that the ambience is one that’d inspire you to pop the question to that drop-dead gorgeous woman you’ve been trailing like a puppy for the past 18 months.
All I’m saying is: Don’t write ‘em off before you’ve tried them. That’s like someone looking at the icky blotch of a chocolate cake you’ve laboured over all day and…silently picking the store-bought cookies instead. And if you’re too afraid to try cause your stomach might implode with the egg sandwich their kitchen whips up, then…then commission someone else to try it first. There’s always a willing tester.
There’s always ME.
For the people who’ve lived on Rigga/Muraggabbat in Deira and driven past Al Diqdaqa Tea Stall, right behind the mosque, this review’s for you. I’ll admit I’d never really noticed this place myself, not over the span of its twelve year existence, not until last Friday morning, when I woke up slammed with a massive craving for eggs and parathas à la Kerala, or parotta. (remember, not all parathas are born equal. The concentric discs of a white flour and oil-rich parotta, stretched, twirled and rolled, are far softer, chewier, and more pliable than its North Indian forefather, the equally oil-laden, often veggie-stuffed, whole wheat paratha.) Mom suggested this place cause she’d heard of it from others…‘but darling, it’s super tiny, for bachelors, you can’t really sit and eat there…’
Hell yeah. Totally my kind of place.
Somehow, the thought of a closet-sized kitchen tucked away in some Godforsaken alley of Dubai really turns me on. It kicks up the Adventurer in me. The Hunter, the Experimenter, the Mad Scientist in me.
And believe it or not, the thought of such a place kicks up even the Nervous Nelly in me. Especially when I’m the only woman wielding a Canon monster-camera in a testosterone-cramped cafeteria whose anda parotta have never been stress tested on a lily-livered constitution. But regardless,
I am The Willing Tester.
Slave to my stomach, now concave with hunger, I ordered the eggs wrapped in a parotta, with the chef’s selection of a few token veggies thrown in. A simple 2.50 dirham breakfast, with another 1.00 dirham thrown in for a cup of chai poured from a golden-brownish kettle with such personality that it packed me off on a whole other train of thought…how many cups of chai has it poured over the past 12 years? how many droopy-eyed workers has it propped awake at 3pm in the afternoon, ensuring that they don’t jackhammer their foot in the midst of a hot afternoon nod-off?
I was alone on this mission. My friends, startled that I’d walk into a dive like this one, scuttled down the road to Breakfast to Breakfast [which incidentally, won a whole new level of respect with me last week with their sujuk manousheh, cheese sambousek, and Dallmayr milk coffee. I wish I’d sampled these when I’d waxed eloquent about BtoB’s manakish here.] The big question for me, sitting there small and alone and testosterone-deficient on table #1 of 2, with the owner shoveling biryani into his face on table #2 of 2, was: Should I just order a takeout and flee from here? Or should I stay here, eat my anda paratha steaming hot…and go down in history as the first woman to eat her breakfast at Al Diqdaqa Tea Stall in Dubai?
The shy little coward that I am, I copped out. I’d order and flee. Ek anda paratha please, for takeout.
As I sat there waiting for my order, I attempted to sweep together the last few shards of my courage and begged the owner to let me take photographs. I’m an online food writer, khana kay baray mein likthee hoon, I offered in broken hindi…could I take photograph please?
Oh, you want me to write the name of my site down for you? Acha...sure, I can write it down for you.
[Right. Like he’s ever gonna go check that out.]…[tra la la la la]…[unveil Canon]…[click click]…[snappity snap]…
…huh? No way. You…you pulled up my site on your blackberry?! [My blog was now smiling back at me from the Diqdaqa Tea Stall owner’s blackberry screen. Moral of the story – never underestimate the Tea Stall Owner. NEVER. I’ve learned this time and again from Tea Stall Owner rags-to-riches success stories in India, but I still pass judgments like an ignoramus when perched on a rickety tea stall chair.]
My anda parotta was ready. I sat there for a few minutes, just staring at it, paralyzed with indecision. This should really be eaten hot shouldn't it? It DOES deserve a fair chance, not soggy takeout treatment. But it feels like a man-only zone! And won't it look stupid if I now ask them to unwrap it and serve it on a plate?
I should have gotten over looking stupid 20 years ago.
The window of time within which an anda parotta roll will stay warm for you is SUPER slim. By the time I was done fumbling around with the dang thing, eat here, not eat here, LET’S UNWRAP THIS BABY RIGHT HERE ALREADY!, my fickle roll had gone cold. So while I’d love to give you this glowing image of the piping hot anda parotta roll served by the underdog Tea Stall, I can’t. It was an ordinary egg-in-parotta roll, one that could have had a fair chance had Vacillating Vanessa not possessed me at the last, most excruciatingly inconvenient moment.
...and contrary to what I was expecting, that parotta was not really greasy at all. (I personally think greasy would have been more exciting and newsworthy, but in the grand scheme of things, with a ton of bachelor dudes looking to this tea stall as their daily breakfast deal rather than a whimsical little tasting experiment, not greasy is probably a good thing.)
With the number of Rainbow milk cans on display in the store, you just know they have a history in making creamy, karak chai. This ain’t the place to order an earl grey, or maybe a jasmine tea, with a drop of honey if you please? Nope. What you get is what that Godfather of a kettle will pour out for you – a good solid concoction that’ll shoot right through your body, bada-bing.
Oh FYI, a week later, my tummy is still alive, well, and happily lapping up other experimental eats I choose to throw its way.
Now while Diqdaqa’s luke warm anda parotta wasn’t life-changing, I think their biryani and plate of fried chicken looked like it had a ton of potential. Especially that chicken. It looks like it has a serious non-nonsense fiery crisp about it.
Yep, you guessed it…I’ll go back. But till that happens, I’d be curious…any of you walked into a tiny Keralite cafeteria in some part of Dubai? Ordered something there that rocked your world? Or do you have one around the corner that you haven’t tried? And you're looking for a brave tester to go forth before you?
Confide in me. I am your Taster, coming soon to that inconspicuous little corner stall…yep, that one there stooped ‘round the corner, the one that’s stuck it out resiliently year after year, recession after boom, parotta after parotta…
I’m coming right there, to that corner stall near you.
Al Diqdaqa Tea Stall
Approximate directions on this google map, with Clock Tower as your starting point