Eating through a Gujarati feast at Rangoli…all in the name of foodie market research.

Some of you may have got a whiff of my latest whimsical idea through this blog’s facebook page, but if you haven’t, let me tell you that I’ve had MANY moments in the past year where I’ve sat down and thought, God, I wish I could make a life that revolves only around food…not just for play, but for work too. Some form of edible topic is on my mind pretty much 60% of all waking hours of my day. And the remaining 40%, I’m probably out restaurant-hunting for something I’ve pondered over, or digesting something I ingested in the previous 60%. My year-long deep and profound introspection has culminated in an outrageously massive moment of: dayaam, I need to figure out how to get seriously involved in the food industry.

I.e. Pay Me to Eat Somebody.

So I’ve been playing around with a number of ideas, and at some point or another, some poor soul has gotten slammed with a passionately detailed description of how I could possibly make a living out of being a foodie…and then said poor soul would nod sympathetically at my inane idea(s), agreeing that I could indeed make money (because clearly, in a recession, people are SO eager to part with their hard-earned money on discretionary whimsical things)…said soul would agree vehemently that, indeed! you could make a fortune!, so that I could shut up about the idea already and move on to test it with the next unsuspecting victim who hobbles across my path.

So my latest idea is: Food Tours. Food tours of old Dubai…getting people to experience some of the oldest, or most ethnically unique, food experiences that make Dubai the cultural melting pot that it is.

I don’t know whether the idea will work or whether anyone would even be interested in signing up for a three hour tasting marathon around some crazy old part of Dubai…and I’m well aware that during summer, no sane person would drag their feet from one restaurant to the next in the blithering heat, which leaves me only six months of the year to make money on an idea that’d probably not even earn enough to pay my metro fare over to the tour starting point in the first place…but heck, I’m having a BLAST doing the market research for it. It feels pretty awesome to come back home after a long day of poking my face into multiple restaurants and speaking to the owners or sampling food like I’m on a mission – and then punch the productive-sounding ‘Market Research’ stamp all over it. Job satisfaction to the max.

One of my first ‘market research’ stops has been to Rangoli in Meena Bazaar, an age-old Indian – more specifically, from the state of Gujarat – occupant of those tiny cramped alleys next to Cosmos Lane. What excites me about places like Rangoli is that it’s a place with history, with culture…without sounding too over-the-top, with family love gushing out through the walls and into your food. These are typically places that have been nurtured by an expat who started off with humble ambitions – like the two farmers who left Porbandar, Gujarat in the 50’s and migrated to Dubai to start one of the first Indian restaurants in town, Maaraj. Soon, Maaraj gave way to Manoranjan, and then later, after Manoranjan shut down, Rangoli followed through in the early 90’s. These are places with family members that have grown up closely involved with the food that reaches your table, and you can sense the…near patriotism…about the dishes that are being recreated to represent their home away from home. They’ve seen Dubai tourism and trade transform over the last two decades, they understand who the regulars are and what they want…how to make an authentic dhokla or stir up a sweet Gujarati kadhi or why there would be civil unrest if they wiped paani puris off the Rangoli menu.

Dhoklas at Rangoli – a Gujarati savoury made of fermented and steamed gram flour batter

After a super-informative restaurant and Meena Bazaar history chat with the owners, I wandered off by myself to try Rangoli’s two most prized menu items – paani puri and the Gujarati buffet. Mind you, the entire menu here is totally vegetarian, reflecting the typical Gujarati diet…but honestly, I DARE you to miss meat during a meal at this restaurant.

Paani puri is one of those snacky things that totally distracts you from the fact that no chunky piece of steak or chilli chicken is going to grace your all-veggie table. It’s one of those interesting experiences that’s more fun to indulge standing up, right near the chaat (aka Indian snacks) counter, looking over the guy who uses the tip of his thumb to deftly crack open a little hole in the deep-fried hollow flour spheres (the ‘puri’), plonks in a mix of moong lentils, chickpeas and boondi (fried baby balls of chickpea flour), spoons in a spicy green watery mix of coriander, mint, tamarind, chilies and the house blend of spices, and then ladles on a final flourish of sweet-sour tamarind chutney.

All that, that entire globe of watery crunchy snack’ums, to be stuffed in your mouth all at once. We’re talking about a mega feat that’s a double whammy, partly cause it’s so explosively yummy, and partly because, it’s quite the accomplishment to race the wet-unstable thing to your mouth and shove it all in at once without it splattering all over you somewhere in between.

[On a separate note, I believe that Tea Junction held a paani puri eating competition in town when I was away. Let the winner present him/herself in front of me for a true battle of the ultimate paani-puri face-stuffing lords. Unveil yourself, O Pani Puri Heavyweight Who Won When I Was Not In Town Who Shalt Soon Be Dethroned.]

My paani puris at Rangoli got progressively better…by the time I reached the fourth one on the plate, the paani-puri guy and I had this secret understanding that I preferred more of the tamarind chutney and less of the spicy water. For 7 minutes of my lunch time, we had become a secret team – he was my just-in-time paani puri designer, getting another one ready every time I’d scarfed one down, and I was the patron, showering my love on his work by letting my mouth be the gleeful repository of his watery balloon creations.

With Rangoli’s much loved paani puri’s done and devoured, my next stop was their buffet table.

Can you imagine getting an entire meal for 17 bucks…an entire meal with three curries of your choice and fresh hot rotis and papad and rice and some snacky thing and pickles and dips and dessert and a steel tumbler of cool chaas (similar to lassi, though more watery and with most of the butterfat taken out)…an entire meal of ALL THAT that’s ‘refillable’?! That’s insane…I have no clue how they make this work and still have money left over to pay the electricity bill. [Makes you wonder why I’d go all the way to the U.S. to study economics when Meena Bazaar was a live lesson waiting to enlighten me just steps away from home. That, with the added perks of way more awesome food than anything I could’ve ever found on my greasypizzaloving college campus.]

Those of you who fear the exacting trek over from your lunch table to the buffet line…and God who enjoys waiting behind that old crotchety lady who’s counting every carrot in the salad before she scoops some into her plate at the rate of one carrot per minute?…I hear that Rangoli is planning to switch from the buffet to a thaali system. Which means that the next time I’m here, I won’t have to trudge over to the buffet line to refill my plate. Instead, a server would walk over to my table to do the refilling for me. The ultimate in lazy refillable excesses. The thaali may cost a few more dirhams…but seriously, even a five dirham hike would really still be a pittance for a fully-served, all-you-can-eat meal.

One of the unique characteristics of Gujarati food is that they’re masterminds of how to mix sweet and salty. They’ve got a real knack for doing this in their fried snacks, in daals, in veggies…in the traditional Gujarati kadhi which typically features on Rangoli’s daily buffet. Kadhi is this gloriously smooth soupy mix of simmered yogurt and gram flour, kicked up a notch with a sweet-salty mix of tempered spices and jaggery swirled in.

That modest looking whitish soup is so perfect…perfect little yogurty lake to dip your rotis into, perfect little daal-like waterfall all over your rice (which incidentally, doesn’t feature on my plate, but is also very much a part of the buffet), and a perfect little river from which to slurp on endlessly all by itself, well after your tummy has objected to another carbo-loaded bite of rice or roti.

…see that deep-fried potato disc on my plate?

Said disc is no ordinary deep-fried potato fritter. Nope, here we have yet another brilliantly simple sweet-salty creation, one with a sweet golden brown deep-fried fenugreek crust, and doused with a liberal spoon of sweet tamarind chutney from the buffet by yours truly. It was like the dessert of the salty savories I chose from the buffet…and sadly, probably not one that they repeat every day. But then again, the Gujaratis are kings of deep-fried masterpieces and I’m sure that a buffet-patron would receive their crunchy due of Gujarati hospitality no matter what day they decide to drop in at Rangoli.

I saw a couple of tourists, not from India, lingering outside the door toward the end of my meal…they had this look of ‘should we try, should we not try’ on their faces. It’s exactly those sorts of helpless innocent tourist tummies that I’d love to educate when they make their way to the streets of old Dubai. Meena Bazaar is Dubai’s Little India, full of places that will max out flavor for every buck…you’ve just got to know which places to step into, and what to order when you’re there. And I’d love to play that honest-to-goodness Florence Nightingale of helplessly hungry tourists. [<- this right here is the philanthropic angle of my foodie tour idea, the one that’ll make hearts melt and sign up for the tour. Is it working?]

Rangoli Restaurant
Cosmos Lane, Opp. ITL Bldg, Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai
Phone: +971 (4) 351 5873 / 355 4462 / 352 3554
[pssst…they also have a smaller branch in Oud Metha called Rangoli Lite. It’s not healthier food per se, it’s the same offering, just a tinier place.
Phone: + 971 (4) 357 6701 / 357 6702]

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.

23 thoughts on “Eating through a Gujarati feast at Rangoli…all in the name of foodie market research.

  1. Sally says:

    Wonderful. But do you mind that I just fell about laughing at the lack of a comma in this line? ’ I.e. Pay Me to Eat Somebody.’ I think you’ve been watching too much of ’The Cook, the thief, the wife and her lover’.!!!
    Good luck and I am positive that your passion and enthusiasm will make your food-centric dreams come true.

  2. Raji says:

    During the early days of my married life I spent most of our dinner times eating in Rangoli. Somedays we would eat inside but other days we would just gorge on the chaat itmes which they used to serve on the counter outside their shop. Getting to that counter itself required lots of effort…there used to be mad rush with so many tourists taking their own sweet time to finish their chatpata bowl of chaats.

    And judging by this review I am sure we are going to have a great foodie tour.

  3. kooksfood says:

    I would totally pay for such a tour… shame I’m leaving and will miss them. Best of luck…although with your passion and knowledge am sure you won’t need it! :-)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sally – [eeek…freudian slip…my secret cannibalistic tendencies emerge…]
      All the kind people who read my blog, I really meant: Somebody, Pay Me to Eat.
      …on that note, any of you wanna join me for dinner?

      @Raji – I know what you mean about the mad rush…it was insanely packed when I walked in the other day. Meena bazaar employees, tourists, families…and me ;) yum.
      …and can’t wait to see you at the tour!

      @kooksfood – That means so much, thanks for the vote of confidence! I wish you were here for it…I need testimonials! ;) Maybe if you transit through Dubai in the future, fingers crossed!

  4. nadia says:

    How I love reading your posts! I have never really tried Gujarati food, and you make me feel like my life is incomplete without it :D

  5. Devina Divecha says:

    Hmmmm get all of this in full-on blast mode whenever I head to Bombay to my Gujju side of the family! Btw did this place have puranpolis?

    Agree with Sally on the missing comma…now that puts a new spin on what you want to do :P

  6. Didi says:

    I’m so excited for the food trip Arva! Would be glad to market research with you if you just need someone to tag along AND perhaps share valuable insights :) I know people who do food tours in the Philippines. Would you want to get in touch with them and kind of get some insight on how they make money out of the tours? You have to earn somehow :-)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @nadia – thanks nadia! Complete your life, just a hop skip jump to meena bazaar ;)

      @Devina Divecha – Rajdhani does puranpolis some days of the week…don’t think Rangoli does them, didn’t see it on their menu.
      [that comma is gonna scare SO many of my readers away. Stay people, stay…(I am hungraaay)..]

      @Didi – no waaay…I was thinking of asking you this morning if you’d help me with one of the tours I had in mind, so this message is SO TIMELY! Let’s definitely chat…I would love to pick your brains on this! Will send you a message once the craziness of this week subsides ;)

    2. Didi says:

      Sure! I will wait for your message :) I was going to ask if you will have a Filipino food tour as well. I can definitely be your go to person for that. Or maybe be a co-tour guide or something.

    3. InaFryingPan says:

      @Didi – this is scary woman. YOU’RE READING MY MIND.

    4. Didi says:

      Wahahahaha! You must admit it is scary in a very good way :-)

  7. ginger and scotch says:

    the Foodie Tour of hidden jems is such a great idea! I’m sure you will have hand-outs and info packets to give out as well for those of us who like to know what we’re getting into and a place to take notes :)

  8. accordingtodina says:

    Omy god I love rangoli…. When r u having a foodie tour? Can i join too??? Im craving pani puris,and all the goodies since a while.. I love rajdhani too..I incidentally even met Rajani there with family! We sure are a huge foodie bunch!!!! Im wondering if there is space for another glutton to join the food tour? Whats on our agenda???

  9. Shabs says:

    OMG!! all that talk about food and the pics is making me hungry , it all looks really good . You are one lucky girl to not put on weight eating all this maashallah . Great post Arva :D.

  10. Saleem says:

    Well written article about the Gujrati food – you can eat pani puri or Gujrati thali anytime of the day and many times in a week and never get tired of that. Gujrati speciality is not just the food, the way they serve with passion and you enjoy that more.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @ginger and scotch – YAAAAY! Another vote for the tour! At this stage, no info packets and things…the tour involves a ton of walking, so need people to be…’lightweight’ (oxymoron given how much food we’re going to consume during the tour!)…but eventually yes, that would be the plan :D

      @accordingtodina – sent you an invite!! you can probably BE THE TOUR GUIDE ;) seriously, I would love for you to be there at my early research stage….and hells yeah, rajdhani ROCKS.

      @Shabs – I think I’m gonna be a fat lolly by the end of this. But all in the name of food tourism & education…someone’s gotta do it, right? ;)

      @Saleem – thanks dad! and totally agree…it’s the passion with which they serve the food that makes me wanna come back (in addition to the fact that chaat and thaali is freakishly addictive.) Love places that give off that homely warmth.

  11. Sliceofmylyfe says:

    This is what I am going to dig into , the coming week. Your post just increased all the frenzy that I have been so quietly building all these days. I am so so proud of you with your tour idea. I feel so left out in Bahrain, unable to do any such thing with you and some of the other foodie friends of yours.
    All my best to you , Arva.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sliceofmylyfe – you lucky thing you, a Gujarati wedding. I demand an entire detailed post about it. ;)
      ..and wish you were in Dubai too…how about transiting through here on your way back from India?

      @Anu – thanks!

  12. Bhaskar Joshi says:

    Correction regarding the founder members of Rangoli Restaurant.

    Not one farmer but two,who moved to Dubai in late 50s.Their first venture was Maaraj(Maharaj) ,which was followed by Manoranjan and finally Rangoli! I can bet on that because on farmer is my father.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Mr Joshi – thanks for stopping by! History from the man’s son himself :) Correction noted, and I have added it up in my post!

    2. Bhaskar Joshi says:

      Much appreciated and thank you ,Ma’am!

      When in Rangoli next, do try Veg.Sheek Kebab….. Winter produce shredded,skewered in a tandoor, lightly seasoned with herbs and served with a savoury yogurt dip.My favorite and highly recommended!!
      Bon Appetit !

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