If you’re having one of those days where you want to bolt out of the office, grab the first available garden hose and spray-silence the blockhead sitting across from you in the meeting room – only to realize that your office on the 23rd floor has a great view but no garden, and the garden downstairs has only sprinklers in sight – this is what you should do. Elevator yourself back down to earth, get in the car and drive out for some soul-stroking comfort food.
And no, I don’t mean burgers. Even though that seems to be all people are eating these days. Burgers and buns. Buns and burgers. Burgers and black buns. Droves of Dubai diners are jumping on the bunwagon, though I’m not one to complain. At least we’re hearing less of everyone and their aunt harp on about the kale smoothie they regurgitated that morning.
One of the big hitters in the Levantine comfort food list is Fattet Magdous. If made well, this richly layered dish can bang the buns off of most burgers. The new Syrian joint Fateh & Sanobr in Abu Hail does a version which almost lives up to the mental fantasy I’ve harboured after reading about Fattet Magdous in Salma Abdelnour’s book, Jasmine and Fire: “I luxuriate in every bite, no need to share with anyone on this solo lunch.”
Fattet Magdous is a well-calculated play on textures. Plump eggplants stuffed with mince meat line up at centre spot, crisp pita at backfield. As you pass your spoon to the eggplant below, creamy whipped yogurt and tahina dribble through every gap, intercepted ever so often by a crunchy pine nut or pomegranate seed. Fateh & Sanobr adds whole pistachios to their game – not as common, but not unwelcome either. The kicker is melted butter (isn’t it always?), invisible to the eye but scoring tangible points in a dish that scores touchdown after touchdown on a day that you’d almost written off as irredeemable.
Fateh & Sanobr may still be ironing out kinks in their kitchen, but their cool home-churned laban provides instant creamy gratification as you beg for your food to be brought out. The chicken livers in pomegranate sauce are another must-try and far more worthy of your appetite than the bland makanek (sausages) or lacklustre hummus (a crime really, especially at a Syrian restaurant).
Driving advice: Pick a Friday or a weekday lunch, unless you masochistically enjoy reducing yourself to a car-sloth in the Dubai-Sharjah traffic jungle.
Other places with a frighteningly delicious Fatteh: Fattet Hummus at Al Hallab (with chickpeas replacing the eggplant) and Fattet Djaj (with chicken, no eggplant) at Khan Murjan in the Wafi Souk.
Dima Sharif’s blog for the recipe of Fattet Magdous
Salma Abdelnour, Jasmine and Fire, A Bittersweet Year in Beirut
Google map: Click here to see a map with Fateh & Sanobr, along with my other food hideouts in the city.