A bunch of good eats [that I swept under the carpet] finally see the light of day.

My pending posts have become like a disorganized Old McDonald’s farm of nibbles, here a nibble, there a nibble, everywhere a nibble nibble [which is tantamount to a massive nibble]…

And no post to show for it.

So rather than let the tiny eats rot away in solitary unposted confinement in that part of my brain that would prefer to curl up and snooze after a heavy meal, I’m going to just patch up those disconnected nibbles into one post and pretend like there’s some DEEP unbreakable connection across these foods. SUCH AS: my intense passion to share tasty nibbles with my food loving fellows across the city.

[and the fact that the photos of these nibbles stare me in the face every time I launch Picasa.]

First up, a takeout of stuffed pigeon, or hamam mahshi, from Grand Abu Shakra.

Stuffed pigeon, aka Hamam Mahshi, perched on a bed of rice

If you mistakenly call them haMMam mahshi, don’t be surprised if the waiters snigger back at you because you’ve just inadvertently asked for stuffed bathrooms. Yuckies.

The last time I attempted grilled pigeons from Grand Abu Shakra, I ordered the unstuffed version…and was served up skanky emaciated pigeons that were quite literally, skin draped over tiny 00-sized pigeon bones. This stuffed pigeon takeout experience was clearly of a different (=tastier) flock. My golden-crusted pigeon was perched on a bed of short-grained rice, scattered with kidney and gizzards (most likely that of a chicken given their size), and throbbing with the sweet essence of heady spices, most prominently cinnamon.

A pigeon belly full of rice

Finding the meat in the bird was like a game of treasure hunt. To compensate for the hollow fleshless innards, the chef had stuffed the bird silly with same spiced rice that was mounded up on the plate. It was only when I got to the breast portion that I found a tender missile-shaped nugget of dark pigeon meat. But the victorious feeling of having found that morsel of pigeon meat, the fragrance of the rice, the crunch of the pigeon skin that boasted the golden sheen of a perfectly roasted, well-oiled bird, all of those together have ensured that forever more, I will look at pigeons with hungry eyes and a growling tummy.

If you ever find yourself at the Spice Souk, you’d realize that sadly, there’s not much to nosh on except this fabulous Arabianized Gelateria (I hope one of my erudite readers out there shrieks out a big fat NO! in my comments and corrects me with a laundry list of eateries in the spice souk area. I’d be eternally grateful.)

The rescue sign for hungry Spice Souk visitors: GELATO.

Of course I made a beeline for the camel milk, which I’d have expected to have a strong flavour, a gamey essence, a thick-skinned texture that would leave me grunting for more. But, in reality, the camel milk gelato scoop turned out to be quite timid, sort of as though it’d come from the milk of a very…shy camel?

Camel milk gelato at the Spice Souk

The less exotic half of my gelato cup, a coffee-coloured scoop of hazelnut, was far more exciting and conducive to gelato giggles than the shy camel one. I also sampled a spoon of dates gelato, and one of saffron, both of which are brilliant and will definitely find their way into my gelato cup the next time I’m lurking about that area.

Does anyone remember the time when I went on this Nepalese momo hunt and landed up on floor -1 of a building in Meena Bazaar? Since then, Kathmandu Highland has got a ton of publicity, with one of their servers being splashed up on a full page of The National’s lifestyle cover. Anyhoo, after that last time I blogged about momos, I discovered two new momo variants. One is the kothe momo, partly steamed, partly pan-fried, and fully charged with the teasing smell of timur, a type of unique Nepalese spice with the aromatic prowess of potpourri.

Kothe Momos, part steamed, part pan-fried, 100% delicious.

An ordering tip: make sure you ask the servers to get your kothe momos with less oil. Sometimes the chef can get a little too adventurous with the grease in his pan and drown those poor babies.

C-momos. C stands for…Chinese? Chilli? Causeweranoutofnames?

That up there is the fourth momo variant I know of, the C-momo: plump steamed momos with Chinese style sweet and sour gravy streaming all over them. Sweet and sour gravy is like the cheese of Chinese cooking, you can slap it over anything and it’d probably taste good. As do these momos, though if I had to pick, kothe momos would still be my first choice.

I also claim to have tasted the shish tawook at Bait Al Wakeel. I only mention it because I rarely ever enjoy dry boring chunks of shish tawook, but in this case, (a) the service was so obnoxiously horrid, not just for my table, but all the other annoyed tables around us, that it does deserve a mention. I hypothesize that a rat had died in the kitchen and the servers were mourning its death; (b) the location is so perfectly romantic, with a deck overlooking the Bur Dubai side of the creek.

Gorgeous views from the deck of Bait Al Wakeel. Closed off for customers lest they enjoy it too much.

However, the server-dementors had obviously closed off the deck that night. The thrilled faces of customers enjoying their meal on the deck would have been intolerable I presume; (c) this may well be one of the oldest buildings in town, with interiors that speak to its history as “The House of the [presumably British] Agent;” and (d) that shish tawook, despite the abominable service, was actually ridiculously good. It was smoky and charred at the edges in a way that had me guzzling the chicken chunks down before my dementors could realize that I was enjoying the meal far too much and it had to be snatched away from me.

Charred smoky chunks of Shish Tawook. Served in Azkaban.

If it isn’t obvious already, I won’t be going back. Even if they coat their shisk tawook in edible gold and fan me with peacock feathers. [why doesn’t a restaurant in Dubai do this already? It’s unforgivable, really.]

This Filipino muffin-bun with unmistakeable Spanish influence: Ensemada.

Ensemada from the trusty, ubiquitous Al Madina store

In total defiance of the gluten-free diet that is currently topping the pop diet charts at the moment, I picked up this fluffy puff of unhealthiness from my local Madina store downstairs. You start nibbling on the hat of melted sugar and al-dente strands of sour highly processed cheese, till you realize that the sweet-cheesy hat is…gone….and replaced with light fluffy innards that could be dunked into tea (anything longer than a 1 second rapid dunk will cause the fluff to disintegrate into your chai. you have been forewarned.)

Edible fluffy smithereens of an Ensamada belly

As ‘research’ for my article for Serious Eats, I tucked into cheesy Nabulsi Kunafa from Qwaider al Nabulsi, a Palestinian restaurant in Deira with uber-friendly servers, lip-smacking pistachio and dates mamoul, and trays of kunafa and other Arabic sweets that are pimped right at the entrance to trap poor unsuspecting, weak-willed, sweet-toothed customers. My kunafa of choice here is the one covered with ground brown semolina, which I make sure they serve hand-scorching hot so that the cheese can bubble out into my spoon in a show of ultimate decadent comfort.

Qwaider al Nabulsi’s rendition of Kunafa

The perk of parking yourself at Qwaider is that you can place an order for some of the best falafel there is to try in town from the psychedelic-signed Sultan Al Falafel restaurant next door. Sultan puts out a killer plate of stuffed falafel, or falafel mahshi, fried to a deadly crisp and studded with white sesame seeds. Contrary to their usual chickpea counterparts, these falafel innards are not just made with chickpeas, but also lined with a thin layer of chilli, sumac and onion stuffing that one-ups other falafels in that category.

Sultan’s Falafel Mahsi, one-upping your neighbourhood falafel

I think the moral of this disconnected, long-winded nibbles story is that, I should try to forget my camera at home more often so that, oops, I can’t post about that yummy pigeon that exploded into a volcano of fragrant rice because I don’t have a photo of it [though the pigeon was a takeout that I devoured at home, so I was cornered in by my Canon.] and no one wants a photoless post and therefore I must not be plagued with self-induced guilt about owning a photo of something excruciatingly tasty that the world at large must know about even though they probably don’t give two hoots about what I consumed over the past two months.

…or it could just be that if you’re a food blogger, you’re going to be pretty darn well-fed.

Grand Abu Shakra
Al Maktoum Street, Next to Al Khaleej Palace
Phone: +971-4-222-9900

Kathmandu Highland Palace Restaurant
Near Astoria Hotel, Opposite Highland Supermarket, Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai. [Probably best to ask the guy who picks up the phone to come and get you from the Astoria. He seemed super friendly and ever-so-willing to personally walk me over!]
Phone: +971 (4) 3536398 || +971 (55) 1742232

Bait Al Wakeel
Right by the Bur Dubai side of the creek, near the Textile Souk
Phone: +971 (4) 353-0530

Spice Souk Gelato Stand [I’m sure it has a more legit name, but I was too smitten with my hazelnut scoop to read the signboard.]
Look for the signpost in the main corridor of the Spice Souk

My Ensemada Fix
Any grocery store that stocks Filipino baked goodies…else trek over to the Madina Supermarket on Al Rigga Road.

Qwaider Al Nabulsi
Al Muraggabat Street, Deira
Phone: +971 (4) 227-7762 || +971 (4) 2277760

Sultan Falafel Restaurant
Al Muraggabat Street, Deira
Phone: +971 (4) 227-5559

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.

27 thoughts on “A bunch of good eats [that I swept under the carpet] finally see the light of day.

  1. dina says:

    Loved this post.. have to go to kathmandu highland for these 2..have been there a number of times for the momos!!!! thanks for introducing us Arva!!! Also I havent had kunafa yet… I hate myself for just saying tht!!! On my must eat list!!! :D

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Dina – NOOOOOOOOOOO. You haven’t had kunafa. Woman, that wrong must be corrected ASAP. How can you deny yourself a crunchy-topped cheesy pie?

  2. Sally - My Custard Pie says:

    I can vouch for those falafel mahsi. Amazing. And that kunafa. Gone in a flash. You are such a good teacher….I’m a willing pupil striving for an A (in eating) everytime.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Sally – I’m no teacher, just an EATER. But if I were a teacher, you get an A+, and a piping hot falafel mahshi reserved for the teacher’s pet.
      And I would use a candy cane to rap my less obedient pupils on their knuckles.

  3. Sayana says:

    Never knew Deira had so many options for food. I starteed avoiding Deira when they began closing and digging up roads for the Metro. Now I think i’ll take the Metro JUST for those Falafels. That Ensemada looks like a Pappa Roti dressed in a cupcake liner :D. Are they similar in any other way?

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Sayana – Deira is like a foodie atomic bomb that exploded many years ago! There’s Muraggabat, Muteena, Naif, Hor Al Anz, Rigga, Maktoum, Baniyas…so many foodie streets that you could do an entire food lovers marathon through them. [Hold on. Have I just hit on a brilliantly Einstein-esque idea? I believe I have.]

      The Ensemada I fluffed into was quite different from a Pappa Roti. The latter is crunchy on the outside, and way more poofy on the inside, with a buttery trickle that doesn’t show up in the Ensemada. If I had to pick a place to invest my carb calories, I would actually pick the Pappa Roti ;)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      La Mere Culinaire – You must!! Hopefully in September, I would love for you to join me :D

  4. Chef and Steward says:

    You know Arva, if I ever tell you how MANY posts we have in our backlog, I dont think we would have to cook/shoot for another year! So we totally identify with our situation. Great idea to put them together and great round up!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Chef and Steward – Wouldn’t it be cool if you could ’outsource’ your posts backlog? Just eat, and then someone else does the writing, editing, blah di blah? I would call it Clogged Up Blogger Pipeline Solution. [I can sense bloggers falling over their feet at the sound of this one.]

  5. FooDiva says:

    Correct me if am wrong, but the falafel mahsi we tried last week were at Abu Shakra? Fava beans instead of chick peas make for tastier, smoother and lighter falafel – need to try these. Thanks for sharing a great round-up. x

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      FooDiva – Nope darling, Abu Shakra serves Ta’amiya, which is synonymous with falafel in parts of Egypt, though they’re also made of fava beans.Falafel mahshi (mahshi = stuffed), are also made of fava beans at Sultan Falafel…and are exactly how you described, smoother, lighter, AWESOMER.

  6. Didi says:

    I’m glad to tried ensaimada. Yes, spanish influenced indeed…I wish you’d have a better one that’s utterly butterly and uses special Edam cheese, which is uniquely flavored only in the Philippines (rumored to have a different flavor because the cheese aged en route from Holland to the Philippines during the Galleon Trade days). Sometimes even a slice of fresh white cheese is added for kicks :)

    I think the ensaimada is best eaten toasted with a nice cup of hot chocolate, the rich thick ones. I will try to find you authentic Philippine hot chocolate (Tablea as we call it) :D

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Didi – I WANT. I want the real thing, the real Filipino version. Help me find it in Dubai!

  7. IshitaUnblogged says:

    I thought that this post would be on some vegetables or dishes that you hate to eat and you have found an alternative way of cooking it to suit your palette. Pleasantly surprised to find otherwise. Your Picasa must be happy that these pictures are seeing the light of the day and so are stories which have been dusted out from under the carpet. I love this kind of narration where goes through the journey rather than pounce only upon the highlights… loved it:)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @IshitaUnblogged – Ha. I can’t remember when I last cooked something edible, so my posts are most likely never about that! But yes, I officially have a smiling up-to-date Picasa now :)
      [unless you include my pics from Malaysia and the last week of eating.]

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Sweet…I will be on the lookout, or better yet, if you need a taste tester for the recipe, I will be ready! :D

  8. abigail-mynappytales says:

    and my list of must-try eats has gone haywire long…

    the momo’s had me craving this morning will they deliver?

    glad that you’re happy with the ensymada.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @abigail-mynappytales – mmm…momo place will only probably deliver within the Bur Dubai area methinks.
      …and I demand [in a soft pleading voice] that you share a recipe of how to make a real, authentic ensymada with us!

  9. Punit says:

    Thanks for sharing these gems…still need to try the momo’s… i pass by this place every single day but haven’t ventured in

    next time you stop in Bur Dubai…

    1. try Tasty Bite Falafel on Al Fahidi Street, opposite Giordano Fashions
    2. try Phersian Cafeteria Falafel (the desi version), in Meena Bazaar – Opposite Junaid Jamshed Fashion just ahead of Choithrams
    3. also try Abeer Cafeteria for their Omelette Parotha. They make fresh omelettes and fresh parothas at about 5:45 pm. Located in the gully off Al Fahidi Street. Enter the gully near Gift Land, towards the end of the gully you’ll see Abeer Cafeteria. I recommend this place because of their parothas.


    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Punit – Ahhhhhh. I LOVE RECOMMENDATIONS! Tasty Bite and Phersian are already on my eats list :)…the last time I walked into Tasty Bite, they didn’t have shawarmas cause it was afternoon, and they only have the spit turning after 4pm. Boo. Phersian, I have been thrice, every time in the morning, only to be told it was shut. It took me all three times to finally realize that they’re never open in the morning. Bigger Boo. Abeer I have seen, but never though to try, I will be hitting that place soon too. Yay in the face of two boo-boos [which will become yays when I visit them someday in the evening]

    2. InaFryingPan says:

      @Punit – Ahhhhhh. I LOVE RECOMMENDATIONS! Tasty Bite and Phersian are already on my eats list :)…the last time I walked into Tasty Bite, they didn’t have shawarmas cause it was afternoon, and they only have the spit turning after 4pm. Boo. Phersian, I have been thrice, every time in the morning, only to be told it was shut. It took me all three times to finally realize that they’re never open in the morning. Bigger Boo. Abeer I have seen, but never though to try, I will be hitting that place soon too. Yay in the face of two boo-boos [which will become yays when I visit them someday in the evening]

  10. Britneyof Arabia says:

    Shish Tawook at Bait Al Wakeel is my favourite in the city – but yes you are right – what’s up with the service! EVERY time it’s like they’re mourning that rat – and we go a lot!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @aa08a469edb65877b619c5529e6d4574:disqus  – I know, it’s a real shame! Coincidentally, I got connected with the manager of the place and he seems very interested in correcting the problem. So better times to come for Bait Al Wakeel I hope!

  11. Embla says:

    I have already read this post a while back, but the line about a shy camel made me laugh as much as the first time. I do love your writing. :)

    Anyway! I’m back at this post because I was strolling along Al Muraqqabat when I came across the falafel place and Al Nabulsi Sweets, and after eating at both places one after the other :D I was certain that you couldn’t have gone without mentioning at least Al Nabulsi, so I had to go looking for the post. It’s definitely delicious and I love the staff! They’re so friendly and helpful (and patient with my language difficulties :). The falafel + Al Nabulsi combination makes this one of my favorite spots in all of Dubai! :D


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