This is how I found the Iranian dish that left me no choice but to betray my erstwhile Iranian love: Kabab Koobideh.
Kabab Koobideh at Abshar Restaurant, Deira
I was innocently waiting for usual kabab fix at my favourite Iranian restaurant in town, Abshar, when a server started placing a plate down in front of me. A stickler for my koobideh routine, I instantly reacted: ‘This isn’t my order!’
But it had already happened by then. Invisible puffs of fragrant smoke curled up from the green-speckled dish and teased my nose, my lips, my cheeks...the sensory tongues in my lungs...with the taste of a dish that was betrothed to someone else. It was the amorous smell of dill, one that reminds of you of nature and greenery and freshness and life. It was utterly intoxicating.
I would think about Baghali Polo for many days before I finally had the chance to sit down with it again. This time was at Iran Zamin. I had gone specifically to taste the dish—Baghali Polo with Mahicheh (lamb shank).
The Lamb Shank looked absolutely irresistible. Layers of fatty skin had just melted off and bunched up around the hollow bone, as though the lamb had intentionally pulled up its skirts to dangle its leg outside. When my impatient fork first pierced the shank, its inner lamb tendrils instantly tumbled out from against the bone like a flood of soft, soft meat that had been precariously held up by the smooth outer skin. It's the sort of dish that makes your heart call the shots long after your stomach has pulled away its bib, so that every additional forkful of supple lamb glistening with pink juices is a move of sheer hedonism, not hunger.
If the meat itself hadn’t already scored a goal with me—and it did, many consecutive goals—the bed of rice hit a home run. The entire plate was spilling all over with buttery grains, threads of dill and tender broad beans, making it a sensory waterfall of aroma and flavour that just washes you away from the second you hit the surface.
If you want to know how enamoured I really was by the Baghali Polo with Mahicheh, let me tell you that I ended up ordering it again. Two more times. For the next two nights in a row. Abshar, the place where I had first glimpsed the shank seductively peeking out from under the dill-fragrant rice, also does a superb version of Baghali Polo. Theirs has flecks of tomato and meat stock gravy which adds an occasional sour tang to the buttered rice. But loyalties to Abshar aside, my initial tasting at Iran Zamin remains unmatched.
Everything else we ordered at Iran Zamin was understandably a blur. I tasted a rustic sauce of tangy meat stock served alongside a friend’s chicken and rice dish. I also forked off a few bites out of another friend’s special kabab plate whose perimeter was lined with minced lamb skewers and cubes of chicken wearing crispy belts of grilled lamb. Every dish was more than appreciated by the person who’d ordered it, but I know secretly that the Baghali Polo reigned supreme.
Another revelation at Iran Zamin was the Iranian version of a dish that I’ve enjoyed at many an Indian restaurant, the Faloodeh. The Iranian version is far more minimalist than the calorie-laden Indian one: crushed snowy ice topped with ice-cream, threaded with skinny rice noodles, and flanked on the sides with slices of lime. I requested for syrups—rose water, and what tasted quite similar to a strawberry or cherry molten jam—a really good move because both of them added a sweetness and flowery flavour that made for a richer spoonful.
It was a simple dessert, one that I might have loved even more had the noodles been a tad bit silkier than the rather crunchy ones served in the bowl. But the combination of rosy ground ice together with the bright flavour of the limes was undoubtedly refreshing, and something you’ve got to treat yourself to on a blisteringly hot day of summer (which is scarily, not too far away. MOURN.)
Faloodeh, kababs, everything that could possibly make it to your dinner table aside, go out and try the Baghali Polo with Mahicheh if you can. Seriously, do it. And photograph it closely so that when you're faced with an empty plate with scant signs of melted butter and a rice grain or two, you have full visual proof that the dreamy dish with the dreamy dill and a dreamy lamb shank daydreaming in the centre of the dreamiest of dinner experiences...that same dreamy dish was deliciously real and totally worth falling in love with.
Emirates Concorde Hotel, Maktoum Street, Deira (here’s my google map of super-approx locations)
Phone number: +971(4) 2292931