Iranian Kababs with a Special Blogger at Special Ostadi

I could have been very late for dinner at Special Ostadi. My days are usually planned like overstuffed double decker sandwiches – everything smacked tight together and on the verge of exploding. Once something’s planned in, you can’t even attempt to sub stuff in and out because the entire day would just fall apart in a heap of mayo and veggies and salami. There’s no room for error – NONE at all.

  • No room to wait for a shower cubicle to free up in the locker room after your swim.
  • No room to have a WTF moment when you hear Flitsy Excitable Lady prattling away to the locker room attendant about how she’s been noticing that women are carrying roach spray in their bags to kill the roaches in the gym showers.
  • No room to re-contemplate whether you really want to shower once a cubicle frees up lest a roach scurry out of the drain.
  • No room to scram out of the way as aforementioned Flitsy Excitable Lady starts tra-la-laing (I kid you not, such women exist. She existed in the locker room that day) around the locker room in her pink strappy knee-length frilled dress (cotton, good for summer, as she announced.)
  • No room to do favors by agreeing to tie the stringy back piece on pink dress of Crazy Flitsy Excitable Pink Frilled Lady.
  • And definitely no room to come back to your locker after you’ve grudgingly completed back-stringing favor and find a person tying their shoe lace right below your locker…WOMAN, ARE YOU LACING THOSE SHOES OR ICING THEM?!

But thankfully, I made it in time. Not because I was early, but because my dinner date and ultra-awesome talented (I-am-so-jealous-of-your-design-skills) blogger from AccordingtoDina got held up trying to find parking. Special Ostadi is crammed into Bur Dubai’s Musalla Road. If you know your roads, you’ll know that parking here is a royal nightmare. If you don’t know your roads, you will naively call the restaurant to check if there’s enough parking around and be fed a lie of the first order. “yeees, yes, parking in Musalla tower, Iranian school, Iranian hospital…” Beware, Musalla road will make you crawl around those blithering alleyways in hunger and misery. And none of those landmarks are walking distance in the heat. Needless to say, we crawled about quite a bit, Dina more so than I.

Luckily, there’s nothing that can’t be set aright with a hot bowl of hearty chunky chicken soup.

Iranian restaurants dish out some of the most soulful chicken soup in the city, and Special Ostadi, with over thirty years of Iranian family-style cooking muscle behind it, was no exception to that rule. They should have a sign on their door:

Sad because no easy parking? Come on in. We serve chicken soup for the soul (…that paid twenty dirhams for covered building parking).

Chicken soup for the parking harrowed soul

I wish the kababs could have lived up to chicken soup act. When I think of Iranian kababs, I think of the kind that Sadaf, another old time Iranian institution in Dubai, usually pampers me with. Tender melty ones that you can smush your teeth into like ripe mangoes, lazily letting the juicy chunks –> irresistibly flavorful meaty mush on your tongue without much chewing action at all. If Sadaf’s kababs are like meaty mangoes, then that night, Special Ostadi’s kababs were closer to sugarcane. I’d much rather have sucked out all the charred smokey meaty juices from the insides of the yogurt marinated and barbecued kababs, and then discreetly disposed of the rest of the somewhat not really tough, but not perfectly tender either, meat exterior. Needless to say, in my world of Iranian kababs, mangoes score way more points than sugarcanes.

A  plate of the most sought after menu item – yogurt-marinated chicken and mutton Kabab Khas, aka “Special Kabab”

The disappointing kabab texture didn’t stop me from dunking them into the yogurt dip and scarfing them down anyway. But they were more like side players to my happy nonstop chatter with Dina – sort of like popcorn at the movies – rather than the focus of the meal.

Plate of Khorak Bahraini (mutton marinated in dry lemon) and chicken Kabab Koubideh (skewer of minced barbecued meat)

Now it could just be that Special Ostadi was having a bad grill day – and given the rave reviews I’ve heard about this place, I’m willing to believe that. But venturing out into the jungle that calls itself Musalla road is not happening again anytime soon.

We ended our meal with this…

Iranian chai with mint leaves on the side. So soothing, even more so because it was free.

…and little mint-seeming pellets that upon chewing, give way to a strangely textured synthetic pasty substance on the inside. Once you’ve forced the pasty bolus down your throat, you realize that the pellet skin has been left behind on your tongue – a glaringly papery and practically inedible skin that must have been the brainchild of someone who…relished the taste of newspaper? Dina and I were reminded of sugary sweets we’d had during our childhood in India – sugary cud with other strange tasteless yucky textured substances that I’d personally feed my child only if it were…a baby cow.

Anyhow, this place was on my list for some time now, and I can finally say that I’ve paid my respects to a restaurant that’s clearly an age-old institution – any place that has collected currency notes under the table glass has got to be. But the highlight of the evening was not the kababs. It was sinking in to two hours of lovely conversation, about everything under the sun…food, running, interiors, marriage,  babies, swimming, cameras…with a fellow blogger who added the perfect layer of peace and inspiration into my sandwich-packed, pink-frilled frazzled day.

The talented inspirational Dina from AccordingtoDina. We were both on an energy high after our dinner chat…I could have almost tra-la-la’d out of the place myself.

Special Ostadi
Al Musalla Road,  Bur Dubai
Phone: +971(4) 397-1469 ||+971(4) 397-2111 || +971(4) 397-1933

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.

11 thoughts on “Iranian Kababs with a Special Blogger at Special Ostadi

  1. dina says:

    Aww..Thank u Darling..Ur such a star..Ur posts always have me cracking up!! This is sheer talent!

  2. FooDiva says:

    Wow love love love Iranian. Ostadi used to be a firm favourite in my Bur Dubai days, but shame looks like the kebabs have gone downhill. Completely agree on Sadaf. There’s also a great Iranian joint at Internet City, with the most scrumptious kash o bedanjan dip (warm aubergine-based mash). Thanks for sharing.

  3. Didi says:

    Will try out this place…soon. I have like a month and a week or two left here in dubai. We’ve tried the Iranian Club for their brunch. My hubby loves eating A LOT so buffets are his thing. was super stuffed. catching up on posts for two blogs. and it ain’t east when you’re doing chores and social networking and reading. Hahahaha!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @dina – :) no I should thank you, it was the best chilled out one-on-one lady chat dinner I have had in a long time. We should create a term for that…BCOOoOLCD. I can’t wait for us to do this again, have a feeling there will be many, many more!

      @FooDiva – really? love kash o bedanjan, and nargisi too…what’s the name of the place in Internet City?? Has the diva blogged about it?

      @Didi – I would actually suggest trying out Sadaf (you can find their locations here and order their mixed meal for 2 people (it’s more fit for 3-4 people). Great kababs, soups, bread…oh and get their yogurt with spinach and garlic dip (I forget what it’s called). Never tried Iranian club, how was it?
      (ps, your life right now sounds AWESOME to me!)

  4. Didi says:

    Gaaaaahhhh!! With all the weight I have gained!?! Hmmm the Iranian Club was ok for me. I guess I have no point of comparison just yet. it was a BUFFET so hubby was very happy. The lamb shanks were falling off the bone. I enjoyed a side dish or was it a condiment of caramelized onions. hahahaha! was so good!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @saleem – yep daddy, with the kababs we get next door at Al Sadaf, I don’t think I would bring you here. But a foodie’s gotta try everything, can’t leave any stones unturned…or uneaten. [that idiom doesn’t work now that I re-read it. Unless those were chocolate stones.]

      @Didi – weight shmeight. You won’t remember that extra kilo when you’re 85 and reminiscing about life. But you will remember those succulent kababs. And those caramelized onions you ate with hubby at the Iranian club. Those sound amazing by the way, I could make me a sandwich just stuffed with caramelized onions and nothing else.

      @Rishi Talwalker – Yay for blog love! I love food too (if it wasn’t obvious already.) Thank you :)

  5. Yasmin says:

    Great post, I admire your ability to be able to write out your experience so smoothly.
    I have tried Special Ostadi just once and wasn’t really impressed by the kebabs myself, although they were good but just not great! Other than the currency notes under the glass table, I love all the history that’s on the walls (the old telephones, newspaper cut-outs) I think the atmosphere is lively and the restaurant manager is a crack head (in a funny way!)

    Wish I was with you girls, would love to join for a dinner soon! :)

  6. Nausheen says:

    Oh I’m disappointed you didn’t like this place. It’s been a favorite of the significant other’s since he was a pre-teen. A friend of a friend came to write "36 hours in Dubai" for the NYT and asked us for a list of restaurant recommendations. This was one of the ones that made the write-up. I love the scene there. One time I saw two Japanese women who hardly spoke English, but spoke fluent Farsi!

  7. Miss Stovetop says:

    I was reading up on some of your old posts again, and couldn’t help notice the Omani Rial note tabletop decor. I love it when I see random stuff that reminds me of my Muscat home. Tralalalalalala. :)


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