Prawn toast, Mongo roll, buttery Fatteh…and damn I miss chewing.

This past week has been a rhymes-with-a-twitch-but-I-don’t-wanna-write-it-on-a-public-blog. Any of you who’ve interacted with me over the past few days is probably fed up with hearing me crab about those blasted wisdom teeth that I had to get extracted on Thursday. But that pain feels like a happy dream in comparison to the brutal post-extraction recovery phase. I’ve been a sloth about the house, hungry, heavily drugged, and watermelon-faced, grunting like some sort of outraged bear whose precious pot of honey has been snatched away, rummaging desperately for food, realizing I can’t eat 99.9% of retrieved food because it demands to be chewed, and then grunting out in pain and frustration again.

And no, ice cream for every meal of the day, four days non-stop, just doesn’t cut it. I need something solid, hot and outrageously crunchy. Like these crackly deep-fried prawn toasts (Khanom-Pang Na Goong) from the old-time Thai resto, Smiling BKK in Jumeirah…greasy and full of prickly crunchy air pockets tucked in between morsels of toasty shrimp paste.

My mind has a resident community of particularly sadistic elves living in it, elves that play nasty games like tormenting me with the thought of bulldozing through a stack of these prawn toasts, smeared with sweet Thai chilli paste. Those blasted elves are crayoning the image in my mind: little shrimpy bits skittering through the air in an explosion of gobsmacking crunchiness, in precisely those hopelessly vulnerable moments when I’m drowning in a bowl of puréed oats and soy milk.

[On a separate note, other than those prawn toasts, my trip to the impossible-to-find Smiling BKK didn’t surface up anything worthy of a separate post. There was a stuffed squid dish that had been sucked dry of any juices and spices that could have upped its chewy existence, a black crab and papaya salad that arrived on our table without the black crab, had to be returned to the kitchen to be reunited with the prodigal crab, and then re-emerged with a tasteless lump of something that could have been crab or any other sort of sea or land creature or object, and finally, some sort of chicken in a gravy that was so unremarkable that I wouldn’t order it again, if only I could remember what it was to begin with. I have a feeling we drowned in the massive swamp of menu options, and completely missed the boat on the good stuff that people keep raving about for this restaurant, so I’ll reserve judgment on Smiling BKK until after I’ve visited a couple more times.]

Another reason I’ve been smacked with the gloomies this week is because that sly slimy eel called Social Media has decided that it’s going push my blog into the ether, where just a handful of my readers are alerted each time I get my act together and push out a post. It turns out that most of the people (‘most’ may sadly include You.) who liked my blog facebook page won’t receive updates unless I pay to promote those posts, or unless they’ve visited my page and commented or liked or created a big fuss over it in the past few weeks. And that Google may chuck feedburner out the window, killing my email subscriptions along with it. Normally I’d resolve life’s social media problems with a hot cup of tea and a warm baked Filipino mongo roll from the grocery downstairs…

But hot and nibbly is on my Dentist’s List of Inedibles this week. And no one ever solved anything over puréed oats and soy milk.

Let me tell you about this mongo roll though, because the thought of it has been haunting my toothless gums for three days now. A few weeks ago, I decided to target every one of the Filipino baked goodies from my neighbourhood grocery. They always stare up at me with these intriguing names:  mongo roll, hopia, pan de sal, ensemada, cheese buns (which isn’t really an exotic name at all, but how can a cheese bun be anything but awesome?), pan de coco, and pillowy Spanish bread with a grainy spotted shell that looks like it would do very well alongside a crisp drumstick of batter-fried chicken and some home-style meaty gravy.

My mission started out with a mongo roll, a flattened buttery pastry with a texture somewhere in between a flaky croissant and a glossy, sticky bun. This pastry demands that you toast it up until it’s golden and crusty on the outside, which is critical to cutting through the sweet dense carbiness of the roll. The next step is to tear open the belly to massacre the pasty mung bean and sugar filling inside. It’s somewhat addictive, to the point where I did the toast-tear-munch routine for breakfast, dessert, and tea on the same day. And the final step of consuming the mongo roll happens without warning: fall asleep on your keyboard as heavy carb-weights plonk down on your eyelids.

Anyhoo, as with my well-intentioned Best of Shawarma mission, Best of Donor Mission, and Best of Iskender Kabab Mission, my Best of Filipino Breads mission has languished in my writing ovens to the point where it’s got burnt, blackened and buried in an ashen grave that didn’t even get a token eulogy in my blog drafts section.

On a happier note, and because this is one of the most disconnected, rambling posts of all time, let me also throw in a mention of Fatteh at Al Hallab, one of my last meals before I was wheeled in for surgery. (I plan to start a blog called DramaQueenAnonymous, stay tuned.) Here is the soup bowl of deep-fried khubz pieces, submerged under a heap of chickpeas, creamy yogurt, pine nuts, and a melted waterfall of butter, that was one of the last dishes to bid adieu to my wisdom teeth. And a fitting farewell at that. Fatteh is one of those dishes that gently strokes your soul in the crappiest of times, making you purr with warm chickpea comfort and butter-breathed satisfaction.

I ended up ordering fatteh as a takeout even post-surgery. Call it a starved desperation tactic. Or an utter lack of wisdom. (ha. ha.) I sampled a spoonful, thinking that the butter and yogurt-drenched bread would magically disintegrate on my tongue and slide down to my cavernous tummy, making it weep with relief and joy that I’d fed it something other than pureéd oats and milk. Turns out, the butter and yogurt glided down my throat like expert kindergarteners on a nursery slide, while the bundle of squishy bread just…just sat around like the chubby kid on the block who’s got no one to share his packed lunch with. It just sat there on my tongue, waiting to be chewed, until I forced it down in one massive gulp.

That attempt brought me back to square one. Yep, you know the drill, back to puréed oats and milk.

As with all trials and tribulations of life, there was a mammoth learning experience hidden under the gummy gore I faced this week. I learned how incredibly important texture and temperature of food is to feeling full. A plate of nibbly kababs may send your zipper screeching out of control like a crazed woman confronted by the black hairy rat of her nightmares. A tub of puréed kababs that you manage to gurgle down (and yes, I did.) will leave that very same zipper looking up at you quizzically: Why you eat and I still stay up? I learned how much I tend to take the simple pleasures of life – waking up with a face not scrunched up with pain, talking, smiling, frowning, laughing, munching and crunching – for granted. It’s only when one of your bodily functions gets zapped out of the picture, even for just a day, that you can even begin to appreciate how important it is to you. I learned that if I ever, God forbid, need to get additional teeth plucked out, I won’t be investing in tubs of Cold Stone ice cream for post-extraction recovery meals, because  Cold Stone ice cream is so thick and stringy that it needs to be chewed. A scoop of it will just plonk itself down on your tongue and refuse to melt unless you smush it down with your palette and roll it against the back of your teeth. The better bet is a pint of Haagen Daazs sorbet, mango ideally [thank you sister, moving onto pint #2 now]. I also learned that after three days of puréed foods, an otherwise nauseating combination of mushed-up, watery Maggi noodles, hummus (thank you C.!) and Heinz ketchup tastes likes God’s gift to mankind. (this painstaking recipe demands only the best of ingredients. Use any other brand of ketchup at your own risk.)

I might be four teeth more foolish now, but let me leave you with one sage thought for the day. Whenever you sit down for your next meal, this morning, this afternoon, whenever, just stop multi-tasking, put the phone away, turn the telly off, power off your lappie. And chew. Just chew like there’s no tomorrow, cause take it from me, something that simple is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Smiling BKK
Coming from Dubai, take the 1st interchange exit, left on Al Wasl, first u-turn after the Jumeirah Post Office, the right after the Emarat Petrol Station, and then the first right. Smiling BKK will be one of the cluster of restaurants on your right.
Phone: +971 (4) 349-667

Al Hallab
Multiple branches (Dubai Mall one is temporarily closed, Garhoud branch and Mall of Emirates is open)

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.

25 thoughts on “Prawn toast, Mongo roll, buttery Fatteh…and damn I miss chewing.

  1. Sayana says:

    Arva, in no time the streets of Dubai will have Miss Frying Pan do a victory lap through all her favourite places celebrating food, flavours and the joy of chewing. If anything, I’m preparing myself to read rejuvenated-gums-spiked-eating-and-fervent-reviews with a LOT of self control. Wishing you a speedier recovery. Love and hugs, Sayana

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @5c58fbbbc706cbb1bf5cff57328b59c9:disqus – no no, no self control. Life flings crap on you sometimes, like chucking your teeth out the window (actually, mine are in a little lab container. wondering what to do with them. someone suggested a necklace. but I figure it’d take two more teeth to make a complete necklace, right?). So bottom line, go overboard and live life when you can – I’m going to go on a MEGA eat-a-thon when I’m back in the chewing game, with a victory lap that will happen with a flag made of a two-foot chewy Iranian bread. YUM.

  2. shy says:

    Hey Arwa..feel better soon sweety…MMMM smiling bbk…been a while since I ventured there…cheers:))

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @18d7aac8de19afeffdb21eea8b0d7cae:disqus – thanks for the wishes! :)

  3. Edwina says:

    Arva, so glad you’re feeling a little better, you must be otherwise you wouldn’t be writing…I have one word for you…ARNICA

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @f73d7731021dfef2e220fbc8deb7a328:disqus – thanks darling! yes, I am way better, no longer the puffy chipmunk I was a few days ago. even though puffy chipmunks are cute and cuddly and who doesn’t want to be one.

      how does Arnica help??

  4. Salman says:

    You paint a fantastic imagery with your choice of words and combination phrases..
    I also hope that you have a quick recovery

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @b71fb8e1bc1976749ce8c63c75cad669:disqus – aw thank you! As an Indian saying goes, may there be butter and sugar in your wishes (clarified butter and sugar = truth, so therefore truth = tasty.)
      …weird, I feel wiser AFTER the surgery ;)

  5. Drina C | Eaternal Zest says:

    wishing you a quicker than usual recovery.
    by the way.. with regards to smiling BKK… it doesnt make me or my friends smile anymore :(
    such a shame the quality of their food has gone down.. wayyyy down and their prices surprisingly to head to the imbalance have gone up.
    why does it happen here??? why cant good restaurants remain good?
    my last 4 meals there were quite dissappointing.. i gave them not 1, not 2, not 3 but 4 chances to revive themselves; and it seems all my friends feel the same too.
    all the thai curries are just bowls of cream now… very sad face!
    oh well… i’ll stop ranting now. get well soon

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @aad5a49a3c88ff225e1527b6a4b03748:disqus – thanks!

      ah, good to know about smiling BKK…it’s got such good reviews in the past, that I don’t know why I hadn’t tried it yet [actually I do know. it’s because I can eat out for all six meals of the day and STILL not cover it all!] But I have to admit your 4-time review doesn’t make me super excited about going back to try again…

  6. Foodie Bugi says:

    Everytime you see a Filipino Bread – always have a sweet tooth! Even the ordinary pan de sal (bread with salt) is a bit SWEET! :)

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @afc8cf5ddf8ac64aa73bd3bae46d3098:disqus – which is a very good thing! I love the sweet-salty thing that Filipino breads have going…have noticed that with onion hopia as well…mmmm….*adds hopia to list-of-things-that-must-be-chomped-asaPainStops*

  7. IshitaUnblogged says:

    Awww – I wasn’t aware and so now I know why Bu’qatir has to wait… hope you are feeling better very soon. And your Mongo rolls sound fabulously yummy. And they are just available in the grocery downstairs whenever you need them. They can wait till you are ’wiser’ with your 4 teeth less…

    And about chewing… will hold on to it thinking about you as if that’s the only thing that I have learnt from any living being on earth (read cow!)

    Warmest of hugs to you Sizzler!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @ishitaunblogged:disqus – yeees. this is why :( it’s been a week of hunger, unproductivity and forced foodie procrastination, so no bu’qtair until I can munch through a mountain of their curried prawns.

      thanks for the wishes, can’t wait to see you later this week!

  8. Food Stories says:

    Arva … I totally feel your pain … I had bariatric surgery a few years back and had to be on liquids/pureed foods for weeks … It’s really hard to do so crossing my fingers that you’ll get back to solids soon :-)

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @twitter-568422337:disqus – accck. that sounds painful! someone should start a blog on the most creative pureed foods possible. gotta up the game on ice cream and blended oats and milk.

  9. Life in the Food Lane says:

    I don’t think I have ever laughed louder reading any of your other posts. My god girl, your sense of humor and powerful pen to translate what’s going on in that super imaginative mind of yours… wish you a speedy recovery back to crunchy, crispy, hot and delicious solids!

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @0574e8f77fe1e806f0134d076f36469b:disqus – aww thank you Francine. I’m like that dufus character in the comics whose pathetic life helps to entertain if nothing else!

      …you know, it STILL hurts to laugh loudly :(

  10. Saleem Ahmed says:

    Guess after 10 days you had a decent meal and it gave you the strength to get back on your blog. Prawn toast is interesting and so is th mongo roll (may try that one!). The soup looks like a dessert dish to me! Well written article, humorous to read, but seeing you in pain was not a good sight.

    1. inafryingpan says:

      Thanks for hanging in there with me while I was the grumpiest daughter on the block dad! Let’s celebrate with a mongo roll party ;)

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @nappytales:disqus – thanks hun, almost there! And *hugs* to a very hug-deserving, tired mommy :)

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