To every kind soul who prayed for my friend after reading my plea last week, I cannot thank you enough. It meant the world to me to see wishes flooding in from everywhere. Sadly, life doesn’t always turn out as we’d like. My friend left us last week, for what I pray is a far more peaceful and blessed place than the one she was in. Writing a lighthearted post is contrary to everything I am and should be feeling now, but it also feels therapeutic and comforting to return to something that can momentarily blanket pain with the transient cover of normalcy.
R., I never had the chance to tell you about this hole-in-the-wall joint that I visited in Jordan, but for what it’s worth, I’ll pen the story down anyway. I will never forget how you loved simple and down-to-earth vegetarian food, experimental and fun foodie twists, and places with off-beat character. The place described in this post has all of those ingredients. Here’s to hoping a food-loving angel happens upon this post and whispers to you about a fanatical food blogger who misses you very much.
Are you thinking of starting a restaurant in Dubai? Looking for an interesting culinary concept to invest in? Com’ere and listen up close. Here’s an idea for you. Heck, if I weren’t so lazy, I’d have done it myself.
So this is the idea: Assemble-it-Yourself egg and cheese sandwiches. But not any old egg and cheese sandwiches. I’m talking of the stuff that blows your mind and then, just when you can piece your blown-out mind bits together again,. you lustily stroke your tummy in preparation for a second serving.
Before I dive into the strategy, a special thanks to Raghda Butros from Amman. She revealed Salahuddin’s egg and cheese sandwiches to me through her appearance on Travel Channel.
Here are the steps to this million-happy-tummies idea:
Make your own bread. Let’s not talk about any old white sliced banality, but something with personality. Like these piping hot and crusty ka’ak studded with nutty sesame seeds. You know you've baked success when the ka'ak replies with a reassuring hollow knock when you tap its shell with your knuckles. Have the baker pull out fresh crunchy rolls right in the face of your customers—make them feel the freshness.
Let the customer pick the roll that was destined for him. This is critical. When you let someone pick a roll from a mountain of seemingly homogenous rolls, you are hooking them in to the food. There’s a sense of ownership. A sense of attachment. A sense of loyalty to that scalding hot roll that the diner has just picked and is juggling over to the counter. I know it all sounds very profound, but trust me, it is.
Make Mamma Hen proud by going bonkers with the eggs. Skip the scramble because this is where you have the opportunity to get into the mind-blowing category. Here is a two-part winning strategy: (a) Bake the eggs, (b) under wood chips.
If you think I’ve gone off my rails, then here—PROOF:
Restrict yourself to three condiments. Anything more and you end up having a condiment sandwich, not an egg and cheese sandwich. Pick a spreadable cheese—unprocessed is ideally better, but if making your own cheese might break the bank, cave in to the nearest processed pack of something acceptable. Hunt for Za’atar that is alive with the magical fragrance of a traditional Middle Eastern spice souk. And pound red chillies into a paste that might be sour, bitter, spicy or salty, depending on which taste bud it has crept up to as you’re knee-deep in the munching process. Oh, and salt. So make that four.
If you want to win extra foodie brownie points, gently hint to eager customers that they could try holding the egg in one hand, and a crusty condiment-slathered roll in the other. Alternate bites of each. Optimal enjoyment.
Keep it simple. No seriously, REALLY simple. Ditch the tables and chairs, line up everything on a counter, let people pick their own ingredients and create their own sandwiches—maybe 2 eggs and 3 cheese triangles with a hefty pinch of za’atar and good dousing of chili sauce per crusty bread….or 3 eggs, 2 cheese, spoonful of za’atar and a cursory chilli splash…or whatever the customer makes, because he knows his egg and cheese funda the best. Don’t bother with silverware—the sandwich only needs a pair of greedy hands, not a sterile plate.
Sell cheap, sell more. Price by the number of ingredients used. If someone exceeds AED 5.00 for two medium-stuffed sandwiches, then you’re doing it all wrong. You didn’t keep things simple enough.
If it wasn’t blisteringly obvious already: DON'T LOCATE IN A MALL FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE. (concomitant to that - no licensed location, no poshy signage, and no...no gold dust. let's not bastardize this one, Dubai.)
Seriously, someone needs to recreate this in Dubai. I’d happily give up all the dynamite shrimp in the world for one tiny shop selling this. (Actually, I’d happily give up all the dynamite shrimp in the world. Period.)