A Chicken Tagine that simmers deep within Hor Al Anz.

I’ve made four trips to Hor Al Anz since I moved back last year:

Trip #1: Single minded purpose to hunt out Al Ammor for koshari and feteer. Hor Al Anz was a maze – I don’t remember any of the streets, or even how we eventually landed up on the doorstep of Al Ammor. But that mad hunt was SO worth it. Almost inspired me to author a book: Koshari for the Konflicted Soul.

Trip #2: Not food-related at all. Tagged along with Sheban [remember that B&W photographer genius I’d been outrageously jealous of a few months ago? I’m not jealous anymore – I just couldn’t be. One doesn’t compare local satellite TV to Hollywood. And guess who’s the local satellite channel in this metaphor?] who had to run an errand in the area. As I sat around waiting in the car for him to get back, I gazed out of the window. My eyes landed on a string of ethnic, hole-in-the-wall joints. Hmmm…intriguing.

Trip #3: Once again with Sheban, in search of a place called Phili cafe for afternoon chai after we’d noshed on truckloads of sugar at Bakefest. We never found it, but winding through the roads, I suddenly realized the sheer number of ethnic places. Yemeni. Ethiopian. Lebanese. Egyptian. Iranian. Iraqi. Moroccan.

We never found Phili cafe and left chailess…but with three words reverberating in my head. Must. Come. Back.

Trip #4: Dragged Sheban to drive me back there to EAT.

In places like Hor Al Anz that are teeming with scores and scores of unassuming little eateries, I regress into a child at an amusement park. That hyperactive child who starts bouncing about and suffers temporary A.D.D. because it can’t figure out whether to go on the rollercoasterorthesupermanslideorhauntedcastleorcandyflossIwantmammanownowNOW!

We trekked down the one main road of stores and restaurants, road 13b, and peeped into all the little alleyways that stealthily branched off to give homes to more tiny stores and restaurants…it was like one big maze of awesomeness just waiting to be eaten. The place we finally settled on (thanks to this schmanzy restaurant finder application that Sheban had on his fancypants smartphone) was this one right here:

Wajda Morrocain Restaurant.

It had all the markings that an authentic ethnic cheap eat should have…tiny, barely conspicuous façade, location on some tiny street behind the main Hor Al Anz strip [there’s a map on the menu – but it’s in Arabic – I’m working on the translation for ya.], a kitchen that was 40% the size of my tiny New York-sized studio apartment [tah-hiiinnnny], a traditional four-burner gas stove, and an elderly lady in her abaya, with her one hand stirring the pot on the stove, and her other hand clutching her handbag because this was her final stir before she headed out for the night, leaving everything in the trusty hands of her son? grandson? nephew? who knows…but the kitchen had been left in the hands of this 20-some year old boy with a popped collar, a hands-free plugged into one ear, and a mouth that occasionally spewed out irritated curses every time his eyes flitted to the man speaking on the little TV screen above our heads.

Seconds after we’d snagged one of the three tables in the little dining space facing the kitchen, a pretty lady, maybe in her early 30’s – also part of the Wajda family perhaps? – walked up to our table and kindly offered to help us order in English before she left. This is what she helped us settle on:

Zaalouk. A dip made of tomatoes and cooked eggplant whose smokiness and intense tomatoey flavor I could imagine even though I’d never tasted it before…I just knew it would be amazing.

…why is something with tomatoes and eggplant green you ask? Because popped-collar boy manning the kitchen had one ear clogged with his hands-free…so our Zaalouk order conveniently morphed into a Bakoula one instead – something that tasted of boiled mashed spinach leaves (which on googling, I’ve learned are actually mallow leaves.), a twinge of lemon, and a generous sprinkling of disappointment because really, all I wanted was tomato pulpiness in my mouth. The saving grace was this fresh crusty Morrocain khobz that they were pulling right out of their ovens.

Perfect ratio of Fluff : Crunch.

The outsides of the khobz had been strategically dusted with semolina grains, leaving grainy baby granules studded on the crust to crunch up under a fierce blasting of oven heat. The insides were full of white pillowy fluff, perfect for sponging up dips and gravies and sauces and the chickeny juices from this super traditional lemon and olives chicken tagine

I love tagines. And Wajda Moroccain has a crazy nine types of tagine – including a sardine kofta one and a beef tagine camoon* that I’ve got to go back and try.
*someone tell me what camoon is, please? Google has deserted me on this one.

The tagines I’ve had in the past have usually been slightly sweet, slow-cooked meats with prunes and apricots and nuts and soft simmering spices that seep deep into the meaty smithereens. The key is to morph the meat into butter, by braising it in the traditional conical earthenware. And true to tradition, the chicken in Wajda’s tagine had broken down into tender bunches of flesh – no harsh forks and knifes needed, just a simple tug is all it took for the plump leg to glide off the thigh.

Now don’t expect there to be a whole lot of flavour within the white insides of the chicken – it all sort of streams out and accumulates into a pool of comforting chickeny broth on the bed of the tagine. SO, if you want the full flavourful experience, take my very profound eating suggestions and:  (a) reintegrate the elements, the chicken and the broth, ideally with a nice hefty swab of khobz, before you plant it in your mouth, (b) dunk crispy fries into more lemony chicken broth, (c) alternate bites of chicken bits encased in brothy khobz with bites of brothy fries, and (d) sigh.

Thanks to Sheban, who demanded that real meat (aka. sausages or kababs) be bought to the table, we called for a plate of Moroccon merguez. Maybe traditional merguez is an acquired taste…that, or the chicken tagine had already closed my tummy for business, because these just didn’t wow me. For all the obnoxious orange popsicle stains these sausages left all over my hand and mouth (and as dribble if you squirt a sausage down your shirt. which of course, I did.), they actually didn’t taste of much. Unless I sprinkled them with tons of salt and used them as edible logs of salty granules just so I could eat…salt. (If it weren’t obvious already, I love salt.)

And that’s it. We got a grand total of three dishes, doing a terrible injustice to a menu that included muffin-like semolina Harcha, paratha-like Melaui, pancake-like Beghrir and Reefa [no, I didn’t know any Moroccan bread jargon till I read it on the menu. And yes, I googled it. Moroccanfood.about.com is a godsend.], pastry-encased chicken pastille, sweet couscous, and this calamari sandwich that I stupidly spotted on the paper menu pamphlet only now, while writing this post. To our credit, they had run out of chicken pastille, and we were also saving space for this tiny chai joint and a knafeh place that we’d spotted on our walk over to this restaurant. I promise to serve you crisp-creamy knafeh in my next post.

With our limited ordering, I’d probably have to go back and eat my way through more of the menu before I decide whether this restaurant’s a keeper. And returning to Hor Al Anz is actually a very heartwarming thought. The entire area is like an overlooked oilfield, and I’m waiting on one toe to rope in more explorers who’d be willing to plonk themselves down at a rickety wooden table and try some ethnic grub with me.

I’m telling you people, Hor Al Anz is my new Karama.

Wajda Morrocain Restaurant
Phone: +971 (4) 2666 4772 / (50) 2177065
I’m a space cadet when it comes to directions, but I spent a crapload of time on google maps figuring out the location for ya.

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.

24 thoughts on “A Chicken Tagine that simmers deep within Hor Al Anz.

  1. Sally says:

    But where IS Hor Al Anz?! Ah ha – clicking the map link now.

  2. Devina Divecha says:

    Not related to the post exactly, but I know where two Filli cafes are located if you ever need directions.

    And that bread does look good.

  3. Kulsum says:

    Arva – man I want to move to Dubai, just so that I could go around trying all those cheap eat outs places with you. Not that we dont have ridiculously good and delicious ones in Kuwait, but I want a companion like you who would be adventurous enough to pleased to be with me on my outrageous eat out destinations. For now, husband it is.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sally – I’m so proud of that map. Darn thing took me forever to figure out, but now we all know how to get there. YAY FOR GOOGLE, WE’D BE LOST WITHOUT IT…literally.

      @Sarah the hedonista – I wonder if we’d all even fit in there, but such a brilliant idea…we could order ALL nine tagines and do a tasting. Though I think their kitchen would explode with the sheer volume of our order.

      @Devina Divecha – Ah…did I spell it wrong? Is it the one listed on this site.. .http://fillitea.com/ ? Maybe the Al Mamzar Corniche location? Are they any good? I will stop asking questions now.

      @Kulsum – aww sweetie. Husbands can be made to obey no? Don’t tantrums or pouty lips work? Tell me they do…I thought I had my marital strategy all worked out. Darn it.

  4. Minna says:

    Hor Al Anz…first I thought is it some kind of arabic Hors d’oeuvre…
    I have been there several times, because my favorite bakery is there for fatayers, called Al Moukhtar Bakery on Al Ittihad Road. I just did not realized place is called Hor Al Anz-East, for me no it’s in another country if you look at it from “new Dubai” dierction. If only I have foodie friend with open mind I would do the same as you explore those places, at least I have yr stories…Thank YOU, if you evva need a friend to join I am here.

  5. Devina Divecha says:

    Had no idea they even had a website :-o Probably the same…
    I just know of one Filly Café at the Mamzar Corniche, then there’s a smaller outlet (that I know of) in Abu Hail area. But I have always gone to the one at Mamzar…roll my windows down (resisting the urge to say "like a bawss") and order ONE FILLY CHAI and get it super hot and awesome. Loads of fancy cars and police cars sometimes all wanting the Filly chai. How have you not had it yet? :P

  6. Arwa says:

    Arva, fili is right across the street from our house!

    I like how you try different restaurants all over Dubai! That’s great!

  7. Saleem says:

    Don’t fancy being as adventerous as you could be – well written, get tempted to try, not sure if my tummy will hold up to all that

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Minna – haha….hors d’oeuvre?! We didn’t see Al Moukhtar Bakery, but I have just stolen the name for my must-eat’s list. How about we both visit this other country together and have baked yummies at Al Moukhtar…you up for that? :)

      @Devina Divecha – Sweet, sounds just like my kinda place! I was born being able to say ’ek chai laa bawwws’ before I could say ’mamma…dood?’ The tragedy of not having visited Filly yet to be rectified soon. Stay tuned…bawws. ;)

      @Arwa – no way, wow, the mention of Fili has got more reactions than my poor Moroccan place! Gonna try it, and I will let you know when so you can join if you’re free…?

      @Saleem – oh daddy, I get the explorer gene from you I’m sure. I think you’re tummy could absolutely hold up to this food, it feels like home-cooked, nothing too greasy or wild, just simple and honest braised chicken and bread :)

  8. Saurabh Ail says:

    I know of two Filli Cafe…the first one in Mamzar and the second that opened in Mankhool. That’s another good place for Zaafran chaai. Will make a visit to Wajda soonest. Well written again. Cheers.

  9. Anita Menon says:

    You really make all the food look star quality. I would be very hesitant entering such restaurants fearing a stomach bug. But from your adventures I feel, it is only a silly notion. I need to really unleash the foodie inside me and ravage those little eateries in Bahrain.If I do manage something to that effect, all credit to you.

  10. Nash at Plateful says:

    Oh man, you have done it again–another gorgeous post with brilliant writing and drool-worth pics. Seriously, you have to either move to Doha and teach me how to do this, or I should consider relocating to Dubai. Whatever!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Saurabh Ail – …and another Fili cafe loyalist! You do that boy, you try Wajda, and I try Fili…before someone files a "Why you no have Fili’ lawsuit against me.

      @Anita Menon – Small restaurants are the way to go! I mean, there’s no guarantee you won’t fall sick in a five star…in fact people have, many a times. Rather than going on a rampage across all the tiny places in Bahrain, you should probably do it in baby steps…start with the more mid-sized cheap ones before going to the total hole-in-the-wall joints. That’ll buy your tummy some time to steel up a bit :) BUT, I have never fallen sick eating at one of these tiny places in Dubai…in India yes, for sure, but not yet in Dubai (fingers crossed!).
      My only words of advice: There’s a fine line between intriguing…and downright shady. Come to Dubai and I will show you the difference ;)

      @Nash at Plateful – Aw thank you Nash! RelocatetoDubairelocatetoDubairelocatetoDubairelocatetoDubairelocatetoDubai…oh, and did I tell ya, relocate to Dubai? ;)

  11. Drina C@EaternalZest says:

    hole in the wall joints is the way to go.. love em!! the last time i went to one of those it was in calcutta.. went to a friends wedding and my friend dragged me out to my first ever dhabba the night before… OH MY GOD!
    nice post arva :)

  12. Ameena says:

    I too love tagines and the next time I’m in Dubai I will have to try this place! It looks divine!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Drina C@EternalZest – Amen to dhabbas. Nothing like a roadside family run joint…hot, home-cooked, super fresh food…no frills, just straight up great food that tells you tons about the flavors tied to the village or district you’re driving through. Makes me think of piping hot crispy onion pakodas and thick lassi. YUM^infinity.

      @Nash at Plateful – always here to entertain ya with my tummy tales! ;)

      @Ameena – Hi again :) yep, now there’s the East African restaurant AND this Moroccan one…and so many more…come back to Dubai with your list of eats and an empty tum, you shall be well-fed!

  13. dina.murali says:

    Awww.. Arva.. Im salivating sitting miles away from Dubai!!! Sounds like so much fun!!! The whole writeup is super dramatic!! Loved it! Must go there soon, Havent eaten anywhere at hor al anz.. and lovely MORROCAIN food sounds delicious! :) Love these signboards….

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @dina.murali – ping me when you’re back, there’s tons on that menu I still need to try! ;)

  14. fatma says:

    *someone tell me what camoon is, please? Google has deserted me on this one.

    Camoon is cumin


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