Dubai Food, Glorious Food, Memories, Outdoors

Savouring Arabic sweets at Al Samadi

“Two overjoyed kids in a candy store!” that’s what we transformed into as we pushed open the glass door of Al Samadi sweet shop in Deira. Surrounded by trays full of sweet treats in all hues, oozing appetizing aromas, it was overwhelming to make an appropriate choice to begin our sugary adventure. So, we hopped from one end of the store to the other, curiously absorbing each colourful detail of the Middle eastern delicacies on display, asking the patient Filipina shop attendant for their names, toppings and ingredients. This conversation opened a window to the several unique Arabic desserts I had never heard of, let alone tasted.

Now here I have to confess that I have never been a big fan of baklava and kunafa, the most common Arabic desserts laid out in iftar meals and in Middle eastern restaurant menus. But I have enjoyed eating milk based puddings — Umm Ali and Mahalabia. That is why we started our culinary trip at Al Samadi — with the familiar bowl of Mahalabia — only this one was covered generously with sliced pistachios, slivers of almonds, topped with cream and cherry and looked more like the pastry version of Mahalabia.

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Creamy and crunchy, we savoured each spoonful of the milk dessert made by boiling corn starch mixed with flavoured milk. Interestingly the dessert gets its name from a seventh century Arab general called Al Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra . The general was served the milk pudding by his Persian cook and he liked it so much that he named it after himself. It is today a popular dessert in all the Middle Eastern countries. My first memory of eating Mahalabia was in a street shop in Cairo, a much simpler version topped only with powdered cardamom and pistachios.

The bowl of Mahalabia was accompanied by a cream filled Ghraybeh. These melt in the mouth Middle eastern butter cookies are a staple all year around, but at Al Samadi, the shortbread came with a rich filling of cream, making it a mix of crumbly and sweet squishy when eaten. Well-known in the middle east Ghraybeh has a string of variant pronunciations and diverse ingredients — in Iran it is called qurabiye and is made with almond flour, sugar, egg whites, margarine and pistachios. In Morocco it is made with semolina and goes by the name Ghoriba. It is also an equally popular tea time snack and dessert in Syria, Palestine, Turkey and Greece. This Lebanese version was filled with cream, unique to the country called kashta or ashta. Made by boiling milk with a tinge of rose or orange blossom, kashta is a local delicacy and used as a filling for many other desserts. At al Samadi most of the sweets, specially made for Ramadan, were filled with kashta.

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Here they look appetizing as toppings on kunafas and inside qatayefs (the d-shaped folded desserts in the picture). Qatayefs, I discovered, are specially made during Ramadan in many Arab countries. They can have various fillings — including unsalted cheese or an assortment of nuts, are usually fried and coated with sugar syrup or drizzled with powdered sugar.

The kunafa, of course, is more well-known and comes in several shapes and colours. A historic sweet delicacy from the Levant region it is made with  phyllo pastry dough and also with semolina. Layered with cheese, cream and nuts kunafas are soaked in sugar syrup. At Al Samadi there were trays full of kunafas, pictured above is the popular bird’s nest (also called osh al bulbul) kunafa filled with ashta and topped with nuts. For this a stringy version of the kunafa dough is used. And for that bright orange colour confectioners add food dye in the kunafas.

In this sweet paradise the most delicious of all desserts turned out to be the mafruka.

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Very similar to the kunafa the mafruka is a Lebanese dessert made with crushed pistachio dough, clotted cream and semolina. It was buttery soft, moist and heavenly.

A visit to an arabic sweet shop is incomplete without tasting the baklava. So iconic is the baklava to the Middle East that its origin and invention is widely debated and claimed by several nations in the region.

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The crunchy sweet treat is made by layering phyllo pastry dough and chopped nuts, drenched in a sticky sugar syrup. It is typically prepared in large trays and then sliced into different shapes. For the baklava lover Al Samadi has quite a wide range — one of their most popular is the bukaj baklava — it looks like a purse or a parcel (bukaj in Arabic) and is stuffed with pistachios, pine nuts or cashews. The Borma baklava is cylindrical in shape and is made with stringy kunafa dough and nuts. Cashews crushed inside phyllo dough shaped as fingers are called Asabi and chopped pistachios sandwiched between layers of kunafa dough become Basma.

There is quite a staggering variety of Arabic desserts at Al Samadi. There is enough to try one sweet every day of the month, spoken like a true dessert fan. Originally established in Lebanon in 1872 the store today has branches in Ukraine, UK and in the UAE. We hope to come back soon for more luscious times.

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Dubai Food, Glorious Food

Our Culinary Adventures: Emirati, Mexican & Greek

The year started with us trying out various international cuisines. On the first day of 2016 itself we found a fabulous Greek restaurant Elia in our own neighbourhood. Located in The Majestic Hotel in Bur Dubai Elia offers a tranquil Greek inspired setting with dim lights, white furniture and striped blue table-clothes. For starters we ordered Tzatziki — a dip made of garlic, dill and yogurt that was accompanied with a variety of breads. It was followed by the Greek salad, French fries, the Mousaka and the grilled chicken thigh with pasta. Each dish was delicious. We particularly enjoyed the Tzatziki dip and the Greek Salad peppered with custom made olives that we were told are available for sale at the restaurant. The Mousaka reminded me of the time we had our first Mousaka at a tavern in Cyprus.
Unfortunately I don’t have a pic of what we ate. But Elia totally lives up to the traditional authentic food genre. No wonder it has won the 2013, 2014 and 2015 Time Out Dubai Restaurant Award in the category of Best European Restaurant in the fine dining category.

A few days later to celebrate a birthday we went to Mexican joint Maria Bonita Taco Shop and Mexican Grill in Jumeirah. This kitschy colour loaded restaurant has two parrots, lots of large Mexican hats for guests to try and a shop selling Mexican goodies. A Nepali waiter we got chatty with helped us order, and we ended up with plates of enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas, nuggets and fries for the kids. There were, of course, lots of nachos with spicy sauces that came as starters and a tangy Mexican cola as drinks. The quesadillas is like a stuffed pizza and was amazing. The fajitas came with some thin chapattis and a plate of assorted dips and guacamole. Except the enchiladas we enjoyed all the dishes. The service too was super fast.

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Last weekend we went to the vibrant Boxpark and had our dinner at Logma that offers Emirati dishes. The restaurant disappointingly has no traditional decor but has a lot of seating options. A look at the first page of the menu revealed that it would be an ideal place to try breakfast some day. They have several traditional dishes for breakfast such as Baith Tamat (scrambled eggs with tomato, cumin and herbs), Balaleet (sweet vermicelli with saffron omelette), grilled Halloumi and a traditional platter with several options. We opted for just some Khaleeji fries, a Khameer club sandwich and Machboos chicken.
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The Khaleeji fries were truly unique – crisp with lots of tasty seasoning. The Khameer sandwich was filling and yummy, the Machboos chicken, however, that we tried for the first time was a bit bland for our Indian palette.

We hope to continue exploring the wide range of mouth-watering world cuisines on offer in Dubai 🙂

Dubai Food, Dubai Restaurants, Glorious Food

Malai Ghevar

The months of July and August are monsoon months in India — Sawaan ke mahine as we say in Hindi. Besides the romantic weather that these months bring along there are a wide range of sweet and salty delicacies that one can tuck into. Various parts of India have typical rain weather food. One such monsoon dessert that I love to gorge is Ghevar. Prepared especially in this season it has its origins in Rajasthan where it is made during the Teej festival. As luck would have it we live in Karama, the desi haven for all Dubai residents. Last week this large ghevar piece from Bikanervala, Karama, was polished off in minutes by the three of us.
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Bikanervala in Karama sells three varieties of ghevar — plain, malai and kesar. The base of the ghevar is made of flour and milk, then fried in ghee, topped with cream or malai and nuts. Tastes yumm especially when eaten fresh.

Art, Glorious Food, JLT, Memories, Outdoors

Cafe Ceramique

The whole idea of sipping tea while creating your own work of art is so charming that it’s easy to fall for it. At Cafe Ceramique in Town Centre, Jumeirah, you get to choose from a wall full of ceramic pieces and a menu listed with sandwiches, burgers and desserts. You also get a variety of paint brushes and assorted colours to unleash the Picasso in you. After much deliberation we picked a car shaped piggy bank among mugs, tiles and figurines displayed on the shelf.

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Messy fingers and work in progress

The cafe glazes the art work and heats in a kiln. The creation is ready to be picked up in about a week’s time.
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And oh yes, their desserts are delicious too, but the artwork is what everyone heads here for.

Glorious Food, JLT, Memories, Travel fun

Cafe Aroma

Enroute the churches on Oud Metha Road is the leafy Cafe Aroma. We have been here a couple of times and have always come back feeling refreshed. More than the food it’s the cafe’s ambience that impresses. Formerly called Aroma Garden Cafe like its name suggests it gives visitors the joy of sipping tea amidst a lot of greenery. There are creepers all along the walls of the cafe and around each table are several pots of assorted indoor plants. As the cafe also serves shisha, it has a separate seating area for smokers, at the entrance of which stands a lovely landscaped fountain garden. cafe

We ordered a chicken pizza, a Fattoush salad accompanied with bread and hummous with of course pots of tea

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Sharing some pics of the interiors.

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Glorious Food, JLT, Memories, Outdoors, Travel fun

Abra ride & Spice Souk

A flock of seagulls and dark clouds accompanied us along the abra ride one evening at Dubai creek. A friend was visiting and we were on a customary souk tour. For me an abra ride is always a refreshing experience, one I never get tired of. Most tourists too seem to enjoy boarding the wooden dhow, sharing space with scores of daily travellers and most of all soaking in the sights of old Dubai, that seems so remote as compared to the high rises and glitzy malls they just stepped out of. The cool breeze and the twinkling lights from other dhows added a dash of old world magic to the short boat ride that took us from Bur Dubai to Deira in less than 10 minutes . abra The first souk we visited after alighting from the abra ride was Deira’s spice souk on Baniyas Road. The covered souk has lanes of tiny shops with Iranian traders selling sacks of colourful spices. Yellow hues of turmeric merged with the stark brown cinnamon sticks and dried buds of pink roses vied for our attention along with sacks of fiery red chilies. 20150117_181521 We bought a few spices, among them was a packet of dried lavender that can be fermented to make tea. Beyond the spice souk is the glittering gold souk. Not big fans of gold we still ogled at rows of chunky necklaces and bangles. Back home with stacks of memories and packets of spices, a mud oudh burner and chocolates that looked like little pebbles, the first packet we opened was the lavender tea and we were not disappointed. lavender tea

Glorious Food, Outdoors, Uncategorized

Wafi events

The sun is still scorching hot but September means the winters are not far away, a time when events rain galore in Dubai. The Wafi malls seem to be early birds this year in event promos. At a recent visit I spotted two forthcoming events — Taste of Wafi and Wafi Bazaar. The former is a family food event to be held every Saturday featuring a selection of sweet dishes made from locally produced goods. While tasting the desserts you could also indulge in some retail therapy at the Wafi Bazaar that will showcase over 50 stalls selling an assortment of goods (from handicrafts to accessories). Both events run from Sept 13 to Dec 27th 2014.
These brochures have all the details:

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Glorious Food, JLT, Outdoors

Reem Al Bawadi

We had heard a lot about this Lebanese restaurant chain. The plan was to go to their Dubai Marina outlet but time constraints made us drive to the one in Jumeirah. Being a hot and humid summer night we opted for a table inside the restaurant brushing aside the temptation to sit in the large manicured garden setting outside. The restaurant decor gives the feel of a Middle Eastern tavern complete with Arabic music, upholstery and lights. We ordered grilled vegetables, hummus and fattoush as starters. This was followed by a plate of hot kibbeh and chicken arayes topped with a huge helping of french fries. The food took a little longer to arrive but it was totally worth the wait.
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Glorious Food, Outdoors, Uncategorized

Madhbi @Mandilicious

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Mandi and Madhbi are traditional Arabian rice dishes slow cooked with meat. I have often seen restaurant boards selling Mandi in some parts of Dubai. Although I was always curious to taste it I never got around to doing it until at a weekend outing at Lamcy Plaza’s food court where I saw Mandilicious. Surprised I went to inquire and came back with two hot plates of Madhbi and Mandi. The difference between Mandi and Madhbi I was told was that the chicken in Madhbi is grilled and not baked like its done for Mandi. The rice was soft and flavourful, the chicken succulent and tender. The portions are quite large for one person. Since that visit we have gone back several times for quick takeaways of Mandi. Traditionally mandi was cooked in a hole dug in the desert. It is also eaten with hands on floor seatings. So, Mandilicious does a great job of bringing this conventional cuisine in a fast food setting.
Watch this video to know more about Mandilicious.