It’s so easy to live a life of decadent dining in Dubai, but what about uncovering all the teeny ethnic eats and unsung heroes hidden away in this town’s older neighbourhoods? Well that’s exactly what fellow food blogger Arva Ahmed brings us with Frying Pan Adventures and her four hour walking food tours of three pockets of Dubai, each with its own foodie heritage. Choose from Arabian Deira, Indian Meena Bazaar or North African Hor Al Anz.
Given my recent fascination with tagines and an upcoming trip to Morocco, I opt for the latter in a area on the outskirts of Sharjah completely unbeknown to me. Over the course of our food safari we taste treats from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia. Arva, who having grown up in this city, has eaten her way through these districts and therefore only includes the eateries and street joints whose food she believes truly excels.
Starting our journey with Egypt, we devour piping hot fava bean falafels (otherwise known as tamiyah in Egypt) dipped in tahina – and koshari, my all-time favourite Egyptian dish and why I used to look forward to my Cairo travels. Originating as a street-food snack, it’s brimming with piping hot rice, lentils, macaroni and topped with fried onions and a fiery tomato sauce – pure soul food.
Meandering onto Tunisia, we dig into the highlight of the evening for moi, a crisp deep-fried brik pastry stuffed with tuna and oozing with egg. So moreishly marvelous, it would make a wonderful weekend breakfast treat, especially to alleviate sore heads.
Morocco beckons at a teeny joint that can only squeeze in two tables. First up after a visit into the kitchen, is a sweet-savoury bastilla pie, as an appetiser bizzarely, from the city of Fez. The crisp tissue-thin pastry envelops shredded chicken and almonds with a sprinkling of icing sugar and cinnamon. The marriage of such intense sweet flavours with savoury is always a tricky one, and personally not my cup of tea – but you may love it. All-savoury versions are also available. Our main course of a kofta meatball and egg tagine, basically a slow-cooked stew served in earthenware dishes with conical lids arrives, but it’s simmering in a little too much oil for my liking. Sadly doesn’t hold a candle to Momo’s but remember you’re here to soak up not just food but the buzz of this hidden spot.
A few sweet nibbles thrown in along the way, along with a stop to buy my much sought-after preserved lemons, and it’s time for Ethiopia with its national dish, doro watt – a rich and tangy chicken and egg stew with onions, berbere spices and niter kebbeh (a garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and clove butter) scooped up with fermented injera flatbread. Certainly an acquired taste, but an experience in itself.
The tour concludes with a return to Egypt and a dessert of feteer meshaltet – a layered pastry tossed, stuffed with Kraft cheese (yes you read right), folded over, baked in a wood-fired oven and sprinkled with sugar. Voila Egyptian pizza! Worth watching for the dough tossing alone.
Bubbly Arva who personally guides every tour, brings her encyclopaedic knowledge of food to every single dish and ingredient, so not only do you walk away with a bursting tummy, but a head overflowing with historical foodie facts.
Frying Pan Adventures offers four hour walking tours for AED 350 including mini bus transfers from Mall of the Emirates, all food and water, booklet with descriptions of the dishes, wet wipes, a little gift and even a certificate. Customised tours also available.
Do you have a favourite ethnic dish or street food?
P.S – an abridged version of this post is published in the March issue of Gourmet magazine.