Thursday, February 20, 2014

Khubz - Arabic bread (خبز‎)

one of the biggest joys of travelling in the Middle East is bread. I can easily track down the nearest bakery, usually a small shack with a clay oven, by the tantalising aroma of khubz wafting through the air. 

I prefer to pronounce خبز‎ the Damascene way, khybyz, that's how I learnt the word in the first place. It invariably invites approving smiles: the accent of Damascus is widely considered the "coolest"in the Arab world.

As far as I understood, the dough for khubz is as plain and simple as it is for Mozambican paõ: just flour, water and salt kneaded to perfection. "All the taste is in the hands."

It only costs one dirham a piece in the UAE so it can make a few side dishes - hommous, some stew and a handful of veggies - go a long way on the cheap.

It is best enjoyed piping hot, while the taste is as good as the smell and it's good enough to eat plain like good French baguette. Once cold, however, the magic goes like Cinderella's ball outfit and reheating only makes it dry and brittle.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Eating seafood in Abu Dhabi's Al Mina market

fter a hands-on and rather nerve-wrecking initiation in Mozambique, I felt ready to try my hand at having a seafood dinner cooked for me in Abu Dhabi's Al Mina market. The procedure is simple: you buy whatever you fancy in the market and have it cooked in the adjacent kitchen. Things are, however, complicated by the complete absence of price tags in the market. Looking distinctly foreign too does not exactly inspire the sellers to make you good offers. 

After a brief wander among the stalls, I opted to go the easy way: go to a restaurant nearby, right on the pier. The formica interior and fluorescent lighting of Al Sayyad did not put me off in the least. I know that designer ambience does not necessarily guarantee a marvelous culinary experience. This time, it did turn out just that: two freshly caught hammour and half a kilo prawn lightly brushed with olive oil and a bit of chili paste and grilled on charcoals. Generous portions of biryani rice and sumac-sprinkled raw veggies to go with. Not exactly dirt-cheap at 155 dirhams for two, but well worth the money spent.

The next day the courage summoned to brave the uncertainty of buying from the market was rewarded.  Unlike Maputo's deafening madness, in Abu Dhabi's seafood kitchen you know beforehand exactly how much you are paying for cooking. No one jumps on your back trying to lure you to their stall.

Well, the ballpark anyway, as the price list is Arabic only. The shop is enjoying a very brisk trade with an ever-present  swarm of customers hovering in anticipation of their fare char-grilled and packed in styrofoam boxes ready to take away. Despite the evident lack of that time-honoured British institution of orderly queuing, it all somehow works out in a seemingly chaotic, yet rather efficient manner. You never know when your turn is going to come up, but the wait is not really that long. A five-minute drive to the hotel later, a couple of nicely chilled near-beers and the backdrop of Abu Dhabi's night lights help our takeaway into a swish seafood dinner. Yes, and we bought the sides, tabbouleh and patata harra, in our favourite Lulu's.

Camel yoghurt

Just when you thought you've seen it all, there you go: rose-flavoured camel yoghurt.