Tag Archives: Dubai

Chāt It Up!

Chat. Or Chāt. This simple, 4 letter word, finds a huge resonance in the lives of most South Asians. The first usage would be in English and the second would be in Hindi (or Urdu). Truth is, no Indian or Pakistani, can ever survive without either.

The CHAAT of good times
The CHAAT of good times

This is no occasion to discuss the English meaning, so we steer over to the vernacular connotations of ‘chāt’. Chāt is a culture. It is about the times when people are out, no matter what the barometer reads, to stuff their faces with their favourite chāt. A good chāt goes a long way in cementing relationships, finding new love, downing after-office hunger pangs and getting over boredom. A chāt centre is also a study of brand building – be it in the way the cart owner greets new customers or by giving a little something extra to repeat customers. Remember, your local chāt-waley bhaiyya? You might not remember his name, but you still remember him as chāt-waley bhaiyya! That is branding and recall!

A good chāt can define a person, shop, locality, and city even. If you don’t believe me, as any Indori about their chāt locality called ‘Chhappan’ and brace up to not talk for the next 20 minutes because you are salivating like Garfield in front of canned tuna.

The humble chāt is a tasty mix of flavours and spices, hot and cold textures, sweet and savoury and has many, shall we say, variations to it. A chāt menu can be very exhaustive and more challenging than an agency copy test. For those that know, salivate thinking of aloo tikka chat, papdi chaat, dahi bhalla, gol gappey, sev puri, bhel puri, jhaal moori! It’s just scratching the top, really. In fact nobody has considered it seriously but there is a chāt critic in all South Asians. We are the same commentators who feel that Sachin Tendulkar should have hit the ball a little to the off-side; and the tamarind chutney in the chāt is not tangy enough.

The experience of eating chāt starts long before a loaded plate is handed over. It begins with the customer peering over to see all the ingredients laid out, in invitation. Sorry Subway, move over; we’ve been at it since Adam’s. Then it is the magic of the person who loads up goodies on the plate and sprinkles different masalas with more aplomb than Emiril. Bam! Swirl on some spicy, tangy chutney, throw on some ginger juliennes and there you have it – the perfect plate of chāt.

That modest chāt assumes different hues of taste and flavour as one travels across the length and breadth of India. Newer items get added to the family of chat. Sometimes, popular chāt items get known in 3 or 4 different names. Of course there are epicurean critics who can theorise the difference in anatomy of a Bengali ‘phuchka’ to that of a Punjabi ‘gol-gappe’ over its Western poor cousin ‘pani puri’. So you see, getting together a plate of chāt right, is perhaps, tougher than pleasing Gordon Ramsey. Should you find anybody who can make the perfect chāt, marry the person!

One of the first things I was looking for when I landed in Dubai was a good chāt. My search took long with many trials, re-trials and tribulations. I am listing down the top 5 places where you can get a good chāt.

My recommendations are:

  1. Elco Chat Center in Karama for Pani Puri. Bengali’s might want to drive till the border of Sharjah for some ‘Phuchka’ at Calcutta Fast Food.
  2. Chatori Galli for some North Indian style treats like Papdi Chaat, Raj Kachodi and Jalebi Chaat.
  3. Urban Tadka (Karama / Discovery Gardens) for Bhel Puri, Sev Puri, Ragda Pattice and Pani Puri with Ragda.
  4. Puranmal for Vada Pao, Aloo Bonda.
  5. Bombay Chowpatty for Samosa Chaat, Dahi Bade, Papdi Chaat.

Now, if the desi in you is doing a jig because you are yearning that sunshine back home with street feasts and unending hours of fun while hot cups of ‘chai’ keep arriving along with piping hot samosas and vada paos, then, this is news for you.

The first-ever Masala Food Fair is here. 2 days of desi picnics, street-eats, and restaurant favourites, celebrity-sighting (Raveena Tandon promises to show up – wipe that gravy) and live cooking demo by celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor! Save the dates – 20th and 21st of February at Zabeel Park, Dubai. Log on to masala.com/foodfair for more or look up #MasalaFoodFair on Twitter.

You will probably spot me there with a spoon in hand. See you there!

PS: my auto correct has resigned. It couldn’t agree with all the desi street eats thrown in here!

Also featured on Masala Magazine Online: http://www.masala.com/masala-food-fair-special-5-places-in-dubai-that-serve-best-chats-188871.html

 

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Killer Broccoli at Grand Hyatt

There is something mysterious about the broccoli. The effect  begins with its spelling. It sounds like new villain in town! It could sound like a new Italian music composer! Some may build a connection with secret agent 007! But there is a connection that IZ, the authentic tandoori restaurant in Grand Hyatt, has established and an irrefutably delicious connection at that! And that is their signature dish – grilled broccoli!

IZ is perhaps Grand Hyatt, Garhoud, Dubai’s best kept secret. They serve the most delectable north Indian fare without the sensational fanfare that other restaurants deploy. I love the setting – partially inside, surrounded in dark woody hues and outside seating beside a roaring fountain. Why I say ‘best kept secret’ is because of its location. You could miss it, unless you can smell the ‘tandoori’ air just around it.

So, sitting down for a lunch meeting at IZ, was a very happy and special moment. Conversations alternated between food to business. The very pleasant PR Manager Leenu graciously hosted me and my colleague as we sat to discuss the imminent launch of IZ Brunch. And of all things included, she presented me with a plate of grilled broccoli.

Killer Broccoli at IZ, Grand Hyatt
Killer Broccoli at IZ, Grand Hyatt

I brandished my fork and knife and dumped 2 florets on my plate. I know broccoli. I know how they taste. I use them myself, regularly. I cut down a decent part of the floret and popped it in my mouth. And after that, my vocabulary got drastically changed. So did our conversation!

I havent tasted broccoli that sensational! Perfectly cooked. Tender yet crunchy. And from deep within, came a buttery taste that complimented the florets so beautifully. Broccoli overtook the table. Broccoli beat the chicken and salmon. Shamelessly, I pulled in the last floret on the plate, lest it gets taken away by the smiling and efficient IZ staff. I requested Leenu to call the chef over. Chef Aftab is a very humble man. I conveyed that if anybody can make broccoli taste this sensational, then that person must be a very capable chef! I have also managed to convince them to teach me how to grill broccoli to perfection and part with the recipe. And I will not be able to share it on this blog.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Order the grilled broccoli. You will learn to love your green veggies.
  • Order the grilled broccoli. You will revel in the taste.
  • Order the grilled broccoli. They are on the brunch menu. Yayy!
  • Order the grilled broccoli. They can only be beaten by their signature mushrooms.
  • Order the grilled broccoli. I strongly recommend  it.

PS: I am negotiating with Grand staff and Leenu to rename the broccoli as Killer Brocs! I am putting my weight to that!

Brunch at IZ the tandoori restaurant at Grand Hyatt launches early May 2014. Watch this space for more.

Add That Coffee

Dubai is the place for fashionable brunches. If you do not like ‘fashionable’, then read the first sentence again without the adjective. The idea remains that breakfast is an option that is as expansive as fast food chains here.

There are breakfast options for all kinds of hunger. The kinds where you can walk-in in your floaters and not be judged to places where Dior or Chanel maybe the calling of the day. And there is a global menu to suit most palettes. From ‘desi’ Indian or Pakistani to Continental to Oriental even. Even the unpretentious omelette served in a roadside shack gains VIP status with myriad stuffing, and served with fancy tableware. I have also been with people who do not bother about what bread they eat but will ask for multi-cereal in upmarket breakfast joints.

I do enjoy this broadband of breakfast options. Shacks, to roadside eateries, to queuing up at Ikea, to a relaxed Safa Park break to fancy Citywalk names to the uber posh nosh at 5 stars! I have but one request! This is for those places that serve great breakfast but do not include the coffee. Please understand that the humble bread and egg and everything else that is used with tongue-twisting names leaves enough mark-up for you to brew me some good, strong coffee. So, keep as much as you want for your cash registers, just include the coffee with the breakfast. See, it is like buying a mobile phone that also has a transfer cable with the charger. You’d hate it if you had to buy them separately.

Hope you get the drift Mo’s, Citywalk. If not, you need a stronger (caffeine) kick!

Ode to the Humble Kathi Roll

Most South Asians, especially from the sub-continent, will know the pleasure of sinking their teeth into a hot and juicy ‘kathi’ roll! It is a unique preparation that is something in the middle of a starter and main course. And while on the subject, this needs to stated that the best ‘kathi’ rolls are the ones that are made by the street-side vendors.

Let me into the simplicity of this humble ‘kathi’ roll. A toasted flatbread is the base. No inter-continental cousins like burritos can substitute the flatbread. In India and Pakistan, it is called ‘parantha’. So, while the flatbread is being toasted, an egg is beaten well with some salt and chilly. A splash of oil, throw in the egg emulsion and as soon as you see the egg firming up like an omelette, place the flatbread on the semi-liquid egg. Flip it over, a couple of times and take it off the heat. Chopped onions, salt, pepper, squeeze of lemon and chilly sauce rolled into the egg ‘kathi’ roll. That, my friend, is the quintessential ‘kathi’ roll.

Varieties are also available. Egg. Mutton. Chicken. Egg Mutton. Egg Chicken. Double Egg. Double Egg Chicken. Double Egg Mutton. Here, take the tissue and wipe that drool off. Oh, I haven’t mentioned any vegetarian options as they just simply don’t qualify as a ‘kathi’roll. Apologies, veggies.

I have seen enough of those being made. I can visually tell if a certain roll will be carry the right DNA of a Calcutta ‘kathi’ roll. I have tasted some delectable rolls on the roadsides of Kolkata and Delhi. I know the imposters as well. They never will see me as a repeat customer.

My search for that delicious ‘kathi’ roll took me to Shiraz Golden Restaurant. The name can be a little misleading – it has nothing to do with the Iranian city, or wine. Shiraz in Bur Dubai serves Awadhi food – food that was native to the royal kitchens of the Nawabs of Awadh or Oudh during the British Raj in India, specially during the life and times of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.  Well, the man certainly had good taste in food. No wonder that those recipes are now a hand-me-down reality for food buffs like me. Shiraz originally opened up in Calcutta, India’s gourmet capital. This is their second and first international outlet.

I need to clarify, that I work on a simple principle when it comes to food. If the simple can me made in a lip-smacking way then the exotic dishes are worthy of a try. And a Kolkata food joint needs to be taste-tested by asking for the ‘kathi’ roll.

As I hungrily tore off the tissue, I could tell that this ‘kathi’ certainly was rich with promise. The first bite in it certified that it was a thorough-bred ‘kathi’ roll. Ah! The pleasure of the crumbly exterior that holds a fluffy egg; wafting with the smell of the green chilly and chilly sauce.

Shiraz certainly passed the ‘kathi’ roll test. And now, for over a year, I have been a regular and a loyal customer; using it as a venue to catch up with friends. And whatever be ordered from the menu – be it the Awadhi biryani, or chicken chaap or the mutton rezala, it all starts with the ‘kathi’ roll!

5 burps on the Burp-o-meter!

MSG for MSG

It is a known fact that maybe all; correction, most Chinese restaurants use mono-sodium glutamate in their preparations. A lot has been vociferously voiced about MSG being unsafe for human consumption, specially for children. Food and health bodies claim that MSG consumed at ‘customary’ levels, is safe. Popular belief went otherwise. MSG continued to be in the centre of culinary controversy and in Chinese recipes. Some scientific groups found no connection with various symptoms and MSG while others believed it to be a PR coup by Ajinomoto, the company that marketed MSG; a name that did what Xerox did to cyclostyling.

A particular restaurant in the UAE markets their Chinese food as MSG-free. Other restaurants use it without naming credits, as it were. On one occasion, one restaurant owner asked his chef not to mention that they use MSG before a commercial shot that I was directing. So, probably representing the common-man’s stand I understand that MSG could be avoided.

Add to this never-ending controversy, doctors forbidding consumption of MSG for pregnant women. So, women are asked to avoid Chinese food during pregnancy but considering the myriad urges et al, I gather that Chinese food without MSG would be a possible option.

Now what turns funny is how most Chinese restaurants in Dubai react when you ask them for Chinese food without any MSG in it. Some stammer on the phone like a child lying to their parents! Most keep a stoic silence, as if they had never heard of anything called MSG!

How about a simple acknowledgement that the MSG has been understood?