A stinging burn snaked up around the edges of my lower lids, mocking me for swapping sleep for work over the past 10 weeks. I lay like a stubborn mule, unwilling to move and whinnying back in defiance at my shrieking alarm clock.
On mornings such as these, I need to pause, turn off my schizophrenic, blinking phone and run away to Karama. Really, you should try it, too. Pull up a chair at a tiny sun-washed South Indian restaurant and say: “Ek vada sambar.” This simple utterance will land one (“ek”) steel plate in front of you with two doughnut-shaped fritters (“vada”) fashioned out of puréed split black lentils. At Woodlands in Karama (04 337 0253), each vada is as light and airy as a flotation ring, the perfect fritter to save you from drowning in fatigue on a weekday morning. The fritter cackles with a crunch as you bite into its greaseless deep-fried skin and then hushes to a silence as you meet its fluffy white lentil belly.
Vada veterans will dunk their fritter into a bowl of sambar, South Indian-style soup, whose curried fragrance beckons even as you walk from your car to the restaurant. The one at Woodlands is just as it should be. It starts out with deceptive shallot sweetness, mingles gradually with the nutty flavours of toasted coconut and mustard seeds and then erupts into peppery flames that will torch your mouth and clear your sinuses. You can buy time by scraping the flesh off the drumsticks bobbing about in the sambar, retreat to the cooling milky white coconut chutney on the side or splash over a mild tomato relish – but it won’t be long before you will inflict yourself with vada dipped in the irresistible sambar again.
A plate of vada sambar, duly washed down with a frothy tumbler of South Indian filter coffee, is the gentle way to coax the mule in me to finally wake up and get back to work again.
Arva Ahmed founded Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com), which takes people on tours through hidden culinary gems in Dubai
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