Stuffed pies remind me of Enid Blyton stories, with her tantalising descriptions of picnic baskets heavy with ginger biscuits and eclairs, bread-and-jam sandwiches and corned beef, cakes and pies. Blyton’s words had the power to make children dream, even if those dreams had feasts featuring canned meat that we would angrily shoo off of our tables as cultured adults now.
While the magic of Blyton’s hard-boiled eggs and bags of lettuce has since waned, I am still in awe of stuffed pies. One of the most sensuous pies is the Moroccan b’stilla, one that some attribute to the hands of the Moors in Andalusia, while others to the Berbers of North Africa.
Regardless of which ovens first baked this historic creation, the pie is encased in angelically crisp layers of “warka” (leaf) pastry, one that is extremely arduous to make and often substituted with the more easily available filo. I remember a time at Taste of Dubai, when I sank my teeth through layers of Almaz by Momo’s traditional b’stilla, and found myself whisked away to a fairy-tale world where sweet and savoury waltzed together in a glittering ballroom. Shredded bundles of chicken danced wildly, bursting at their salty breeches with puffs of sweet cinnamon. Crushed almonds pranced about like pixies, teasing the chicken with their sugary, cinnamon tunes. And everybody lived happily ever after, under a layered pastry sky latticed with cinnamon, icing sugar and streaks of butter. This is a pie whose sweet and savoury combination was legitimised by the ancient culinary interactions of the Muslims and the Spaniards, more than eight centuries ago.
While the more royal version is plied with pigeon meat, I have only found chicken b’stilla in Dubai, with the sweet-savoury scent of Fez wafting from its rich stuffing. While I am easily bewitched by most stuffed pies, a well-made b’stilla can trap me in a savoury-sweet spell unlike any other.
Almaz by Momo (04 409 8877) bakes an incredibly crispy b’stilla; Marakesh Moroccan Restaurant in Deira (04 265 4110) serves a reasonably good version, too.
Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at www.ILiveinaFryingPan.com