Some dishes implore you to roll up your sleeves, tie up your hair, clear away the silverware and dig right in. One such dish is the seafood cataplana at the recently opened Portuguese restaurant Picante, located in the†Four Points by Sheraton on Khalid Bin Walid Sreet in Bur Dubai.
I had arrived at Picante with a delicate dress, hair straightened into submission and clean fingernails that no longer looked like they had been through a sausage machine. But when the chef fired up my seafood cataplana, my good intentions to look and behave civilised at my mamaís birthday dinner vanished faster than the crusty Portuguese bread placed on our table.
Dropping all conversation, I ran over to the open kitchen, fascinated by the clam-shaped cataplana vessel the chef had placed on the stove. As the chef clamped the two shells of the vessel shut, he explained that the Portuguese-fashioned copper cookware is what gives the dish its name. The cataplana cooks its contents under the intense steam pressure that builds up within the enclosed vessel, quite similar to a pressure cooker or a tagine.
The cataplana was reopened at our table with a belly full of sumptuous seafood, silky vegetables and bubbling broth that cackled with piping-hot fury. I was assaulted with a flurry of flavour: mouthfuls of fleshy lobster meat, juicy tiger prawns, tender slices of broth-infused potatoes, intertwined strips of green, red and yellow peppers that seduced my tongue with the sultry moves of butter. Somewhere in that blurred sequence of frantic eating, I remember scooping up the unctuous juices with gaping mussels and clams, feeling their broth-soaked flesh slide down my throat with the balmy saltiness of a beach town breeze. I remember dragging the vessel in front of me, tearing off pieces of crusty bread and submerging them messily into the hot broth and olive oil. I remember my mother holding my flowing hair back to ensure that it didnít slide into the dish during my uncontrollable eating frenzy. I remember plunging deeper and deeper into a dish whose belly spanned nautical miles of flavour.
As I returned to reality and sheepishly stared at the mess in front of me, I vowed that the next time I return for Picanteís cataplana, I will drop the dress, grab my jeans, yank my hair up and, ideally, find a bib.
Arva Ahmed founded Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com), which takes people on tours through hidden culinary gems in Dubai
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