This week has been host to the best South Indian food I’ve ever had in the UAE. On Christmas Day, we had dosas and shredded parotta – not to be confused with North Indian paratha – at the Madinat Zayed location of Saravanaa Bhavan. Over the weekend, there was fried shari, spiced prawns in a fiery seasoning and silky coconut curry at Jumeirah fish shack Bu Qtair. And in Dubai’s Karama district, we stumbled out of Calicut Paragon after a lunch of curried crab in a clay pot, mango fish curry and crispy coconut milk-soaked appams. Finally, there was a dreamy biryani of green rice and saucy fried pomfret at Sealand, a restaurant in Sharjah packed with locals hooked on the restaurant’s awesome Emirati-Malabari cuisine.
The fantastic North Indian dinner at the Ras Al Khaimah location of New Delhi’s Mughlai fixture Moti Mahal makes an irresistible version of paneer butter masala, which is impossible to stop eating until the brain begins sending out panic signals to the stomach that it’s time to close for business.
After polishing off endless platefuls, I compared it with all the things that I’ve known to dissolve the steeliest of resolutions such as extramarital affairs, cigarettes and reruns of Fox’s repulsively addictive series 24, which is the mental equivalent of eating a pint of cookie dough. You know while you’re doing it that it’s wrong, but you just can’t help yourself.
When in Santa Barbara, California, over Thanksgiving, a girl who served me a quesadilla reached a slender arm across the table. Tattooed along her forearm in cursive script was “To each his own”, as if the world’s most obvious idiom requires a permanent reminder. I’m often amazed that what we love is so rarely defined by what we like. Look at people’s habits, families, personal relationships and careers and the places where, as individuals, we derive a sense of strength and purpose. Think of the ways we express our autonomy and how we attract attention. For me, sometimes there’s overlap between the two, and those are the ways in which I feel I’m not totally doomed.
If we were better as a species, we might find ourselves more able to consciously dissolve our resolutions into their lowest common denominators – good intentions, the flagstones that create the road to hell. But 2012 was the year I started to question good intentions. My redemption lay in great love sustaining me through episodes of hard loss and the darkest of critical self-inquiry.
If vows are intentions we set for ourselves, then sometimes, but not always, the breaking of them can say a lot about how much we value ourselves.
We watch shows such as Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods with a combination of amazement and disgust, but if many of us were honest about how we conduct ourselves when left to our own devices, we’d land our own reality shows, too. You like tomato, I like tomahto, let’s call the whole thing off? No way. I’ve never stopped trying to talk people into trying new things, but I’ve found more often than not, that it sets us both up for disappointment. Respect doesn’t – and shouldn’t – require similarity.
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico