DUBAI // The Haji Ali Juice Center in Mumbai is set against the backdrop of the majestic Haji Ali Mosque, visited daily by thousands of worshippers. The roadside juice stop has earned a loyal following since it opened in 1937 by the entrance to the mosque, refreshing the faithful with sandwiches, fresh fruit juices, milkshakes and faloodas (a cold tapioca and rosewater drink).
Closer to home, the Haji Ali Juice Center in Oud Metha might not have the same rich history or picturesque views, but it carries on the tradition of warm service and affordable prices. Located in a busy bylane of an older quarter of Dubai, the cafe is surrounded by restaurants, salons, mosques, community clubs and residential buildings.
And, like the home branch in Mumbai, the smell of fresh fruit juices and grilled sandwiches wafts through their doors and down the street, luring hungry customers.
For nostalgic Indian expatriates who have made Dubai their home, Haji Ali offers a taste of Mumbai in a glass. That's a lot of expats and a lot of glasses: the emirate is the only place outside India to which Haji Ali has expanded (it also has a presence in Chennai).
"This place reminds me of home and good times," said Chithkala Rajaram, who has been a daily customer since the cafe opened in 2005. "The sandwiches are simple. It's convenient food and you won't add too many calories if you know what to eat. I love the fact that they keep their fruits fresh," said the expatriate, who also visits Haji Ali for its range of vegetarian options.
"We buy most of our fruits - especially custard apples and mangoes - from India," said Mohideen Faizal, the operations manager. "We do not put additives or artificial flavours in our juices, which is what makes them fresh. Our creams and faloodas are very popular."
The five-year old eatery is popular with expatriates and Emiratis alike, be it for takeouts or casual dining.
"We get customers of all nationalities," Mr Faizal said. "Many more come during the summer months for our juices and custard apple creams."
In the winter, outdoor pavement seating on plastic chairs makes it an appealing place to stop and linger with friends. And it's not unusual to find a line of idling cars outside: motorists pull up and honk their horns for roadside service - UAE-style drive-through dining.
The restaurant offers sandwiches with a variety of fillings, from Schezwan (vegetables in a spicy Chinese dressing) to cottage cheese, mushroom and potato.
And the menu includes "Jain Specials" designed for followers of Jainism, an Indian religion whose followers avoid inflicting violence on any living being - a proscription that extends to the uprooting of root vegetables such as potatoes, onions and garlic.
"After a late-night movie, we can come here to grab a sandwich," says Krishna Nair. "It's well-priced and there is always a choice between a light snack or a heavy sandwich. The creams are the tastiest, if you are up for some high-calorie desserts," she said.
Her family of four makes it a point to drive once a month from their home in Sports City to dine at the outlet. "My children love the pizzas and the creams here," she said.
A meal for two, including a Haji Ali Special Sandwich with Schezwan, mashed potato and cottage cheese, a mushroom pizza, a large mango fruit juice and fruit falooda costs about Dh60.
"It's hard to get tasty and affordable sandwiches in Dubai," said Mohammed Aijaz, who frequents the restaurant at least once a week.
The busiest times at the Haji Ali Juice Center are between 9pm and midnight. Late-night partygoers and people looking for a midnight snack visit the restaurant, which remains open until as late as 2am.
At the end of this month, Haji Ali plans to open a branch in Sharjah.
Drive to Lamcy Plaza and, with the mall on your left, take the next turn right. Head down this road, and you’ll find Haji Ali on your right at the corner of the first junction.
Next week, get a taste of Africa at a restaurant in Sharjah
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