x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

I’ve found that “the best recipe” is a euphemism for “my favourite recipe”, which is often just another way of saying “my mother’s recipe”. I’ve learnt not to trust any of them.

Many things have been obvious to everyone but me. In the first grade, during lunch, my nemesis Firas yelled: “Nouf! You have a dog on your head” – an absurd but awkward public broadcast of a bad-hair day. “No I don’t,” I said, putting down my peanut butter sandwich and patting the top of my head – just in case.

A few years later, at summer camp, I got cornered by Amy, a mean girl who typically ignored me. She gave me a cold bottle of Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drink, which I stupidly accepted. One risk of letting someone buy you a drink is that they might think it entitles them to the time it takes you to finish it. Amy told me all about “Eager Believers”, her new club for gullible people. I imagined a support group of socially maladjusted, soft-spoken preteens battling their overgrown inner child. We would burn letters to Santa and the Tooth Fairy at an altar. The happy puppy in me, who’d have taken sweets from a stranger, would grow into a man-eating She-Rex who would never be taken for a fool. But obviously, as I found out once the bottle was empty, the club didn’t exist.

Pretty soon, I was a teenager in Abu Dhabi. I stubbornly defied all words of advice that didn’t come from Morrissey. I was distrustful of others, hard to please and tough to convince without the use of incentives. In the mid 1990s, I probably rolled my eyes more often than I blinked them.

Nowadays, gullibility is the most precious form of optimism I have left. It worries me that the only thing that seems to get people more excited than the opportunity to say nice things about each other is the opportunity to be critical.

Out with the innocence with which I had clung to false icons … and in with pancakes. I read on Grub Street a couple of days ago that New York City’s hopping cafe, Clinton St Baking Company, will be opening in Dubai in January 2014, “because fewer things in life are more enjoyable than waiting in line for pancakes and syrup when it’s 103° Fahrenheit in the shade”. Maybe the writer’s sarcasm is better received in frosty climes. Or maybe Emiratis should defiantly switch to a diet of shaved ice and ceviche in a strike against brunch on warm days.

Whether you’re after coconut cream pie or chicken noodle soup, an internet search for the finest representation of a dish will turn up a suspicious number of hits. In the language of home cooking, I’ve found that “the best recipe” is a euphemism for “my favourite recipe”, which is often just another way of saying “my mother’s recipe”. I’ve learnt not to trust any of them.

We use superlatives with conviction, but most of us can be deeply gullible when guided by our senses – easily swayed and willing to believe whatever we want to believe. “You are the One”, we say to our beloved, or to a chocolate brownie, as if there was empirical evidence to support such a declaration; as if there weren’t a thousand other ones who might have risen instead. But it’s a statement of perfect faith – and that requires the suspension of disbelief. And I think there’s probably a club for that somewhere.

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico

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