x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ambushed by garlic in the salad

A nice takeaway for lunch is all very well, except when they slip in a nice chunk of something aromatic that compromises you socially for the rest of the day.

Much like the well-stocked kitchen of any self-respecting Mediterranean mama, heaped bowls of glossy red onions and pearly heads of garlic sit next to my hob, so that at a second's notice they can swim in a ragu sauce or jostle with root vegetables in a roasting tin. Adore these flavours as I do, outside the controlled confines of my home, they take on quite a different guise. They are savoury saboteurs that lurk in their raw and natural state in the most unexpected places.

Let me give you an example. Last week, I excitedly purchased a spinach and halloumi salad box from the new restaurant in my office tower. Famished, Dh50 down and with a deadline looming, I was more than ready to go to work on the healthy heap of leaves. So imagine my dismay when the aroma that hit my nostrils as I peeled back the plastic lid signalled "game over".

Long, transparent slivers of fresh garlic clung, limpet-like, to the spinach leaves and rough-cut chunks from the dressing sat almost invisibly atop the charred piece of cheese. Worse still, like a submarine lurking silently beneath the ice cap, a layer of sliced red onions lined the base of the box: having no doubt infused the food for hours in the restaurant fridge. With an interview scheduled for that same afternoon, I knew I risked anaesthetising my guest if I dare consume even one morsel from the pungent pile.

But this was far from an isolated incident and over the past couple of years I have become something of a whiff-warden, if you will. Forewarned is forearmed and experience has taught me that my favourite seaweed and tofu dish at Yo Sushi! comes with a generous sprinkling of raw garlic as do the steamed vegetables at my local steak house. But a garlic cheese salad? I didn't smell that one coming.

Don't get me wrong. Shish tawook wouldn't be the same without the garlic paste toum nor could I live without aioli, moules marinière or onion soup. There's just something so unpleasant about the element of surprise and the hours one will inevitably spend after lunch, sitting mute behind a laptop for fear of contaminating the airspace of colleagues.

Needless to say, I now keep a toothbrush and paste in my drawer just in case my nose fails me and I do indeed eat something that gives me the superhero power of fire-breath strong enough to kill a hardy perennial. Salad chefs across the UAE, lend me your ears: with your portions be generous, with your dressing be liberal, with raw garlic and onions - I beg you - be ginger.