x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai is a haven for desis who are hungry for home

Take note: for the true taste of Karachi, Oud Metha is where you need to be.

I was at Dubai’s Outlet Mall the other day, shopping with my mum. She stopped by a little kiosk selling Thai fruit and bought two boxes of sugar-coated tamarind. She gave me one, which I brought home and forgot about for the next week or so. It wasn’t until a few days ago that, driven by a severe case of the nibbles, I reached for the box and popped one of the little sugar-coated pods in my mouth. The explosion of flavours and memories that followed was mind-blowing. Forget about the DeLorean; apparently, all you need to take you back in time is a Dh15 box of fruit.

I was transported back to my childhood summers when, at my grandparents’ house in Karachi during the school holidays, all of us female cousins would pool our pocket money to buy a bunch of ripe, sour tamarind (imli) and spend our afternoons nibbling, giggling and gossiping.

As I licked my fingers clean, I marvelled at the power of taste and at how easily our taste buds can take us back home. In Dubai, desis are so lucky to have a taste of home at every corner. While the usual staples have been around for years (biryani, nihari and behari kabab at places like Ravi’s and Karachi Darbar for Pakistanis, and thali, dosa and pav bhaji at Bombay Chowpatty and Sukh Sagar for Indians), the Karachi girl in me always craves Raju Ka Falooda and Dhoraji ka Golaganda – two important items for food lovers from my city.

While both have yet to make it to Dubai, my craving has been sated by the arrival of many of my Karachi food favourites, all of them conveniently within walking distance of my house. Take note: for the true taste of Karachi, Oud Metha is where you need to be.

It started with B&B Cricket Bar (04 334 4498) in Sultan Business Center next to Lamcy Plaza Shopping Mall. Someone told me that’s the place to go for the best nihari in town. They weren’t wrong. Soon afterwards, B&B started a Friday breakfast buffet of halwa puri – the classic Karachi breakfast of crisp, deep-fried flatbread with several sides – a sweet halwa, spicy chickpeas and mellow potato. It took me right back to my college days when we would escape to Boat Basin, a street crammed with restaurants, during the Friday prayer break.

The same people behind B&B saw a niche for Karachi-style food and soon opened Emly & Chilli (04 334 4554) around the corner: the first desi fast-food outlet serving kabab rolls, bun kababs (burgers with a desi twist, where the patty includes lentils and the bun is pan-fried in ghee) and, of course, biryani. This was also the first outlet to have Pakola on its menu – Pakistan’s home-grown aerated drink which, in a patriotic spirit, is green, and reminiscent of home with every sweet sip.

Adding to my ever-expanding waistline is the food served up at Spice 8 (04 370 8282; 04 370 8383). The curiously named restaurant serves up some of the most delicious Karachi food. I am disastrously addicted to their brain masala fry (it’s exactly what it sounds like), even though I suffer for several days after each fiercely spicy overdose. For those with a milder palate, Spice 8 also serves the famous Hanifia Hunter beef burger and -OPTP-style garlic-mayo fries (OPTP being “One Potato, Two Potatoes” – a “fusion fries” concept that became immensely popular in Karachi in the mid- to late-1990s).

I think I will stop right here. It’s almost lunchtime and I know exactly what to order: one of all of the above.

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai