x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A genuine taste of the Emirates

Most of the flavours available at Mama Tani cafe stay true to what you might find on an Emirati table on any given Friday. In fact, Mama Tani calls itself 'a taste of home'.

The interior of Mama Tani in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National
The interior of Mama Tani in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

here’s a famous quote by Cesar Chavez that perfectly describes the significance of sharing good food with others: “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him. The people who give you their food, give you their heart.”

It sums up the feeling at Mama Tani Café in Dubai – the owners Omar and Maitha Alshamsi are an Emirati brother and sister who say there’s nothing better than pleasing people with food.

“At the end of the day, there are a couple of ways to make people smile and one of them is food,” says Omar. “It’s so beautiful to see people smile after they eat.”

Mama Tani cafe specialises in khameer, traditional Emirati bread that can be eaten alone, with simple sides of honey or cream cheese, or stuffed with a variety of ingredients to excite even the fussiest of palates. What makes khameer bread unique is that it’s made with date syrup, not sugar. It has hints of saffron and cardamom and is freshly baked in the cafe each day.

The Alshamsi siblings have fond memories of eating khameer at their grandmother’s house when they were children. Mama Tani – which means “second mother” – is their grandmother’s nickname and the cafe is a tribute to childhood memories that played out around a table full of family, food and love at Mama Tani’s house.

When Maitha recalls eating khameer at her grandmother’s house, she says: “It’s not just something that you eat; it’s something that’s good for your body. It’s good for your soul. It gives you a good feeling.”

Maitha gave up her law career to start Mama Tani cafe with her brother. She says: “I reached a stage where I wanted to do something that I believed in. I really believe in this.”

Customers do, too. Every day, the siblings say locals tell them the flavours at Mama Tani bring them back to bygone days in their mum’s kitchen, when not only food but life itself was simpler. Omar says: “When you get people who feel nostalgia like that and they come tell us about it … it touches your heart.”

The food may invoke childhood memories, but the cafe itself has a modern feel and look. Locals and expatriates alike come not just for the khameer but also to relax.

The menu is straightforward. Customers can choose from savoury or sweet stuffed khameers or create their own with fresh ingredients on display. On the savoury side, there is a khameer stuffed with cream cheese, coriander and roasted nuts. Or try one filled with avocado cream, olive paste and mint. For something sweet, customers can choose the Dulce: khameer stuffed with strawberries, bananas, dulce de leche and almonds. The Rose khameer is filled with rose cream, pistachios and figs.

The recently introduced salads at Mama Tani cafe feature local ingredients such as dates, nuts, halloumi cheese, couscous and pomegranate.

Though the khameer is the star of the show, the drinks play an interesting supporting role. Among them are cold beverages such as Pineapple Cin, a pineapple-cinnamon blend, and Basil Orange. There is, of course, Arabian coffee, as well as karak tea, laban, saffron milk and even camel hot chocolate.

Most of the flavours available at Mama Tani stay true to what you might find on an Emirati table on any given Friday. In fact, Mama Tani calls itself “a taste of home”.

And while it may not be a familiar taste to many expats, Mama Tani cafe does offer a unique peek into traditional Emirati food and (perhaps more importantly) displays what Chavez meant when he so eloquently said: “The people who give you their food, give you their heart.”

• Mama Tani cafe is open daily from 8.30am to 10pm, on the first level in Town Centre Jumeirah in Dubai. Stuffed khameers start from Dh22. Visit www.mamatani.com

artslife@thenational.ae