x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Food obsession: Iraqi kafta

Ground seasoned lamb kneaded over flat metal skewers and served with crusty rounds of fresh tanoor bread – it's unlike anything I had tried before.

Lamb kofte. iStockphoto
Lamb kofte. iStockphoto

Remember the weather last Friday? The sky was sniffling with an occasional drip, like a whimpering child on the verge of bursting into a tsunami of tears. It was the sort of damp, self-pitying weather that only kebabs could set right.

I like to think that I have done some justice to the kebab cornucopia we have flowing here in Dubai. Juicy Iranian koobideh of ground lamb with parsley, tender saffron chunks of Lebanese shish tawook, kebabs blanketed in velvety tahina or sweet tomato gravy (khashkhash), Turkish Iskender and Indian beef Bihari, or dried-out lamb fillets, often deviously slipped into sub-par mixed grills. But last Friday night was the first time I tried Iraqi kafta, ground seasoned lamb kneaded over flat metal skewers and served with crusty rounds of fresh tanoor bread at Bait Al Baghdadi (04 273 7064). The texture was unlike anything I had tried before. The logs of lamb were fiercely charred to a chocolate brown, with a crispy bark that crumbled to the touch. The insides of the kafta were fleetingly tender, melting too quickly for my taste buds to scrutinise them further. I stubbornly split open a kebab and lifted its exquisite belly closer to the light – it was soft and cream-coloured, with knobs of translucent melted fat latched all across the curved surface.

I was convinced that the only way to get such contrasting textures in a kebab – crumbly on the outside, tender and silky on the inside – was by highly untraditional methods of flash-frying or pan-frying. But upon interrogation, the cooks innocently pointed to their regular charcoal grill. I turned away confused, my eyes momentarily pausing on skewers of lamb kebabs that were marbled with so much fat that they were more white than pink. At that point, I knew what I had to do. I had to drop my line of culinary questioning, step out into the sobbing weather and burn the fat I had just consumed by trekking back home.


Arva Ahmed founded Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com), taking people on tours through hidden culinary gems in Dubai