x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The charms of South Asian cuisine are lost on no one

From lavish spreads at royal weddings to the modest menu at Ravi's, desi food is a force to be reckoned with. Proceed with caution, though.

The big Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor wedding is finally done. Where to start, then? With my own invitation that didn’t come in time for me to be able to apply for an Indian visa?

I was quite disappointed at the prospect of not being able to attend – not because I would miss out on the biggest desi wedding of the decade (Saif being the son of the late Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan of Pataudi, and Kareena hailing from Bollywood’s legendary Kapoor clan), but because I would miss out on the gastronomic grandeur that would no doubt be awaiting the guests.

Seriously, if there’s one thing we Ali Khans are known to never mess with, it’s food. Saif Ali Khan and his clan lived up to this reputation at the Dawat-e-Walima – the final event in the five-day wedding -celebrations.

The erstwhile glory of the Nawabs of Pataudi was reflected well in the grand and lavish ceremony hosted by Khan’s mother, the veteran actress and Begum of Pataudi, Sharmila Tagore, at an ancestral Pataudi property on Aurangzeb Road in Delhi. The venue was decorated especially for the wedding. From the heirloom carpet laid out for guests to the marvellous morsels they put in their mouths, no aspect was spared the royal treatment.

So, no, I don’t regret the fact that I missed rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of India. I regret missing out on an amazing feast.

The charm of subcontinental cuisine is not lost on non-Ali Khans, though. All desis are passionate about their food and, as far as desi cuisine goes, even non-desis can’t resist it. Which bona fide UAE resident has not gone to Ravi’s or Karachi Darbar for their fill?

Ravi’s in Satwa, Dubai, is an institution of sorts. On any given day, you can find deeply tanned tourists sitting at tables next to Pakistani taxi drivers, downing plates of steaming biryani and bowls of scrumptious curries, while scores wait to be seated. It’s where we go when we want our fix of good desi food at a reasonable price. It’s where we take out-of-towners, be they fellow desis looking for a taste of home or non-desis wanting a piece of the delicious action. If you haven’t been there yet, do it. Just make sure you ask about the dishes before you order, because a first encounter with desi food can go either way.

The other day, I was at my local naan shop, waiting for my two naans “to go”, when the aroma of freshly baked bread caused a passer-by to stop in his tracks. Somewhat scruffy and carrying a heavy bag on his back, he first surveyed the Arabic and Urdu menu on the storefront and then asked the Pathan baker – in a very American accent – what kind of pizza they had. The bewildered baker was lost for words. Even if he had been able to understand the question, it was one with no answer.

Desi girl to the rescue! I introduced Jeff from Arizona to the concept of naan (flatbread) and saalan (curry). As an afterthought, I guided him to the less spicy options on the menu. I wish I could have stayed to witness his induction, but my naans were ready and I had some very yummy saalan waiting for me at home.

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