Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

The eight best spots for the Khaleeji art of rounding

The National's guide to the best cafes and neighbourhoods for cruising and sipping tea

Rashid Habib, drinks tea in his car, while rounding in Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Rashid Habib, drinks tea in his car, while rounding in Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Main story: The UAE's unofficial national pastime - rounding

National Day is upon us and what better way to celebrate than with a cup of hot karak in hand, some Mehad Hamad on the radio and a seaside cruise? Bring a few friends and you’re practicing the Khaleeji art of rounding, the country's unofficial national past time.

Here is our guide to the country's most loved spots for sipping tea and cruising with friends, from university hangouts in Sharjah to fishermen’s haunts in Ras Al Khaimah and mosque parking lots in Dubai.

Ras Al Khaimah: Nena Tea, RAK Old town

Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates - November 27th, 2019: Mohammed Ali prepares karak tea. National Day feature on Rounding where people drink tea in their cars. Wednesday, November 27th, 2019, Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Chris Whiteoak / The National

Karak aficionado Easa Al Ali toured Kerala and Hyderabad to perfect his blend and opened Nena beside the parking lot of the old town fish market. It was a shrewd move: in the world of rounding, parking spaces are the equivalent to tables. Nena Tea’s opening sparked a revival of the old town where dozens of takeaway shops opened in the following months. From the fish market, cruise down the old Corniche or up to the glittering Kuwaiti Street souq and pause at its central parking lot, a spot known as the oasis. Looking for a cooler treat? Ashuk, a takeaway ice cream parlour founded in the 1970s, is a favourite on the local rounding circuit.

Ras Al Khaimah: Noor Al Huda, Maaridh

Ras al Khaimah - March 21, 2010 - A man waits to cross Salm Ebn Suwltam Street on his way to prayer in the Al Mamourah neighborhood in Ras al Khaimah, March 21, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Topping/The National)
Jeff Topping / The National

Before the city shifted south to desert suburbs named after sheikhs, Ras Al Khaimah had two sides divided by the creek. Each had its cafeterias of renown. In the south, there was Ruwais Cafeteria for zinker burgers and Malik Al Karak for karak. In the north, there was King of Berger [sic] and Noor Al Huda. This tiny cafeteria is in the centre of the Maaridh, a stone’s throw from the afternoon fish market and souq. Drive down Ibn Dhaher Street, named for the 17th century poet who immortalised this maritime neighbourhood in verse, and then park at the mouth of Ras Al Khaimah creek to sip tea by the sea.

Sharjah: Khabeer Al Shay Cafeteria, Karak Road

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - November 27th, 2019: National Day feature on Rounding where people drink tea in their cars. Wednesday, November 27th, 2019, Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Chris Whiteoak / The National

The aptly named Karak Road began with a few humble cafeterias on dirt tracks near the American University of Sharjah. Today, it is a tidy pedestrian strip of modern restaurants and old style cafeterias that managed to survive the upgrade to paid parking. Khabeer Al Shay earned a loyal costumer base, originally distinguishing itself with signage that had a striking resemblance to Baskin Robbins. This was replaced by a logo with more than a passing similarity to Second Cup. KAS has changed its logo yet again and now draws in customers with pictures of giant paratha sandwiches decorating the store’s glass front. Visitors to Karak Road typically settle in and dine on the spot from their cars.

Dubai: Rabbash, Mamzar Corniche

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 27th, 2019: Muhammad Ajman who works at the Rabbash Cafe in Al Mamzar. National Day feature on Rounding where people drink tea in their cars. Wednesday, November 27th, 2019, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Chris Whiteoak / The National

Cruise down the palm-lined boulevard of Mamzar and find piece of Dubai, where the sea air is sweet, the sky is wide and the only visible skyscrapers are across the creek in Sharjah. Tucked behind the Corniche, on the edge of a vast mosque parking lot is a Dubai institution: Rabbash. “All people come to Al Mamzar, it’s a symbol of food,” says Innas Al Kakaiby, 31, an Iraqi Sharjonian. “Rabbash, it’s famous in the UAE.” The branch produces 2,400 cups of tea on a typical Thursday. Mosque parking lots are large, well lit, often unmetered, and this has made them a favourite for those who round, unofficial picnic sites. Buy a cup of The Rabbash, a blend of tea and chocolate, and you can take it to the nearby beach, cruise down Mamzar’s boulevards or just enjoy the view of the minaret from the parking lot.

Dubai: Starbucks, JBR or Jumeirah

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -Starbucks Coffee along Jumeirah Street. Leslie Pableo for The National for Farah Andrews story
Leslie Pableo / The National

Rounding is about being seen. Got a licence plate worth a few million dirhams? A sports car ill suited to crowded fish market parking lots? Head to JBR or Jumeirah.

The drink of choice? Starbucks, of course. In rounding, the drink must match the location and Starbucks is considered best for the big city, the drink of choice once you pass the World Trade Centre.

People who sip on mint tea in Ras Al Khaimah or saffron milk tea in Mamzar will invariably opt for an iced coffee once they see the shining lights of Sheikh Zayed Road.

The surroundings may be glamorous but the fundamentals of rounding still apply and Dubai’s allure makes it a national meeting place, a halfway point between Abu Dhabi and the north.

Abu Dhabi City: Il Caffe di Roma, Abu Dhabi Corniche

No permission from the cafe or the people in the images. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - November 27th, 2019: Caffe Di Roma on the Abu Dhabi corniche. National Day feature on Rounding where people drink tea in their cars. Wednesday, November 27th, 2019, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Chris Whiteoak / The National

In some places, rounding is about simplicity: fish market and mosque parking lots, one dirham tea, the Corolla and the Range Rover parked side by side. In the capital, prestige matters. So what better place for rounding than a coffee shop on a prominent corner between Ferrari and Maserati dealerships? Enter Il Caffe di Roma, a Italian coffee shop that serves the Gulf’s favourite drinks. Rounding in the capital has taken a hit from regulation. Once upon a time, people circled the shoreline from port to Corniche to the breakwater, maybe with some fried snacks from Hamdan street for good measure. But traffic signals interrupt the flow of rounding and the city’s reign of mawaqif parking inspectors means a stop at the Indian snack shops can equate to hefty fines. Il Cafe di Roma has an unofficial drive-through: a waiter under an umbrella ready for VIP customers.

Read more: Khalidiya's Starbucks Square

Baniyas: Jalsat Karak

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - June 03, 2019: People prepare for Eid. Monday the 3rd of June 2019. Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Chris Whiteoak / The National

Life in Baniyas happens between the souq, the home and the car. The city just south of Abu Dhabi has produced its share of falconers, poets and camel breeders; art forms that, in their modern form, are intertwined with motoring. After grabbing a cup of karak from Jalsat Karak, round the corner from Baniyas Mall, cruise the city’s broad streets between whimsical mansions or, should you find yourself rounding as sunrise approaches, take it to the camel race track of Al Wathbah where some of the country’s top racers train early morning. Looking for a little extra sweetness to go with that tea? Check out Abu Saroor, the Father of Pleasure, for Omani halwa sweets.

Madinat Zayed: Flafel Al Shaam

Abu Dhabi -April 9, 2008 -Ê A file photo showing SUV's driving through the desert at the site of the the Camel Festival 2008 in the Liwa region of Abu Dhabi emirate April 9-08. (Andre Forget / The National) *** Local Caption *** AF-006-camel.jpg
Andre Forget / The National

Cruise your way into the Empty Quarter with a lemon mint juice or refill your dallah flask with mint tea from Flafel Al Shaam, a cafeteria just off the Tarif-Liwa Road in the centre of Medina Zayed. Then, head due south to a winding strip of tarmac that curves through the formidable dunes of the Empty Quarter. These roads were made for rounding.

Updated: December 2, 2019 11:04 AM

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