Thursday, 21 March 2013

Fishy food tales in Dubai and an experience at Bu Qtair


 
Last week I received a lovely surprise from one of my office colleague’s. I was getting ready to go home when she said “Penny I have cooked you a traditional UAE dish. Fish and rice.” Well you could have knocked me over with a feather. In true Arabic hospitable style I had delivered into my arms a great platter with a succulent looking fat aromatic fish on a bed of fragrant slightly spicy rice. I was overwhelmed both by the gift and by the size of the meal, which could easily have fed a family of six. Being the greedy people that we are we managed to eat the lot with gusto, even if it took us a few days. It was delicious.
I told one of my library cohorts about my lovely meal. She said that she had an Arabic recipe that she cooks often that sounded intriguing so I got the recipe to share with you. It is at the end of this blog piece. I will be trying this out in the next couple of weeks. I am a bit fished out at the moment because on the back of all these fishy food thoughts I remembered that on my list of things to tick off as “Done in Dubai” is having dinner at Bu Qtair.
I have lived in Dubai long enough to know that no matter how long I live here I will never want to spend time outdoors, voluntarily, in summer. There is a small window of opportunity open for dining al fresco and March is right at the tail end of that. If I did not get to Bu Qtair in the next couple of weeks it would be too late, as you can't step outside again 'till October. I was cutting it fine. With this in mind I trawled the internet for reviews and a map. The more I read the more nervous I got. Reviews of the porta-cabin shack canteen vary from delicious to dreadful so I was wondering if I really should be listening to Anthony Bourdain's advice on his “No Reservations – Dubai”. But my list is there, Bourdain's picks included, and having recently not done something on the list I felt I could not fail twice in a row.
I sent Bryan (the Driver) a map. I told him that the venue was not easy to find so “best he study the route”. One hour(!!!) of driving around later…… In all fairness there was a traffic jam on the way but still, can you believe we went as close as it is possible to travel in circles on a straight road….. I am just saying.
From my readings I felt it would be wise to warn Bryan that we would have to queue for our meal and that everything would be very rough and ready. I also knew that it would be a very good idea to empty bladders at home before we went out as there is no loo at Bu Qtair. Although honestly if you were desperate you could take a short walk on to Beach Road and find ablution facilities in one of the Petrol Stations or Fast Food outlets. Going to Bu Qtair is - after all - an adventure and no one should let a small thing like worrying about where to pee stop you from going.
 
It looks a bit disorganized when you arrive but there is a working system in place. You queue to pay for and choose your fish. I was a little distressed that the bulk of the fish is Hamoor, and we are all being told that we should avoid Hamoor on account of overfishing. With that in mind we chose a plump medium sized Shari and some shrimps.
Once you have chosen yours from a mound of fish that have very recently taken their last gasp, your name is scribbled on a piece of paper which is sent with your picks off for cooking. You then go back outdoors grab a plastic stool from the stack in the “waiting for your dinner area” snaffle yourself a soft drink from the fridge or make yourself a cup of tea and wait. Or in our case wait and talk to the fellow punters. We struck up a delightful if not somewhat awkward at times conversation with a happily racist old Henna'd Indian man. He told us gaily that we Europeans cannot handle the heat and that in New York black men steal car tires. He asked where in England we came from. We told him we came from Zimbabwe. I don’t think he knew what to make of that - we did not fit into his stereotyped world. We asked about his life in Dubai. He has lived here for 40 years and comes to the restaurant with his family regularly. There was another family group behind us who had visitors to Dubai with them and they were having a lively discussion about living in Dubai and what that entails. I, of course, chipped with a few helpful, uninvited and not needed words. After that attack of friendliness we were called by the manager by name (remember the piece of paper) and escorted to a rickety plastic table and served up our mighty fine fish. Healthily deep fried to a black crisp with super succulent fresh flesh beneath the spicy crust. H.E.A.V.E.N.L.Y. With our fish we ordered some flat bread and a curry dipping sauce. Our salad was some coarsely chopped cabbage with a bit of onion tossed about on it. I have not mentioned the shrimp. Word of advice. Decide if you are having a night of shrimp or fish. They are cooked together. So whilst our fish was perfection the shrimp was slightly overcooked which is a dreadful shame because I could see other diners with the yummiest looking perfectly cooked piles of shrimp on their plates.
 
As our bellies filled and our hunger subsided (remember that we had driven around semi lost for an hour and then the process of ordering and waiting takes another ¾ of an hour) we noticed more of our fellow diners. The table next to us had a group of 20 odd hip young peeps hell bent on having a great evening out with much banter about the venue, how they all knew each other, and what fun this was. They had an “organizer” with them. I love organizers. She had ordered everyone’s food was fully in the know on how everything worked. Knew who would get on with whom and made sure they sat near each other and generally fussed about like a rather elegant mother hen making sure her brood were all having a lovely time. And how could you not. The evening was warm and barmy, The food delicious, and the company delightful.
 
If you really can’t face the notion of the plastic chairs and tables and the general lack of interest in d├ęcor and form, then order your food as a take away and take it down to the beach or home. I am going to make a picnic of our next outing. I will take a home-made salad, a bright table cloth and maybe a candle or two.  I will still eat with my fingers at the plastic tables.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chrissie’s MAHLOUBI (upside-down) recipe
Fish fillet
1 onion, 2 or 3 garlic cloves
Long grain rice
Pine nuts
Chicken or vegetable stock cubes
2 Tablespoons Arabic Mixed Spice or less if not needing too spicy (see the recipe for Arabic Mixed spice below)
Boiling water about 1 pint depending on size of pan
Wash rice leave to drain. Fry pine nuts in a dry pan till a little brown.
Chop onion finely and garlic, fry in a little oil add spice. Sautee fish.
Place washed rice on top of fish.
Pour stock over rice till is ½ inch above rice add salt to taste.
Cook slowly until water is absorbed.
Turn pan upside down onto a large plate or dish
Sprinkle nuts on top
Serve with Yoghurt and salad.
 
Most supermarkets stock Arabic Mixed Spices sold in bags but if you can’t find this, here is the recipe:
2 tablespoons ground black pepper  
1 tablespoon Ground coriander   
1 tablespoon Ground cloves
 2 tablespoons Ground cumin
 ½ teaspoon Ground cardamom
 2 teaspoons Grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon Ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons of chilli powder
You can make this up and keep in  an air tight container
If you want to use beef or chicken instead of the fish then fry or grill eggplant and place on the bottom of pan under the rice.  You could, if you choose, add a can of chickpeas.

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