This is a post on the Persian food we ate in Dubai.
A few points to keep in mind. Firstly, we had decided to, as far as possible, eat only ethnic i.e. Middle Eastern food when in Dubai. This kind of food is categorised in Dubai as MENA [Middle Eastern North African]. I am serious, restaurants are categorized as MENA restaurants! The exception we made to this was during our stay at the Al Maha Desert Conservation Centre, where we were on a prepaid all inclusive package and the foreign food was really much better looking. Secondly, you must bear in mind that Dubai has almost no food that is grown locally. Everything is imported. This means that everything costs more, much more than it would originally. The further the food flies the more it will cost you. By the same logic the more exotica and more fragile or perishable the commodity is the more costs pile on. This is one time the terms `food miles’ – the distance food has to travel before it reached your plate – makes sense. Therefore eating MENA food made lot of economic sense. Also the locals know how to cook and treat the ingredients. So it was MENA for us.
I have already written about the first meal we had at the Turkish Restaurant Kosebasi as well as at Al Nafoorah. This restaurant is owned by the mighty Jumeirah group and is located in the Emirates Towers. We had two Persian meals. These were really good. Dubai has a large Iranian community and from what I understand there is a lot of Iranian money in Dubai. I do not know how true this is and cannot vouch for it. I had eaten Persian food only twice before. The first time was years ago at my friend Reza’s house in Santa Barbara cooked by his grandmother. She had made Sabzi Ghormeh. The second time was a couple of years ago in London at Kandoo, which I had written about.
The first Persian meal we had in Dubai was in a restaurant called `Anar’ in the Souk Medinat. This is another hotel/shopping experience/make believe outlet owned by the mighty Jumeirah group. The Souk Medinat is designed as a Souk or Marketplace. Very charming and embodies the meaning of kitsch. This complex has a water body that links two of the hotels the Mina Salam Hotel and the Al Qasr Hotel. There are several restaurants and bars along the water body. There are also small gondolas to take you across the water body. The difference between Dubai and Las Vegas is that in Las Vegas the two hotels, the water body and the Souk would have been constructed under a roof and all would have been air-conditioned. Here in Dubai the water and the restaurants were all open air. All fake but all absolutely charming. Great atmosphere and sitting in the open, al fresco, with water in front of you is always nice. I am sure you must have guessed by now that the Arabs are big on water.
We had a couple of drinks at the other home of Kitsch Trader Vic’s - the American fake Polynesian Bar and Restaurant. Great atmosphere, the place was buzzing and a live band was playing. After a couple of beers we went off to dinner.
Anar is, like in Hindi, the Persian word for Pomegranate. Purple, the colour of Pomegranate juice, was the theme of the restaurant and there were lots of purple accents all over. Like typical Persian restaurants there was a Tandoor in the foreground with a man baking the characteristic Persian bread right in front of you. I went up to the man and asked if I could photograph him. He was thrilled, and proceeded to make bread especially for me. His hands were a blur, literally, you cannot see them in the photo. So utterly charming. He explained his every movement in Persian of which I could understand not a word, so I grinned and nodded like a nut case. By the way, look at the Tandoor, no coal, its gas fired. For your information, lots of restaurants in India now use gas Tandoors and not coal fired ones.
To start, we ordered the restaurant speciality. A Chicken kebab called Anar Kofte. This was delicious. Minced Chicken balls cooked in a Pomegranate juice and served with a Pomegranate Molasses and garnished with chopped Pistachio and Pomegranate Jewels. The second starter was a knock out. A brilliantly conceived dish called Mirza Ghasemi. The usual roast aubergine was the main ingredient however, the twist was the addition of a scrambled egg. What a comforting texture the dish had, the soft smoky aubergine and the creamy scrambled egg. Super dish. We also got a free dish. This is a classic Persian favourite. It consists of Mint, Spring Onion and some other unknown herbs served with a fresh cottage cheese much like a Paneer but much saltier and tangier. You take a piece of the Iranian bread and put some of the cheese and herbs and eat the whole lot. I remember eating these the first time some 20 odd years ago at a friend’s wedding in Mumbai. He had some Iranian ancestry therefore this dish was served with Paneer.
|The Herbs and Cheese|
Our main courses were classic Persian, Sabzi Ghormeh and Zereshk Polow. Sabzi Ghormeh is a stew of sautéed herbs/greens. Different recipes call for various combinations of spinach, parsley, dill and scallions. All these are sautéed with lamb, kidney beans and dried lemons. This is really a tasty dish. The distinct bitter taste in the stew comes from the addition of Kasuri Methi [Fenugreek leaves] that are sometimes added. Zereshk Polow is chicken served with a Pulao with Zereshk berries in it. Zereshk is a typical sour berry growing in the Iran. Those of you who have ever eaten a `Berry Pulao’ at Britannia Restaurant at Ballard Estate in Bombay will recognise the berry. That is a Zereshk berry. The chicken was unremarkable but the Pulao was nice. A good meal, and the restaurant is well worth a visit.
|Rice and Saffron|
The second Persian meal was at a restaurant called Shabestan in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Deira Dubai. This is a highly rated restaurant. Every guide book recommends a meal here. A few drinks at the very English Pub in the Hotel preceded our meal. Once again we got the free dish of herbs and cheese. The cheese was of better quality that at Anar. The bread served was much much better. We also got a bowl of Yogurt to eat with our bread. The Yogurt is totally different from what we have in India. It’s denser, smoother and slightly viscous. Cold and refreshing. As a starter we ordered our new favourite dish Mirza Ghasemi. What turned up was totally different. Just compare the two photographs. Both had roast aubergine both had egg but what a difference. The one at Anar was undoubtedly better.
|More Herb and Cheese Salad|
|Mirza Ghasemi - see how different the two dishes are|
For our main course we ordered another classic Persian dish – the Chelo Kebab Soltani. This was two lamb kebabs. One was a minced meat kebab and the other was a single piece of lamb flattened and thereby tenderised. Both kebabs were grilled. Accompanying them was rice and a piece of the stunningly delicious crisp rice. The kebabs were very well cooked, however I had a problem. They eat lamb in Dubai. We eat goat in India. Goat has almost no taste. The lamb in Dubai is very strong tasting, it’s very, well, lamby. This was a problem for me. I do not like the taste of strong tasting lamb. Along with this we had yet another Sabzi Ghormeh. Very good. A good meal, but as far as value for money is concerned, Anar was better value.
|Chelo Kebab Soltani|