Enter The Exchange Grill

I walked into The Exchange Grill and the first thing that caught my eye was the perfectly set table right next to me. But today we weren’t heading towards the table to be seated, we were heading into the kitchen instead, for our Gourmet Masterclass. We started with my favourite part of any meal, dessert. We watched spellbound as Romain Castet (Executive Pastry Chef at Fairmont Dubai) ran us through how to make the most exquisite dessert – Sticky Toffee Pudding. But this was nothing compared to what was coming up next.

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Once Chef Romain had finished showing us his magic tricks behind the dessert counter, we met Chef Nahsen Akgul (Chef de Cuisine at Fairmont Dubai). We paired up and it was time for all of us to put our culinary skills to the test and make Crab Cakes with Mango Salsa. First we watched the master at work as he made a complicated recipe look like a piece of cake…slicing and dicing without even looking down. I listened like I was back in my High School Chemistry class (scared of blowing the lab up) and then it was showtime. Some of us breezed through it, while others just about reached the finish line but we all had delighted smiles on our faces by the end of it and that’s all that matters right?

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After getting a master class in how to cook various types of meat (which only made our mouths water more) we were finally ushered into a secret back-room which was cozy yet chic. The table was set with a feast and we had certainly worked up an appetite. This is certainly an experience I will never forget!

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Em Sherif Dubai: Epitome of Excellence

Before you even step into Em Sherif the soothing sound of the Dubai Fountains will put you in just the right mood for what is to come. As you walk down towards the entryway you can’t help but let out a little gasp as the fountains surge to meet the top of the Burj Khalifa.

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

From the moment you step into Em Sherif Dubai, you are transported into another world. The authentic Lebanese food is perfectly complemented by the traditional decor.

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

As you are welcomed in, the sound of Lebanese folk music takes over.

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

Once you are seated and your waiter for the evening has briefed you on the traditions of Em Sherif the starters begin to arrive. Each dish here has a secret twist. The Fattouch is my personal favourite. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you what the twist to this dish is. The Kebbeh Sajiyeh and the Briwat Jebneh are also must trys!

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

I must warn you to nibble on the starters even though you feel like polishing off every morsel in sight as there is a lot more coming to your table. This adventure is certainly not for the faint hearted.

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

Make sure you skip a meal before you arrive as there so many mouth-watering dishes to try. By the time the main course arrives it becomes a battle between your mind and your stomach. Eventually you will get carried away by the delicious aroma of the grilled meat but you won’t regret a single bite.

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

Of course no meal is complete without dessert but at Em Sherif, dessert is like a meal in itself! Every single dessert has a different flavour and texture to it. A spoonful of Meghle, a bite of the Booza (delightful upside down ice-cream cones), a nibble of Tamriyye and there was absolutely no place left in my stomach.

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

Wash it all down with some rich, dark Lebanese coffee and you will realise that time has just flown. Two hours have just whizzed past since you stepped in.

Em Sherif Dubai | life is an open road

As you wrap up the meaningful conversation you were finally able to have since you weren’t in a rush, you will surely smile to yourself and think about who you would like to recommend this secret foodie haven to. You can take a look at the detailed menu and make a reservation by clicking here: http://www.emsherif.com/

Soy: Certainly So Chinese!

I was wandering around aimlessly through Dubai Mall when suddenly a flash of colour caught my attention!

Soy: Certainly So Chinese | life is an open road

I walked a few steps closer and the first thing that caught my attention were the colourful traditional Chinese lanterns and the fashionable yet intimate pink booths for diners.

Soy: Certainly So Chinese | life is an open road

Being a foodie at heart, the next thing I did was to walk upto the counter where the host was standing and pore over the menu. Before I could even order…my mind started imagining all the tasty things I could order.

Soy: Certainly So Chinese | life is an open road

I spotted several seafood courses on the menu and I was already won over even before walking in.

Soy: Certainly So Chinese | life is an open road

Soy: So Chinese at Dubai Mall under promises and over delivers at every level. I tried a couple of different things and all of them were fabulous.

Soy: Certainly So Chinese | life is an open road

I started off with prawn dumplings and Tom Yum soup which were absolutely delightful! By the time my main course arrived I was already in heaven.

Soy: Certainly So Chinese | life is an open road

The elegant decor is the perfect reflection of the food you can expect to eat at this restaurant.

 

 

 

Filipino Food: An Explosion of Flavours!

I came to Dubai barely 6 months ago with stars in my eyes. It was a completely new experience for me! This was the first time I was leaving the familiar surroundings of India and I did not know what to expect. Everybody had told me something different about Dubai and I honestly did not know who to believe. So as usual, I set off on my own journey with my eyes wide open. To my delight I found Dubai very welcoming. I thought that since it was such a large, cosmopolitan city most people would not really have the time to stop and chat but I was wrong! In no time at all, I found myself surrounded by friendly faces. The first place where I made a ton of friends was at work and the majority of those friends were from the Phillipines.

Why You Must Try Filipino Food | life is an open roadMy new friendships began at the lunch table over steaming hot delicacies. The first Filipino dish that my friends made me fall in love with was Adobo. Adobo is made from marinated vegetables, meat or fish and is served with rice. It is made using equal parts of soya sauce and vinegar and is quite simple to make. My favourite version of this dish is the one that has Pork in it, every single mouthful is heavenly. You should find the recipe online and try it out at home. The variety of different flavours in this dish will leave you dying for more!

Why You Must Try Filipino Food | life is an open road

The next Filipino dish that I tasted was Karekare. This is a Filipino stew made from meat and vegetables cooked in peanut sauce. The first spoonful did not blow me away. It tasted like normal stew until my friend passed me a little container with shrimp paste that goes with this dish. The wow factor comes from the shrimp paste. Every drop of this paste is packed with flavour!

Why You Must Try Filipino Food | life is an open roadAfter a few months of being fed delicious treats at work, I thought I knew quite a bit about Filipino food until I opened the fridge at work and saw a box filled with what looked like mini idlis (Indian rice cakes). I turned around and saw Kathleen smiling at me. She said, “I knew you would be curious to try these, so I got some from home. We had a small dinner party last night and I got some yummy stuff for all of you.”

Why You Must Try Filipino Food | life is an open road

Puto tastes like sweet idli. It has cheese on top that melts in your mouth. Kathleen had brought a box full of Puto to office in the morning but before lunch time came around, every single piece had magically disappeared. “What! Don’t look at me, I don’t know what happened to them.”

Why You Must Try Filipino Food | life is an open road

Iftar Buffet at Cafe Najjar

Ramadan in the UAE is a different experience in itself. Having spent most of my life in Bangalore, I am used to yummy treats from my Muslim friends during Eid but when you live in the UAE, the entire month of Ramadan is a food fiesta! There are special buffets on offer all over the place and great discounts too! So basically what I am trying to say is that the month of Ramadan is foodie paradise!

Cafe Najjar | life is an open road

I got to attend quite a few iftar buffets this Ramadan, some were small and intimate gatherings with just close friends while others were lavish spreads in some of Dubai’s finest restaurants. I want to tell you about one particularly special evening. A colleague of mine was going to move to Malaysia, so we decided to head out from work to a nearby cafe for an iftar buffet. Since all of us were quite emotional about her leaving, we decided food therapy was the best way forward.

Cafe Najjar | life is an open road

It was quite a pleasant treat when we reached Cafe Najjar and saw a mouth-watering feast laid out on long tables covered in pristine white table cloths. The first thing that caught our eye was the dessert table. Now dessert is normally supposed to be eaten at the end of a meal but rules are meant to be broken right? So we all headed for the loaded dessert table. I spent a few minutes letting my eyes dart from one colourful dessert to the next until the manager finally walked up to me and smiled. We started chatting with each other as he told me about every dish available that night.

Cafe Najjar | life is an open road

Once I had piled my plate high with the most delectable food I could find, he went on to tell me a little about the history of Cafe Najjar.  This Cafe started in Lebanon over fifty years ago and now has branches all over the world. It began in Beirut in 1977 and now has outlets in over fifty countries! So what’s the secret to their success? Coffee! They offer eighteen special Lebanese brews and carry something exotic from nearly every country across the globe.

Cafe Najjar | life is an open road

However this particular evening, our iftar meal was not about their coffee, it was about their food, so let me tell you more about that. For once the food on display, tasted as good as it looked! We had a million options to choose from, each yummier than the last! There was a wide array of Lebanese dishes from Fatoosh to Fettah with Lamb (meat with rice and toasted pita bread), Tabbouleh (salad), Sayadieh (rice and fish), spicy Tahini fish, different varieties of Baklava and much more!

Cafe Najjar | life is an open road

From the minute we entered this Cafe to the moment we staggered out several hours later, all we did was eat voraciously! We heaped our plates with helping after helping of perfectly flavoured and balanced dishes, made by a chef who obviously knew exactly what he was doing. We took a ton of pictures, laughed and talked late into the night until we could not keep our eyes open any longer. In other words, a perfect iftar meal in the true spirit of Ramadan!

Iftar Buffet at Cafe Najjar| life is an open road

Ramadan in Dubai: A Culinary Extravaganza!

Dubai is a place that is always filled with tourists. What attracts people to this glitzy city, filled with high-rise buildings? For some, it is the wide variety of malls, for others it is the old world charm, but what attracts me the most to this city is the food. Dubai is a city, where if you can dream of a dish, you can find it!
Ramadan in Dubai | life is an open road
During the holy month of Ramadan though, things change completely, at least during the day. Dubai’s bustling restaurant scene virtually goes into hibernation mode for the regular part of the day; only opening up later in the evening, once the faithful have broken their fast. It is an amazing cultural and religious phenomenon; one that can only be put into perspective, once you pose the fundamental question: What is Ramadan? In essence, Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection and fasting observed by Muslims around the world. In the UAE and Dubai in particular, it is a way of life; an event of tremendous significance for both emiratis and expats alike. During Ramadan in Dubai, eating or drinking in public places is prohibited. This strict rule is in place to ensure that devout Muslims are not deterred in their focus while observing their fast, which in the sweltering heat of the Middle East is probably one of the toughest acts of physical endurance that you could dream up, and then some!
Ramadan in Dubai | life is an open road
Now then, how does a Dubai newbie and foodie to boot, survive during Ramadan in Dubai? Well, if you are staying with a friend or at a hotel, it is best for you to plan a midday break and head home for lunch, where you can wolf down your food within the confines of your room. Otherwise you might find yourself staring longingly at food, without being able to eat any of it.
Ramadan in Dubai | life is an open road
The best part about Ramadan are the lavish spreads on offer all around the city, once the sun sets. From small roadside stalls to five-star buffets, you can experience a culinary extravaganza! Here is a look at what one of the street vendors had on display in the bylanes of Dubai. From piping hot samosas to spicy bondas, from pakoras to vadas, from dates to freshly cut watermelon, he had a delicious array of treats to offer every passerby! Now multiply what you see by hundred, in terms of both quality and quantity,and that’s what you can expect at any of the finer hotels in the city!
Ramadan in Dubai | life is an open road
Muslims the world over, fast for different periods of time, but in the UAE this year, people fast for roughly fifteen hours and break their fast only once the sun sets. They cannot consume a single drop of water or eat a morsel of food until then. At the time of Iftar, family and friends gather together to break their fast together.
Ramadan in Dubai | life is an open road
It’s awesome to make friends with locals in Dubai who are keen on inviting tourists into their homes, to partake in Iftar. Some friends of mine invited me to share in their meal, when they broke their fast. We began with dates stuffed with macdemia nuts and almonds.
Ramadan in Dubai | life is an open road
We then dug into some heavenly Lebanese food (special rice wrapped in vine leaves) and pasta and washed it all down with laban, which is a mixture of yogurt, cold water and salt.
Ramadan in Dubai | life is an open road
If all these Ramadan pictures have got your mouth watering, then you know which place to visit next year, during this month!

Nuances of Nigerian Food

I have been a foodie since the day I was born. I am sure that when my mother gave me Farex for the first time, I thought to myself- ‘I wonder how many flavours this stuff comes in’. I have a reputation among my friends for being able to eat just about anything! After experimenting with a variety of different flavours my mind always starts wandering. ‘What next?’ So I was overjoyed when I got a call from a friend in my film class. She asked me if I wanted to try traditional Nigerian food.  I did not have to think about it before saying yes!

Nigerian Food | life is an open roadDorothy used to be a model back home in Nigeria and she can cook quite well. After giving us some juice and chips, she and her friend Amanda got busy in the kitchen and in a short while a delicious aroma filled the air. When I asked her what was on the menu all I heard was one word – swallow. While they cooked I began to imagine a swallow on my plate. Would it be a whole roasted bird or some sort of soup with meat floating in it? As my curiosity grew, my stomach began to rumble in anticipation!

Nigerian Food | life is an open roadI sneaked into the kitchen for a peek and this was the first thing that caught my eye. I heard Amanda ask Dorothy for pumpkin leaves and palm oil before I left the kitchen. While our hosts cooked, we had a little chat about Nigeria with them. I learnt that India and Nigeria have quite a few things in common, especially in relation to the immense diversity in food, clothing, culture and people from different regions of the same country. They told us about hundreds of different tribes in Nigeria and how each tribe has a unique way of life. We told them about India and how every state is so diverse. As we chatted, they brought steaming hot plates of food to the table.

Nigerian Food | life is an open roadMy curiosity got the better of me and I asked, ‘Where is the swallow?’. Dorothy burst out laughing and held up a plate. Swallow or Eba as it is referred to in Nigeria is a preparation made from crushed cassava tubers and hot water and is a staple food in West Africa. The powdered cassava tubers, called Gari, are also used as a basic ingredient in various other Nigerian dishes.

Nigerian Food | life is an open roadAlong with the Eba (that reminded me of Ragi Mudde) our hosts had made Egusi soup for us. The main flavour in this dish comes from melon seeds (Egusi), different types of meat and dried fish. The colour comes from palm oil and pumpkin leaves that are added to this tasty broth. After wolfing down the delicious Eba and Egusi soup, we had some watermelon for dessert. I was blown away by how such a simple looking dish packed in so much flavour. If you ever have the chance, do try Nigerian food. I promise you that you’ll love it!

Nigerian Food | life is an open road