Friday, March 14, 2014

A foodie's dream come true: Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage with Frying Pan Adventures in Dubai

Falafel Mahshi stuffed with a tangy chili and onion paste and hummus with tatbeela, a coriander,parsley, capsicum, lemon sauce.

After watching a sensational sunrise from Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and indulging in a 5-course afternoon tea at Burj Al Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world, let’s exchange the modern architectural wonders of this cosmopolitan metropolis for a food tasting extravaganza in Old Dubai.

Currently ranked as the number 1 "Thing to do in Dubai" on TripAdvisor and recommended in FooDiva's "A Dubai Foodie Bucket List" , Frying Pan Adventures' "Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage" is a 5:34:07 hour marathon featuring culinary delights from Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.

Mansaf, a traditional Jordanian dish in which lamb or chicken is slow-cooked in fermented and preserved goat's milk yogurt.

To prepare for our foodie marathon, Arva Ahmed, the delightful founder of Frying Pan Adventures, sent an email recommending that we limit ourselves to a light meal on the day of the tour, get plenty of rest and wear comfortable clothing covering our shoulders and legs. Once our multi-national group of eight was assembled at the first restaurant, Arva passed out headphones, which proved to be very helpful while we walked along busy roads, a bottle of water and, most importantly, revealed the secret of how to make it to the end of the tour with a little bit of room left in our bellies. "The trick," she said, "is to divide your stomach into sections. When we leave this restaurant, your stomach should be no more than 15% full. At each of the six places we visit, I'll tell you how much room should be left in your stomach. If you follow my instructions, you'll make it all the way to the end." It sounded simple and it would have been if I wasn't in the middle of the most scrumptious falafel I had ever tasted. Would I have the required restraint to cut myself off from all the amazing taste sensations?

Like many inexperienced marathon runners, I started out strong. Too strong. I unabashedly took seconds of the hummus and had just bitten into another falafel when our waiter brought a heaping plate of Mansaf, a traditional Jordanian dish. Belatedly realizing that each subsequent dish would probably be even more delicious than the last, I chastised myself. Slow down. You have to pace yourself, or you're never going to make it to the Iranian restaurant.

Kunafa Na'ama, cheese pie with ground kataifi noodle pastry on top and Arva serving the Bedouin meal that was eaten in a tent.

Arva, who is as knowledgeable about food as she is passionate, told us about each dish in detail. At her favorite sweet shop, she explained the correct way to drink the spicy Arabic coffee and how to signal that we were finished. When we mistakenly thought that a silky white cream paired with pistachio filled ma'amouls was beaten egg whites, Arva told us that it was actually natef, made by boiling the roots of the soapwart tree and blending the residual water with sugar, rosewater and orange blossom water.

My only regret is that St├ęphane and I didn't do Arva's tour the first night that we were in Dubai. Without a doubt, the Iranian Sangak (stone bread) with cheese and rayhaan leaves (tulsi), Kashk Bademjan (eggplant and preserved whey dip), Kabab Koobideh (twice minced lamb kabab) and rice with Zereshk and Murg (barberries and chicken) was some of the best food that we tasted in Dubai and we would have happily gone back for more the following night.

Both St├ęphane and I highly recommend the Middle Eastern Foodie Pilgrimage and hope to do another one of Frying Pan Adventures' tours if we return to Dubai.

For more information, please click here to visit Frying Pan Adventures' website.

Iranian Sangak (stone bread) fresh out of the oven and hanging on the wall
Booza, Arabic ice cream made out of milk, mastic (the resin of an evergreen plant associated with pistachio) and sahlep (orchid tubers). The ice cream is pounded with the wooden mallet seen in the photo on the left to develop its characteristic chewy texture.
Masgouf, an Iraqi dish from near the Tigris River in Baghdad, is giant butterflied carp roasted on wooden stakes. It's served with tangy pickled mango.

4 comments:

  1. Okay, how did you remember all those exotic names and ingredients? And I would certainly do this tour too--sounds fantastic. You're really selling me on this Dubai trip.

    jxg

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    1. Thanks for asking how I remembered all the exotic names! I didn't -- Frying Pan Adventures sent an excellent follow up email that included the names and main ingredients of all the dishes that we sampled as well as the names and addresses of the restaurants we visited. Something else that I wanted to share with you is that Arva happened to mention that she took a chef from Chicago on a private tour. When she said that he was particularly interested in learning about Middle Eastern flavors, I asked if the chef was Grant Achatz. It wasn't but I still thought that it was really interesting. As for a trip to Dubai, I highly recommend seeing it at least once in your life time.

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  2. I'm happy that you both enjoyed the Iranian food so much. Not that many Americans or Europeans know very much about Iranian cuisine. (I'm not familiar with the other countries' cuisine though.) I've been eating delicious homemade Iranian food regularly for over 25 years, and I've got a nice box of Zereshk in my pantry, waiting to be soaked in saffon (in my fridge) and mixed with colorful rice. My husband loves Sangak and we bought some hot off the stones when we were visiting family in Tehran a couple of years ago.

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    1. You're lucky to be able to eat Iranian food at home, Karen! Isn't it supposed to be the queen of Middle Eastern cuisine? Arva, who's Indian, told us that Iranians think that people from other countries don't know how to make rice correctly. The rice at the Iranian restaurant was delicious! After sampling Iranian food in Dubai, Stephane and I finally went to the Iranian restaurant in our neighborhood in Paris last Saturday. I had heard that it's supposed to be very good and it was. The name of the restaurant is Shabestan: http://www.shabestan.fr/eng-index.html

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