“Where are the Emirati restaurants in Dubai?”
When I first moved here, almost four years ago, I used to ask this question a lot.
I soon stopped asking because I would get the same responses over and over. Either, “I don’t know,” or “Emirati food is in Emirati homes,” or “Local House in Bastakia.”
There are scores of Lebanese, Turkish, Moroccan, a few Iranian plus other Arab nations but local Emirati restaurants? My almost two-year old toddler can count how many there are in Dubai. He can currently count to two, sometimes three, by the way.
Back in my working days, an Emirati colleague of mine told me about a now defunct Emirati restaurant by Safa Park and also recommended Local House. He made me write down three dishes that he said I must order when I get there: chobab bread, rigga pancake (?), and veal harees. At that time, the now famous camel burger hadn’t appeared on the Local House menu yet.
Part of the reason why I started my Emirati cooking project was because there was a lack of Emirati cuisine to sample. I still haven’t made it to Local House and since starting this project I often wonder if I should visit there but have been held back by many a friends’ negative review of the place. I think I will give it a try the next time I have a visitor in town to accompany me.
Some good news I’ve heard recently is that two new Emirati restaurants have opened up this year and I can’t wait to try them: Emirati N More (in the Cassells Al Barsha Hotel) and Al Fanar Restaurant & Cafe (in Festival City’s canal walk). If you’ve been to either, please let me know if it’s any good.
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It’s been a few months since I last posted an Emirati recipe attempt and it’s time to get back on track.
The last Emirati dish I posted was an Emirati Chicken Biryani and as it was the first time I had every made biryani, I wondered how and if the preparation and cooking process differed from Indian biryanis. In response, Mishti from Stovetop Dancing replied with this informative comment:
“Yup, this comes pretty close to the Indian Biryani. Although Indian biryani is almost never cooked with boneless biryani (except the contemporary invention of chicken tikka biryani). Apparently when chicken is cooked while on the bone, it is juicier; and since biryani is mostly dry, this helps counter that in a mild way.
You were right in taking out the whole spices, we always do this.
There are two ways of making it the Indian way. The “kachchi” biryani where chicken and rice are cooked together and “pakki” biryani (like the Emirati one) where the rice is almost cooked, chicken is also done and then they are layered and put on “dum” meaning pressure. The latter is much more common. For this, we seal the utensil in which the biryani is cooking with a flour dough. The vapour causes the dough to become like a chappati and it smells great In India, biryani is always served with raita, a yogurt based salad.
I think I was once told that Biryani originated in Persia and travelled to India with the Mughal empire. Also an interesting snippet was that Mumtaz Mahal (wife of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal in her honor) served biryani to the Mughal army since it was “complete nutrition” and the eggs were thrown in as extra protein for the soldiers. Who knows? “
Thanks Mishti for “geeking it out on food”!
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So my last Emirati biryani (chicken), which started off pretty disastrous and I thought it was going to be a complete failure, ended up being a huge success.
Whereas today’s Emirati biryani (lamb), started out very well, with great flavors, and properly cooked rice – so I had high hopes that it would top the last biryani attempt – but it ended up being a huge disappointment.
If you would like to try your hand at Emirati lamb biryani, please visit this link for the recipe and I hope that your attempt will be better than mine. Please come back and comment to let me know how you get on.
About this recipe, Celia writes:
A very popular daily meal, usually made in large portions for special occasions such as Eids, weddings and engagement parties. Serve with salad, limes, yoghurt and fresh herbs.
Right. It seems that I am forever changing the serving size of these recipes so let me begin to tell you about some of the changes that I made.
My eyeballs nearly popped out of their sockets when I saw that the original lamb biryani recipe called for 6 cups of basmati rice. I was only making this for a small lunch party, not the large celebrations that the recipe was probably intended for.
For the previous biryani, I used 2 cups of rice and that served 10 people. Which would mean that 6 cups would serve 30!
I don’t have enough
guinea pigs friends in Dubai to serve 6 cups of rice. Plus I didn’t want leftovers for a whole month. So I thirded (is that even a word?) the recipe and used 2 cups of basmati rice which I rinsed a few times and then soaked for a couple hours. Is the soaking supposed to make the rice fluffier, I wonder?
I used 1 lb (450 g) of boneless leg of lamb that I cubed and boiled until tender (45 minutes). Instead of whole blanched almonds, I used slivered almonds because I was too lazy to blanch and peel the whole ones.
I bought yellow split peas for the first time. The bag from the grocery store (Carrefour) was labeled “Moong Dal” – they were the only peas in the peas/dal aisle that was yellow and split so I hope they were the right ones.
Celia’s instructions said to “boil and drain the yellow peas.” Since I have never prepared yellow split peas before, I wondered if I was supposed to (1) rinse them first? (2) throw them in the pot when the water is boiling? (3) throw them in the pot when the water was cold and bring to boil? (4) boil them for 5 seconds? 1 minute? 10 minutes?
A quick Google search resulted in me rinsing the split peas, putting them in water (enough to cover the peas), bringing the water to a boil and simmering the peas for 20 minutes.
No idea if that’s what I was supposed to do or not but that’s what I did.
“Boil cloves, peppercorns, cardamom and cinnamon in the water and add salt to taste. Once it has started to boil, add the rice.” For my chicken biryani, I had wondered if my rice would have been more fragrant if I had boiled the spices in the water first before throwing the rice in. But here Celia tells me to do exactly that.
I only boiled the rice for 5 minutes this time, instead of 10, and thankfully it did not come out overly cooked, sticky, and falling apart like the last time. Again, Celia does not mention if I’m supposed to remove the spices after draining the rice.
This time I decided to leave them in. Except for the cloves because I had discovered them on my kitchen counter while I was draining the rice so I never threw those into the pot in the first place. Sigh.
Well, better late than never. So in went the cloves with the already drained rice.
I fried the meat in oil for a few minutes and tasted a few pieces – they were very good! It made me think that my biryani was going to come out special.
When adding the oil to the pot for the layering, the recipe didn’t mention whether I should heat the pot up first so my oil wasn’t fluid and just sat in one small area.
Maybe I was supposed to add more oil until it did cover the pot? I decided to not do that and heated the pot so that the oil softened enough to coat the bottom.
I layered as instructed.
But I wasn’t sure which layer I was supposed to end on – rice? meat? tomato-onion mixture? I decided to use the rice as the top layer.
Saffron was soaked in rosewater diluted with tap water. I was supposed to “drizzle the remaining oil on top, then the saffron.” Here, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to drain the saffron and discard the rosewater – OR – if I was to drizzle both the saffron and rosewater on top of the biryani. Hmmph.
I decided to go halfway and poured half of the diluted rosewater onto the biryani plus all the saffron. Except the saffron just clumped in one small pocket of rice. I was hoping that it would dissolve as it cooked (it didn’t).
“Cover with a cloth and tightly-fitting lid.” I didn’t have a clean cloth that wasn’t reeking with fabric softener so I used a few layers of dampened kitchen roll. I don’t know why I dampened it because I now notice that the instructions didn’t say “wet cloth” just “cloth.” Arg.
After simmering for 20 minutes, I removed the biryani from heat and let it rest for a bit.
Finally it was biryani sampling time. I had high hopes. False hopes now. The rice wasn’t too bad but the lamb, once moist, tender and tasty, came out dry, a little tough, and somewhat flavorless.
I did not enjoy the texture of the split peas and I couldn’t really taste the almonds. Maybe that’s why I was supposed to use whole, blanched almonds.
However, the next day, the almonds firmed up and added a nice crunch to the dish.
I notice that Celia’s picture from this recipe has sliced egg in it. But it wasn’t called for in the recipe nor the notes so my lamb biryani has no egg.
Maybe this post should be re-titled: “Trials and Tribulations of a Clueless Girl in Dubai Attempting to Cook Emirati Lamb Biryani” Nah, too long 🙂
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I made this biryani back in June and Wee Scotch had not only started to throw toddler tantrums but was starting to get quite picky with his food so he refused to eat this lamb biryani no matter how hard I tried to bribe him with sweets and candy (not that I do that often!).
Not to worry! Wee Scotch’s girlfriend was quick to step in to pose for the photos and save the day.
Scotch said that the lamb biryani was “good” but I think he might have just been humoring me knowing all the effort that I put into making it.
We had TONS of leftovers and I ended up throwing out all the lamb (too dry) and using the rest of the biryani as a side dish for a chicken curry.
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Previous Emirati recipe: Emirati Recipe: Chicken Biryani (Biryani de-jaj)
Note: This post is part of my Cooking Local project.
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