The UAE is a second home to many Malayalis. Most travel to the UAE with the sole purpose to earn money and provide better living conditions for their families. The hectic working hours and the comforting bedtime are common happenings in the lives of all NRIs, irrespective of their profession. Being born and raised in the UAE, I have always felt that “food” is what basically connects a Malayali to Kerala. Onamsadhya during Onam, Biriyani during Eid, Appam and chicken stew/ curry during Easter are some of the times that give us the nostalgia of home (different festivals, different food tastes).
Though, Malayalis crave Kerala dishes; there is always a special place for Middle-Eastern dishes in a Malayali’s heart. Long after, NRIs retire from the UAE and return to Kerala, the common thing they crave might be the food in UAE. As an NRI studying in India who emotionally and physically misses Emirati dishes, I believe a few dishes deserve an appreciation.
If you have an NRI friend in Kerala, never take him/her for shawarma anywhere. If you do, the chances of him/her saying, “Ithoke enthu shawarma, UAE yile shawarmayanu shawarma…” is a sure thing. How am I sure? I have done this to my friends too and I would still advocate for the same because it is nothing short of “magic”. The Arabic Shawarma from local restaurants stuff chicken/meat/beef, french fries, vegetables and various sauces in a piece of Arabic bread.
The major difference in shawarma in the UAE is seen in the bread used. Indians use Kuboos (a flat Arabic bread), while the Middle-Easterners use rumali roti type bread, which is subtly heated. A bite of the shawarma, the sudden outburst of the sauces with pieces of chicken and its stuffings gushing into our taste buds; is an experience that can never be put into words. Anything I say would be an understatement.
You would think, why is this dude hyping about shawarma. I really don’t know, but this would be a common emotion shared by many who had their childhood in a Middle East country.
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To all the Vegetarians who wonder if there is a veg alternative to shawarma, it’s falafel. It is made from a chickpeas patty, which is deep-fried. Similar to that of shawarma, but cheaper and a huge favourite among NRIs.
It tastes different when served as rolls with various fillings. If Shawarma is a paradise for non-vegetarians, then Falafel rolls are heaven for vegetarians (though it is a favourite dish for most non-vegetarians too).
Kuboos and Hummus
Now, this is the pair that has served as a saviour combo for a number of Malayalis. Why? This is the combo that most NRIs eat or have eaten; primarily to save money.
‘Kuboos’ is a flatbread local to the Middle East, which can come in various sizes. The quality of Kuboos used in the shawarma in India is the reason why it is not readily accepted, especially by the people who have once tasted the Arabic Shawarma. Kuboos is a perfect partner and can strike a chemistry in no time. It can go well with almost everything; pickle brought from Kerala, meen curry (or for that matter any curry), any sauces/ pastes, it can even go solo at times.
But as Laila is to Majnu, Antony Perumbavoor to Lalettan, Minnal to Murali, so is “Hummus” to Kuboos. Hummus is a dish that can also go well with a number of other dishes but basically eaten with Kuboos. It is made from chickpeas with an addition of olive oil, garlic, salt, etc.
Most bachelors that arrive in the Middle East with the hopes to make some quick bucks and return home, probably start their NRI lives with this combo of Kuboos and Hummus.
Knafeh is a popular dessert in the Middle Eastern countries and has also gained acclaim in a number of other countries too. It is basically made of cheese which is baked in shredded phyllo dough. It is then soaked in simple syrup before serving.
It is a popular dessert among those who are fond of cheese and cheese in abundance. There are a number of desserts based in the UAE, but Knafeh climbed into this list because it is a popular dessert among the Malayalis too.
Though there are various types of chai available in the UAE, Karak chai is the hero of it all. ‘Karak’ roughly translate to strong and is basically a stronger version of a normal tea. It is the go-to chai for most Malayalis in the UAE.
Available in almost all cafeterias throughout the country, it can be bought with just AED 1.
There are many other tastes in the UAE that have a special place in the hearts of NRI Malayalis. This list of Emirati dishes is a humble attempt on my part, to appreciate the tastes I grew up in. This list is not exhaustive so do share other Emirati dishes that we, Malayalis, are fond of.
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