While walking through the souks, my husband and I walked by a teashop that looked like it was right out of India. Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil’s restaurant was a small one that could only hold a half dozen customers. Out front were bowls full of snacks – samosas, vadas and bhajias – which I could not resist. We ordered two cups of masala chai (spiced tea). This was the best spiced tea we have ever tasted! It was difficult to carry my camera bag and balance the snacks and hot tea in my two hands but I managed. After the first cup, we ordered another round of tea and more snacks. After this treat, I was ready for more sights and shopping…

 

We stopped at Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil's shop for tea and snacks.

We stopped at Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil’s shop for tea and snacks.

 

The next day we flew to Goa. Next, I will share my experiences in this seaside paradise.

 

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On the second day of our adventure, we visited the spice souk in the old section of Dubai. The most impressive thing that struck me about this part of town was its cleanliness. No trash of any kind could be seen on the ground. No crumbling sidewalks. (Don’t get me started on this because I can rant for hours. You may find hints of my feelings in some of my posts from 2011.) The area is perfectly safe too.

 

As we entered the market, I was amazed that it was organized by content. One aisle featured stores that only sold cooking pots and utensils; another was dedicated to spices. I expected to see open stalls or booths but found actual shops with glass fronts and open doors. We found shop after shop with huge bags of spices. From whole spices like cardamoms, anise, peppercorns of many colors and cinnamon sticks of varying lengths to ground spices including, cumin, turmeric, chiles and paprika, they had everything one would need to create a perfectly seasoned dish.

 

One of many spice shops in Dubai's spice souk.

One of many spice shops in Dubai’s spice souk.

 

 

One of my most interesting finds was the saffron flowers. They are actually bundles, about an inch in diameter, of saffron threads. It was very easy to see the different parts of saffron, from the yellow thread to the red stigma. Each vendor offered several quality grades from the least expensive (contains some yellow parts) to the best which had virtually no yellow parts at all. One of the shopkeepers, Jamal, not only sold saffron in small quantities but in huge boxes. When I asked him who buys saffron in such large quantities, he replied that Indians use just a pinch of saffron in each dish and Saudis throw a handful into the same amount of food! Since the spice was so fresh, I could smell its aroma without having to bring it to my nose. Ahh! Of course we had to buy some (okay, just about 6 grams).

 

Large balls of saffron.

Large balls of saffron.

 

This trip was educational for me as well. After snapping away with my camera, I asked the shopkeeper the names of the items I didn’t know. The first one was dried lemon and its cousin the black dried lemon. These lemons are staples in Emirati cooking. Since I had seen a few recipes at home that called for them and didn’t really know what dried lemons were or where to find them, I was thrilled to see both varieties! I didn’t buy any since I wasn’t sure if I could take them home; now I wish I had.

 

 

Dried black and yellow lemons in the spice souk.

Dried black and yellow lemons in the spice souk.

 

I also discovered saffron pistachios. Light yellow in color they are roasted with saffron and turmeric. I tasted just one nut in the store and it was quite tasty! I purchased 400 grams that were sealed in a bag for me to take home. I can’t wait to start working on my version of this recipe.

 

Cinnamon sticks come in many sizes and thicknesses. I thought they only came in pieces about 4 inches long. I found huge bags of them in one of the shops. Some were thin, others thicker, and some were up to a foot long. I purchased one of the super-sized sticks to see how the flavor compares to those from Kerala.

 

Our hotel, the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, offered fresh Arabic coffee and delicious dates that melt in your mouth to all guests in the lobby. Since it was free I helped myself often. The coffee is a light roast ground with cardamom pods. I think it is best suited for the afternoon since it is light. In one of the shops at the souk I purchased two pounds of this delicious coffee to take home.

 

What a fun day. I can’t wait to get to India (Goa and Kerala) to see the plantations where spices are grown.

 
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Since I own about a half dozen of Sanjeev Kapoor’s cookbooks and have heard only rave reviews about his cooking, I thought his restaurant, Khazana, should be on my ‘To Do’ list while in Dubai.

 

Upon entering the nearly empty Khazana Restaurant, we were seated immediately at a table for two in the dining room that was subdivided into smaller, more intimate areas. When the waiter arrived we asked to see the wine menu. Since the waiter could not understand our English, we resorted to pointing to the wine we wanted. Since it wasn’t available, we made a few more attempts to order a wine that was in inventory. After two failed attempts, we received a bottle of wine. The poor waiter didn’t have a clue about wine or how to present and serve the wine. The wine list only offered wines with 2010 or younger vintages and were very expensive for what they were.

 

Ordering our meal was another experience. Because the waiter had a limited understanding of English, my husband had to speak to him in Hindi. In a country where most of the people are expats, I found this odd since English is the de facto common language. The waiter could not explain the menu to me so I could understand the preparation for the dishes. We ordered Dum Methi Murgh (chicken with fenugreek cooked dum style), Chemeen Purichathu (marinated shrimp fried with curry leaves and coconut) and Jeera Rice (plain rice with cumin seeds).

Dinner of Chicken with Fenugreek, Shrimp with Curry Leaves and rice at Khazana Dubai.

Dinner of Chicken with Fenugreek, Shrimp with Curry Leaves and rice at Khazana Dubai.

 

The dishes were tasty even though one was served on a chipped plate. The chicken in the Dum Methi Murgh was moist and perfectly cooked, not over done; it was all dark meat, though. The Chemeen Purichathu was prepared in the standard Kerala style and was quite tasty. There was too much oil in the Jeera Rice but I have to admit it was really good. The cuisine, in my opinion, was standard Indian cooking, not redefined, chef-inspired dishes.

 

The hostess and manager never asked us about the food or our experience at the restaurant. My rating of Khazana is that the food is good (not outstanding) but overrated. The front end of the restaurant operation needs significant training starting with the waiter to the hostess and the manger. Sadly, I was disappointed with this lackluster experience but am glad that I tasted Sanjeev Kapoor’s cuisine.

 

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The first thing my husband and I did after landing in beautiful, sparkling Dubai was to take a very touristy adventure out into the desert. Along with two other couples, we climbed into a Toyota Forerunner and were driven out over the sand dunes. The only way to describe the ride is to compare it to a sandy roller coaster at an amusement park. Fortunately the SUV had been fitted with extra protection inside. At first I thought that the bars along the roof were places to hold on for dear life. I believe they were there to support the top on case it rolled over.

 

Riding the dunes in the Dubai desert.

Riding the dunes in the Dubai desert.

 

The driver took us to the top of huge dunes that had to be 20 to 30 feet high and then he would accelerate on the downhill side, turn and race up the next hill. The motion would have been comparable to forced skids if we had been on a paved road. After a while I realized I had absolutely no idea where we were. If the driver had had sinister ideas to kidnap or abandon us, we would have no idea which way to go or if we could even travel in a straight line! Fortunately, he was honest and we were in the company of 20 different SVUs doing the same thing. Finally we reached our destination.

 

As we pulled up to one of the final dunes, he let us out of the vehicle to take pictures of the sunset. I was so excited to use the concepts I had learned during my recent photography class last fall on my new camera. But no! The sun was sinking very quickly! I had to figure out which settings to use on my camera! I tried a few that came to mind but I feel I missed a few. Anyway, sunsets in the desert are very stunning and romantic even if shared with dozens of other people.

Ann Vinod in the Dubai desert.

Ann Vinod in the Dubai desert.

With the last few rays of sun, we headed to our destination – an area that was set up like an old fashioned Bedouin village, where we dined on typical Indian food and watch belly dancing. The food was served buffet-style. It was pretty good food and abundant. The tour operator made sure that we had enough options to satisfy everyone’s needs. I forgot, they did offer a few non-Indian alternatives, like spaghetti with sauce, but I ignored those since I could have them at home any day. The after dinner entertainment was a blast. First a gentleman dressed in local costume danced on center stage then a beautiful woman displayed her belly dancing skills.

 

 

At the bedouin camp we dined on Indian food and watched belly dancing.

At the bedouin camp we dined on Indian food and watched belly dancing.

 

First I had the time of my life. As you can see from the photo, I road a camel! It was out of this world! Having ridden horses when I was young I thought it would be a snap. Since the camel had to kneel down for me to climb up, the process of him (her?) awkwardly standing up one leg at a time left me holding on with white knuckles. Once up and walking, the animal didn’t walk with the smooth gait of a horse but one that felt like he was walking for the first time. It felt like the movement of each leg was not timed with the others. Not clippity-clop but clippity-clop-clop-clop. Unfortunately the ride was too short…

 

Ann Vinod riding a camel in the Dubai desert.

Ann Vinod riding a camel in the Dubai desert.

 

This may have been the most fun experience of my life! Who would have thought that a girl from Sylvania, Ohio would ever ride a camel in the desert at sunset!

 

The next morning I was able to dump out a half cup of sand onto the floor of my beautiful hotel room. I’m glad the floor was tiled so clean up was easy. My shoes will never be the same, as some of the desert will remain lodged in them forever. I will have memories of this adventure forever!

 

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This week my husband and I started a two-week trip to South India with a two-day stopover in Dubai. The purpose of the trip is to sample the food from various regions in India to get ideas for my next cookbook. In my upcoming blog posts I will let you know where we are, what we are seeing, who we are meeting, and, of course, what we are eating.

 

Buildings in Dubai have unique and contemporary architecture.

Buildings in Dubai have unique and contemporary architecture.

Since we flew Emirates Airlines our first stop was Dubai where their hub is located. I was wowed with the glittery, shiny look of all of the very tall buildings. My first thought was this had to be an architect’s paradise. Everything was so new and clean that I felt I had entered an alternative universe.

Most of the people I met in our hotel, restaurants or stores were expats from around the world. Many of them spoke Malayalam (the language of Kerala) but all (except one who I will discuss in a future post) spoke beautiful English. Everyone was as friendly and helpful as they could be.

 

To optimize our short time here, we purchased 48-hour tickets on the Hop On & Hop Off Double Decker Bus Tour. This was a convenient way to see the important sites without wearing out my feet. We saw all of the ‘must see’ sights including the Burj Khalifa (formerly the tallest building in the world that looks like a skinny, silver version of the Sears tower) and the dramatic water fountain display that shoots water hundreds of feet into the air, the Burj Al Arab (an extremely expensive hotel but a really beautiful building that looks like a sail), the Palm Jumeirah which is a man-made island formed in the shape of a palm tree which is home to the Atlantis on the Palm Hotel and hundreds of shiny skyscrapers.

 
 
 

Burj Khalifa in Dubai was the tallest building in the world.

Burj Khalifa in Dubai was the tallest building in the world.

Burj Al Arab is an extremely expensive hotel in Dubai.

Burj Al Arab is an extremely expensive hotel in Dubai.

 

We also saw historical sights like Jumeirah Mosque (the largest in Dubai) and the Grand Mosque. I was impressed with the restored Al Fahidi Fort (built in 1799), which is now home to the Dubai Museum with a very engaging exhibit dedicated to the cultural history of the people of Dubai.

 

Al Fahidi Fort now is home to the Dubai Museum with beautiful displays of Dubai's cultural history.

Al Fahidi Fort now is home to the Dubai Museum with beautiful displays of Dubai’s cultural history.

 

We had to spend some time shopping in the various souks, or markets. Starting with the new one, Souq Madinat Jumeriah, we saw many antiques and clothes for sale. Later we visited the gold souk which contains shop after shop of jewelry stores filled with 22 carat gold jewelry. I found a few necklaces for sale that might be considered to be overly extravagant even by Texas standards. We spent quite a bit of time in the spice souk checking out the various shops and their merchandise. I took a lot of photos of some of the unique items including dried lemons, saffron flowers, local coffee and many new spices.

 

A shop in the new market, Souq Madinat Jumeriah, is a great place to spend the afternoon.

A shop in the new market, Souq Madinat Jumeriah, is a great place to spend the afternoon.

 

Since the weather was perfect, sunny and not too hot or humid, we walked along the Dubai Creek and took a cruise in a traditional Arabic Dhow for a relaxing perspective of the city. We saw small Abras which are small water taxis that are the fastest and easiest way to cross the water.

 

An arabic dhow, is a wooden boat that cruises on the Dubai Creek.

 

One thing I noticed about Dubai – it is the shopping capital of the world. The tour bus stopped at each one! The malls are new and crowded with people from all over the world. In addition to upscale, designer stores that Americans recognize, these malls include elegant restaurants, theaters, even an aquarium with a huge central tank, indoor waterpark and a huge indoor ski slope. When I think about it, everything needs to be inside due to the extreme heat of the desert most of the year. While we were in Dubai, their annual shopping festival was in progress. People flew in just to take advantage of the huge sales and participate in the lavish raffles and promotions. This is definitely something that I will have to checkout on my next trip.

 

I have to conclude that I was quite impressed with Dubai. It is a very welcoming place where I would love to spend more time. In my next posts I will share our activities on our first night and reviews of the restaurants we visited in Dubai.

 

Next stop, sand, dinner and a camel?

 

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