It’s not always that I do not crave something that is not dunked in chocolate or glistening with sugar. But one sweltering afternoon, passing out in I Live in a Frying Pan’s bright red Cooper, I said: “I feel salty”. And she agreed.
Waltzing past the opulent reflective glass pillars and buildings of a sweltering Dubai, she parked at the foot of Jumeirah Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road (remarkable that the tongue twister names still resonate so strongly), right outside a rather bubbly restaurant with tall, glass doors in a panoramic ground floor view, where a peak showed me their theme was Maybelline’s Great Lash colors gone wild – a hotter than baby pink, and a fluorescent green. And in a delectable font I read the words “ugly zaroob”.
Now look at this, and tell me that’s how you would read it.
Now why was I Live in a Frying Pan taking me to a place which started as uncannily as ugly? Sure, it was in line with comical negative reinforcement, and indeed some like an estranged ex would consider the décor ‘ugly’ indeed, but really? What about alienating the happy candy pop filled enthusiastic yuppies who would bring chaos to a screeching halt to frown at the prefix ugly?
And when I asked her, she quite nonchalantly said “It’s Zaroob”.
Okay, just like the plethora of invisible rules that embrace the Middle East (ladies-and-kids-only cars in subways from which one is disdainfully escorted out upon realizing you the lack of possession of correct organs, for instance), I figured that one simply did not utter the taboo words. Ugly perhaps being one of them.
I was immediately elated at the grunge meets hip-hop ambiance – exposed concrete floors, with tall walls of graffiti in signature pink and green, interlaced with corrugated iron. The upstairs was a hidden villa of wooden fencing painted in shocking pink, with green cushioned couches and restaurant chair swings, giving it a playful, hung-over feel. The beams of sunlight splashing in through cuts in the angular ceiling were a perfect accomplice to the globes of canvased light, made of a black, red and white checkered fabric reminiscent of Arabic headpieces for men.
Walls were jabbed with platters of fruit, random knickknacks in aluminum containers with paint and paper markings. Not to mention that the longer one sat, the more familiar the graffiti became – a magnified strip of Chiclet gum from the days of yore, a still from Tom and Jerry, Arabic singing icon Om Kalthoum, and many others. All this gave Ugly Zaroob an edgy, modern and juxtaposed feel. I was instantly at home in this inspiring place called Ugly.
My very obviously green drink, a mint and lemon juice. arrived in a grandma’s jug jar, akin to beer mugs found in frat-towns of Hoboken. It was a fertile breeze in the barren desert air. I loved that it had coriander and mint leaf bits swimming in the froth, bringing me closer to home-made goodness.
With it, we dug into a remarkably grandma looking red-and-white bag of cloth for our appetizer breads, which though not warm, were not rubbery either. Isn’t it lovely when grandma’s comfort is a theme juxtaposed with the shocking glam of modern life?
The chick peas, christened foul (pronounced fool, thanks I Live in a Frying Pan) if I can connect my mind to my verbal vocabulary instead of my salivating eyes, arrived in a picturesque Aladdin like pitcher atop a metal pedestal, tilted to reveal an aromatic blend of steam that had a whiff of spice, garlic and coriander. Enclosed in this magnified vial were the chick peas in a thick broth that reminded me of mom’s northern Indian chole, but suited to non-spicy Lebanese sensibilities.
The fateer was a glistening flatbread, baked at 300 degrees Celsius, topped with a layer of single-colored cheese, with a mirror like plating of butter that was soaked up gratefully by napkins. While initially turned off, I was in awe of the string of unending, elastic cheese that stretched like a rumor as I yanked a piece off of the corner.
Recalling movies when things happened in slow motion, and one waited with unbreathing stillness, I gaped at the stretching spectacle. Once I picked my jaws off the table, I continued stretching the cheese to unfathomable proportions, finally feeling the resistance yank back. At last, the performance was over and I could taste it. A perfectly blended cheese with a slightly crustier than preferred bread, but an overall gratifying salty outlet for my sugar-ed out digestive system.
The carb attack mandated waterfalls of water to gush it down the throat on a typical desert day, but how I parched while photographing the ornate glass pitcher. Shaped narrow at the top and hugely spherical at the base like an overly desperate lady way past her days of seduction. Or just another whimsically shaped enlarged vial that could easily be an accomplice to the Magic Carpet in Aladdin.
The spinach pies were as expected – warm and flavor-fully fresh (and mildly crunchy!) spinach stuffed in triangular bread, with a fantastic lacking of salt. While I like that salt is trending, especially with desserts, I have found it to be the taste-bud serial killer when it comes to tasting the goodness of vegetables. But the spinach pie, and even the side bowl of freshly diced tomatoes and onions, lacked any sort of seasoning – a welcome relief from the plethora of places that insisted on taking all veggies for a skinny dip in adulterous flavors.
What amazing Lebanese food, I thought. A perfect place amidst a bustling financial district, so much so that I would crave it around downtown New York. Quite popular too, judging from the slim-fit suit clad investment bankers, and the exhausted-from-shopping silken draped damsels.
Not to mention, there was nothing Ugly about it at all!
Towards the end of the meal, I brought up the Ugly Zaroob paradox again. Was ugly the equivalent of the British “wicked” in Dubai?
And then I Live in a Frying Pan remarked: “Oh that’s Zaroob, in Arabic.”
The initial nonchalance and plethora of food didn’t quite strike the comical chord as it should have at that time, but rather it reminded us that one resorts to their inner sensibilities to pass judgments, and overlooks details in life. Philosophy aside, it was only later, food coma and subsequent hangover at its peak, that we cracked up hysterically into buckets of laughter while circling Jumeirah towers, evidently lost in a red hot Cooper.
And so ended an afternoon with you, me and Ugly.