I guess those dreamers in Dubai never had their folks shaking a finger at them and telling them ‘Don’t go building castles in the air!’ Or, even if they did have, they just went ahead and built them anyway! How else do you explain the transformation of a small, albeit important, port town into a bustling, pulsating, giant cosmopolitan? With not just an amazingly diverse population, but people from all over the world visiting or living here, making it one of the most visited cities on the planet. With not just every conceivable brand outlet, but shopping malls the size of cities making it the shopping capital of the world. With not just tall, but the tallest and most spectacular skyscrapers in the world. With not just desert safaris and dune bashing that one would expect to find in a desert state, but the world’s largest indoor Ski Resort with ski slopes, a snow park, even a log-cabin style café, bang in the middle of the desert! Yes, Dubai is truly the city of fascinating superlatives!
This place is a melting pot, constantly bubbling with the collective imaginations and ideas of people from every corner of the world. And because of this intense mix of cultures, the food too is a mind-boggling mix of cuisines from just about everywhere. You are never far from a delicious, flavourful and satisfying meal here. The tantalising aroma of food wafts across to you through an open kitchen window of an Arabic home, or floats in from the shore as you drift lazily on a ‘dhow’ on Dubai Creek, or follows close at heel as you stroll through the colourful and noisy shops of Old Dubai’s Spice Souk… or tempts you shamelessly as you walk past the numerous cafes, food stalls, patisseries, icecream parlors, even milkshake shops at the giant malls and their massive food courts.
Like a clever conjuror and his bag of fascinating tricks and treats, Dubai always has something different and exciting to offer, something that often makes you scratch your head in amazement! This time round, it was a simple meal of Crisp, Golden Fried Arancini, and Fettucine with Meatballs – lip-smacking, honest-to-goodness, hearty Italian dishes from the kitchen of the ‘Big Papa’ of Italian food, Antonio Carluccio, that would have put a happy smile on any food-lover’s face! But if there was room for that smile to widen, it could only be for one reason – if you were having this delicious meal right under the massive, towering shadow of the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa!
Yes, it’s an amazing feat to build an 830 m tower, that gives you a crick in the neck just to look up to its tip! But I’ll tell you what else is amazing – the way some far-flung friends can get together and instantly get along like a house on fire, all distances, passage of time, and broken promises forgiven, forgotten, for good. If you have such friends, give yourself a hug, and thank your lucky stars, ‘cos they are special, and you are blessed! We met up with our special bunch – Neeraj, Anshu and Vikkas – and then went on to set, not the house, but Nanking Restaurant , on fire! There we were, chatting, laughing and poking fun at each other, as if we were NOT meeting after many long years! Chef Andre Raspin joined in the fun and coaxed us into having the Lettuce Wraps – he explained patiently how to first smear the Crisp Lettuce leaves with Plum Sauce, then heap the Crunchy Stir Fry in it, then drizzle some Secret Nanking Sauce on it, and then finally top it up with a few strands of Deep Fried Noodles, before wrapping it neatly into an unsuspecting, green parcel and letting the flavours and textures explode in your mouth with the first delectable bite. Ummm…mazing!
And to further sweeten this fun re-union, the Chef pulled out all stops and not only sourced some chilled Thums Up (yes, Thums Up in the heart of Dubai, will wonders never cease??) but also put together a special dessert just for us. The off-menu Deep Fried Ice-cream with Hot Chocolate and Nuts – crisp and hot on the outside and cold and dense on the inside – confused the hell out of our taste buds… and us! But it got licked clean before realization of any kind could set in! Fun? Yes! Delicious? On hind sight, absolutely 😉
People always look at the mirage in the desert as a shifting, elusive thing that is a trick of the mind, not something really real. But here is a place on earth that takes that very elusive nature of a mirage and makes it real, and possible. Like the beautiful images of an ever-changing kaleidoscope that offers changing, shifting images, each prettier than the last, Dubai always keeps you guessing as to what’s in store next. Who knows what wonder will pop up in the near future?