Unpacking my suitcase after my annual break in the UK this year I mourned the fact that I hadn’t had time to buy any British cheese. One constant when returning from my homeland is to bring some special items for my larder especially the ones that are hard to get in Dubai. I asked around to see if I was alone in this and it turns out that many people bring back a taste of home.
Three avid expat foodies also shared insider info on where to obtain their national staples and treats here in Dubai.
Carry on Cheese
The list of essentials that I used to pack into my suitcase has dwindled to practically nothing, as all is available in Dubai – apart from cheese. We even have a Waitrose here! Really excellent unpasteurised Cheddar such as Keens, Montgomery or Westcombe; soft, fresh cheese like Vulscombe and an unusual blue such as Beenleigh, Harbourne or Devon Blue. Real vanilla extract is difficult to get due to its alcohol content as is real almond essence (the fake synthetic versions are awful) and I bring Vitamin C powder for baking. This year I brought a jar of homemade marmalade made by a friend and some Dartmoor honey.
“I’ve also become an expert on the way to pack wine bottles in your case to avoid breakage.” ~ Sally Prosser
Sanne, from Copenhagen, better known as blogger alter ego Mitzie Mee, has a yearning for all sorts of Danish delights including skyr. This is actually an Icelandic sour dairy product, but it is extremely popular in Denmark, and Mitzie has it for breakfast everyday, whenever she’s there. The rundstykker (Danish breakfast rolls) and wienerbrød (Danish pastry) are amongst the things she misses the most, she says. “You usually eat rundstykker on weekends, and some people (especially the oler generation) would have a small glass of bitter (alcohol) such as Gammel
Dansk or Nordsøolie to go with it. You eat the rundstykker with butter, cheese or jam and afterwards, you have your favourite piece of wienerbrød (Danish pastry is called wienerbrød, which means bread from Vienna). There
are lots of bakeries in Dubai but none of them sell the Danish pastry classics such as the Spandauer (the one with custard or jam in the middle), Snegl (means “snail” in Danish. It looks like a cinnamon bun, just better) and the Hanekam (cockscomb).”
Think you can find rye bread in Dubai? Forget it, according to Mitzie the German vacuum-packed ones just don’t do it. “I’ve tried making my own too, but I haven’t managed to find whole rye kernels here. Besides, you’ll also need a good sourdough, and despite my good intentions, I still haven’t got it right. In Denmark, most people have open rye bread sandwiches for lunch. The taste is slightly sour and the bread is heavy and packed with kernels. It will leave you full for hours.”
Given the number of Danes living in Dubai, Mitzie says it’s surprisingly difficult to find specific Danish food items in Dubai and there aren’t any Danish restaurants either. “The closest you’ll get is the cafeteria in Ikea. Though I guess the Danes, coming from such a small nation, are just used to adapting and getting along with what’s available”!
In Copenhagen, there are hotdog stands on every corner of the city, so in Dubai she misses being able to just pop out on the street for “a traditional bright red Danish sausage” served with remoulade, mustard, fried onions and ketchup on top all washed down with Cocio (Danish chocolate milk). She also admits to an addition to salty salmiak liquorice.
[Mitzie Mee writes about food, travel and fashion on mitziemee.com. Images have been provided by Mitzie.]
“I miss everything!” was Gbemi Giwa of Dubai Fit Foodie blog when asked which foods she longed for from her homeland of Nigeria. “I miss the way our home grown scotch bonnet peppers taste, they add an indescribable heat to dishes that is super satisfying. I miss the meat, ask any Nigerian who lives in the UAE and they’ll tell you chicken and beef here tastes bland in comparison to the cuts we get back home. I miss suya, a popular Northern Nigerian street food that is mostly sold at night; it is almost like the shawarma culture here. If I could only ever have meat in prepared in one way, it would be roasted over an open flame and doused with chilli, kilishi (dried peanut paste), and suya spices. Garnished with freshly cut onions, suya is the ultimate treat. I miss yam, my favourite African root which can be very flexibly prepared but my favourite way is having it pounded into a mash served with efo (a spinach sauce). I could go on and on but I’m starting to have hunger pangs.”
If Gbemi ever travels back from Nigeria within her luggage weight allowance I’d be surprised. “If I’m to be honest, I pack everything. I even bring back Indomie (a brand of instant noodles). Call me biased, but the Nigerian version is just better and, just so you know Nigerian Indomie with suya (a spicy kebab) is a match made in heaven.
Snails are a touch and go food subject for most, but I absolute love them. It’s a nightmare trying to find decently sized snails in Dubai so I often bring them myself. I also carry palm oil as a lot of Nigerian recipes demand it. If I’m really missing home some efo made with palm oil and pounded yam is the best remedy.”
Tempted by these descriptions? You can find most of these items in African food stores in Deira, although Gbemi says the prices “would leave your eyebrows hanging for weeks”. NUAE.org – Nigerians in the UAE has a directory on where to buy Nigerian food in the UAE. Gbemi’s tip is to visit a new website called Mamfoodhub. com that sells Nigerian food items at affordable prices with home delivery.
[Gbemi Giwa blogs about food, fitness, life in Dubai, Nigerian culture and more on www.dubaifitfoodie.com. Images have been provided by Gbemi.]
A Taste of Bengal
When I asked Ishita Saha, who hails from Bengal in India, which foods and ingredients she misses the most, she answered without hesitation – street food. “Kolkata has a thriving street food culture not limited to an enormous array of Bengali savouries and chats but also Indianised Chinese, South Indian dosas, idlies, Tibetan momos, and even shawarmas and pizzas. Practically every street in Kolkata has a sweet shop too. Each neighbourhood has its famous food stalls – and they are, as the locals say ‘world famous in Kolkata’!”
In her suitcase, she brings back local popular brands of spices or cooking ingredients that aren’t available in Dubai – for example Jharna ghee or Kashundi – a very strong pungent mustard paste. In addition, she packs mouth fresheners (like they serve in Indian restaurants at the end of the meal), traditional pots and pans, seasonal fresh vegetables and sweets!
Like me, Ishita can find most things in Dubai that she needs and goes to Adil supermarkets for spices, biscuits and instant noodles made in India. Traditional Bengali fish is readily available in Bangladeshi shops in Backet in Sharjah – frozen and pre-packed (in Thailand!) In Dubai you can find it in Mefroz in Karama and Deira fish market also sells frozen Bengali fish in the Bangladeshi shops. The parents coming from Kolkata vouch for the freshness of these products and believe they taste even fresher than back home.
[Ishita B Saha is Editor of FoodeMag dxb and blogs at www.ishitaunblogged.com. Images have been provided by Ishita.]
What about you? Are you the kind who brings fried fish and drippy sauces in your suitcase when you return from your home country? Tell us more!
[This story is exclusive to FoodeMag dxb]