Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pashmina Fest 2008 and Other Adventures

This weekend once again featured a fair bit of shopping coupled with some delicious food. On Friday we set out for the secret liquor store located about 30 minutes outside of Dubai, where you can stock up at reasonable prices without even having a liquor-purchasing license. On the way home we stopped at a really beautiful beach. The water is so gorgeous here, and is about body temperature. Note the women swimming in their abayas on the right of the picture…
After an epic grocery trip, we headed over to Wafi for lunch and a bit of window-shopping. This is one of the most beautiful malls I’ve ever seen, with stained glass everywhere. One large area of the mall called the Khan Murjan is located underground, but with stained glass ceilings giving you the feel of being in a really cool old-world shopping center.
We stopped at the restaurant in the Khan Murjan for lunch. This was a covered restaurant last time Stanley and Alicia visited, but the roof had been rolled back on Friday because it was such a lovely day. Don’t worry, though: They kept the A/C cranked so we didn’t have to be burdened by the 90-degree (Fahrenheit) heat while enjoying our unobstructed view of the clear blue skies. We ordered a ridiculously tasty hummus with lamb and pinenuts, as well as a Turkish spicy lamb sausage and some tabbouleh. The meal also featured seriously awesome flatbread. The puffed pita-looking bread in the picture had a flavor and texture almost like a ciabatta and was super-delicious. (By the way, I am SO building a wood-fired oven in my back yard when I buy a house. You just can’t cook amazing flatbreads like this with lame indoor ovens that only go up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit… )

Saturday brought a trip to the Blue Souk in Sharjah, a massive shopping center in yet another beautiful building.
On the lower level were jewelry shops to rival the Gold Souk in terms of the massive piles of gold on display, but on the second level was what we were looking for: pashminas! Stanley and Alicia had considerable experience with rug- and pashmina-shopping from their time in India, but this style of shopping was new to me. Basically at any pashmina or rug shop you enter you will be warmly greeted and often offered coffee, tea, and cookies to make you more comfortable. You are then presented with piles and piles of whatever it is you are shopping for. As I explained what I didn’t want (no pink, nothing sparkly, no flowers…) they would delve deeper and deeper into the collection until they found things more to my taste (although they never seemed to register the “no pink” thing very well…). One such item, pictured on the far left below, wasn’t right for me (too shiny) but was exactly the pashmina that Alicia (who not 5 minutes before had said she would not be purchasing any pashminas on this day) had been looking for. There were some absolutely gorgeous ones that were far too nice (read: “expensive”) for a kid like me, but there were some good bargains to be had as well.
The second pashmina from the left in the picture was the first one I bought (it has sparkly things on it, but they’re not too garish…). Stanley was in charge of bargaining on prices for me, and he did a bang-up job. The middle pashmina in the picture is actually the totally awesome one that Stanley and Alicia bought for me in India (not entirely part of Pashmina Fest, but I thought it looked nice in the picture…), and the two on the left came at our final stop. The guy helping us there was adorably enthusiastic and helpful. We stayed for a long time looking through pashminas, and as we were getting ready to go he asked if we were interested in bed covers. I actually was, now that he mentioned it, so we waited as he went through his stash of bedspreads (No big flowers! Too sparkly! Ew, pink!) and I ended up getting a fantastic deal on my new awesome bedspread (which isn't acutally as bright/shiny as it looks in the picture below) along with the pashminas. We totally made his day, apparently, because he then proceeded to give Stanley a free wool scarf (which he’d tried unsuccessfully to sell him earlier, and which is apparently what the kids in Dubai are wearing these days…) and to give Alicia and I free hideously tacky clear plastic models of the Burj Al Arab. Awesome.
After 90 minutes in traffic trying to get back to Dubai, we stopped at Nalukettu, a South Indian restaurant in the Grand Dubai Hotel near Stanley and Alicia’s apartment. This was a lot of fun, since I’d heard great things about this type of food from Stanley and Alicia after their trip and now had a chance to try it myself. (We forgot to take pictures before digging in, so pardon the messiness of the food pictures below…). We first ordered Appam with Vegetable Stew (one of the dishes they’d been craving pretty much since the moment they left India). This wasn’t at all what I expected, but was really delicious. The stew has accents of cinnamon in the spice profile that are quite nice. Next up was a Kerala-style duck and a beef dish, both of which were flavored with beautifully complex spice mixtures and had a nice amount of heat. Our final dish was a Chicken Korma (which is North Indian, but sounded too tasty not to order). This was so different from any versions I’ve had in the US, and I really loved it. Again it was nice and spicy, and was made with cashews (yay!) instead of the almonds I’m used to seeing in kormas. All in all it was a delicious meal, and I think Stanley and Alicia may have found a new favorite neighborhood restaurant…
After Stanley and I went on one last grocery quest (bok choy, star anise, sesame oil, boneless skinless chicken thighs, and chicken stock all turned out to be fairly elusive this weekend) we finally returned home for a laid-back evening. Dinner was a Chicken Meatball and Bok Choy Soup with Noodles (pictured below prior to the broth being ladled over the top) which was a refreshingly light and healthy dinner after gorging ourselves on delicious Indian food at lunch. The meatballs (which I usually make with turkey) turned out better than ever for reasons that are not entirely clear, and the bok choy (which we did finally track down) adds a nice fresh crunch. This is one of those recipes that I think of as “simple” and make for myself for lunches all the time, but which actually takes a little over an hour to throw together and leads my brother to say things like “This is why I would never cook lunches for myself…”
Pashmina Fest may continue next weekend when we head over to the Old Souk for a look around. In the meantime, I’m reading another fantastic book (Vacation by Deb Olin Unferth), still enjoying taking it easy, and looking forward to watching the Bucs beat up on the Cowboys tonight.

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