It somehow seems fitting that I should do this post today to help celebrate Frying Pan Adventures' third anniversary (Mabrook, my friends!) and the launch of their limited edition #SavourShj tour. In the 26 (going on 27 years) I have been here in the UAE, exploration has been a key driver in my life. I have always been reasonably adventurous when it comes to food and experiences (comes from being born in a family that always explored new ideas and possibilities - aren't I lucky?) but since coming to the UAE, I have made it a point to rarely (cannot honestly say never) pass up an opportunity to explore whether that has been meeting new people, new places, new experiences and, above all, tasting something new (not always delicious). The advent of social media and me tapping into the heart of this beautiful community we live in, I feel privileged to have met a lot of very interesting, young and dynamic people from this community.
With the dynamic changes that Sharjah is making these days (follow these hashtags: #HeartofShj #ShjSEEN #ShjSoul and you'll see what I mean) it was fitting that food and heritage be an intrinsic part of Frying Pan's #SavourShj trail. Arva (and her sister), I have mentioned before, make their trails very personal, interesting and always engaging. This was no different. She was joined by Fatima Salim Al Shuweihi, a local born and Head of Events for the #HeartofShj team at Shurouq.
Instead of my usual blow by blow description (you'll just have to go to the next one on 28 Jan and hope that she does another one after that), here are my favourite bits:
A crash course in history:
It was lovely to hear not just the history of the area but to get the personal anecdotes from Fatima who was born right there in Bait Al Serkal and shared her personal stories from her childhood and meet some of the store owners (some of whom have, sadly, passed on) where the traditions continue and are being encouraged to revive and thrive.
It was wonderful to hear of the Ruler's personal involvement in the project, drawing on his own personal memories (and those of the archaeological experts) to tastefully recreate a glimpse into the past to make the present and the future richer. I think it's wonderful that the community is coming together to make his vision a reality.
I loved the visit to the Majlis Al Shaabi and meeting some of the older (and very friendly) members of the community who shared some tea and introduced us to "Court" a card game that was a bit Bridge-like and looked quite interesting. I bet they were glad when we left so they could get back to their conversations and their game.
And the food
The most essential ingredient of the trail, the food did not disappoint. My favourite bit was the Omani halwa which was absolutely delicious and fragrant. The batch they were making that day was for the palace and had been perfumed with saffron steeped in rosewater, cardamom and garnished with walnuts and pistachio. I also loved the fresh aloo (potato) naan with crushed green chillis and loads of ghee (clarified butter) made right there in front of us - hot off the tandoor at Mohd Hanif Bakery - accompanied by some meat nashif (spiced meat and tomatoes in a reduced sauce) from Diplomat Restaurant, a neighbourhooad institution since 1976. No, that wasn't lunch but I could have skipped the thali and gone for more of that bread, quite happily. As a matter of fact, I would go to Sharjah just for that naan and the halwa. I also had old-fashioned kulfi (like the ones the old kulfi walas in our little town of Jamshedpur used to sell) served with falooda, rabri, vermicelli and all sorts. Quite a treat. Oh and I almost forgot the Namlet. What a treat that was. No not telling you more - you just have to go to Dukkan Namlet in Souk Al Shenasiya and quench your thirst. The original lemon flavour was nice but I quite liked my pomegranate one. Love the bottles.
We finished at Ratio's Coffee where I, sadly, had to skip coffee but happily added to my collection of Frying Pan certificates. There was a lot of other stuff to discover (we covered three souqs, several alleyways, 9 food stops, a discovery centre and an antique store) and I can say that the 5 hours whizzed past before we realised it. If you follow me on Instagram, then you would have seen some of my photos (and the odd video) but here they all are. Go on, sign up for the next one and discover Sharjah - its a lot closer than you realise.