My Dubai

Ejo #121 – Dogs Of Dubai

My family has always been dog people.  We just love dogs, god damn it.  We’ve tried other pets along the way, of course.  Finches, fish, a mouse, a turtle I found in the garden (for about two days, anyway, before my grandfather set it free).  After one of my sister’s school projects, we ended up with a chicken called Tok Tok, which faithfully laid us a double yolked egg every single day until we came home from school one afternoon to be told that Tok Tok had been taken to a farm to live out her retirement years.  If memory serves correctly, we had roast chicken for dinner that night.  There is no correlation between these two events, whatsoever.  I once found a feral kitten in the gutter outside our house and somehow coerced it into my bedroom.  I spent the entire night fighting the damn thing off my face.

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Psycho Kitty.

We kept Kitty for a while, the entire family nursing cuts and bites and scratches for the duration, but Kitty was not meant for domesticity and after a couple of years she obviously found a better home and settled down with her new family (the only logical explanation for why she disappeared without a trace, and no further discussion on the matter is necessary).

But for the Stathopoulos family, our hearts have always belonged to dogs.  I don’t think I need to point this out, but I will anyway.  Dogs are special.  Scientists have shown that dogs have a unique ability to love, not just human beings, but all other species (depending on how early they are exposed to them).  When a dog looks into my eyes, or licks my hand lovingly, or lays it’s paw on my foot or even just leans against me – my heart explodes with love.  If yours doesn’t, I’m afraid there must be something terribly wrong with you.  Please go and see a doctor immediately.

Our first dog wasn’t even ours.  Joshua was a farm dog from the property next to our holiday house in Cape Schanck, but over the years, he lovingly adopted us to (the bemusement of his farmer owner).  He was our first taste of how loyal and loving and fun a dog could be.

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Joshua teaching me how to drive.

Our family loved Joshua so much we decided to get a full time dog of our own and ended up with a Rhodesian Ridgeback St. Bernard cross called Duchess.  She was a big, imposing dog, and she had a big heart to match.  She was definitely our Dad’s dog, but she loved us all and we loved her back.

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Duchess slow-dancing with my Dad.

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Pieta and Duchess being cute together.

A few years after Duchess died, we braved another pet and got a beautiful pure-bred Doberman called Jessica.  Her tail had already been cruelly clipped when we picked her out, but thankfully we got to her before they snipped her beautiful, velvety floppy ears.  Despite looking like a very scary attack dog, Jessica was a gentle soul who would never hurt a fly.  She could, however, turn on a deep, throaty growl when she felt it was necessary and she owned a bark that would scare off the most determined burglar.  When Jessica died, our whole family was heartbroken and my parents decided that was it.  No more Stathopoulos family pets.  The loss was just too painful.

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Jessica and her ball.

Both of my sisters, however, had been bitten by the doggy bug and about a year or so after Jessica died, they both adopted dogs of their own.  Mari brought home an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Barnaby.  And Pieta co-parented a Staffordshire called Subby with her best friend.  

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Pieta and Subby.

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Mari and Barnaby.

Sadly, Barnaby and Subby have moved onto the great kennel in the sky, but they were both very loved members of the Stathopoulos family.  They are both buried in our Mum’s backyard now, which is perhaps a little weird (since the house is no longer ours) but also kinda wonderful that their final resting place is the family home.

Over the years, I’ve always felt a strong desire to add a puppy to my life but sadly, shift work isn’t really conducive to owning a pet, and neither is our tendency to travel as much as possible.  My love of dogs runs deep but I am not so selfish as to subject an animal to a life of solitude in an apartment, interrupted only by regular visits to a kennel.  The answer to my pet dilemma in Dubai has turned out to be K9 Friends, a doggie shelter in an industrial area, near the port of Dubai.  K9 Friends is a non-profit organisation, founded more than 30 years ago, that rescues abandoned dogs (which is a huge problem in Dubai, sadly).  K9 Friends’ ultimate goal is to re-home all the dogs they rescue, but sometimes dogs end up staying with them for years, which is so devastatingly sad.  I do think what they do is amazing though, because if it wasn’t for them, most of these dogs would end up being euthanised.

Obviously, being a volunteer organisation, they rely on donations and the kindness of dog lovers who generously donate their time to looking after the dogs as well as taking care of the administration side of things.  They tend to have about 120-130 dogs kenneled at any one time, so as you can imagine that’s a whole lot of work (as well as a whole lot of poop that needs to be regularly collected).  If you love dogs and want to help, but aren’t able to adopt (or foster) a puppy there are a couple of other ways you can assist.  You can directly sponsor a dog (or a kennel), and that’s something that David and I would like to get involved with.  Each dog costs about 5000dhs a year to house (this includes vet costs, food, grooming etc).  The shelter is happy to accept any amount donation, and every cent helps.  Another way to help out is to take a dog out for the day,  It really is the next best thing to taking a doggo home permanently.

K9’s walking programme has turned out to be perfect for David and me.  In the last month we have taken three wonderful dogs out for the day.  It’s been such a treat to once again have some canine love in our lives, and I’ve really enjoyed having dogs in the house for a few hours a day (even though they’re not all necessarily completely toilet trained).  I also hope that the dogs have enjoyed a break from the shelter as well.  It really is a win-win situation for everyone.  If you live in Dubai and are a dog-lover, I would so highly recommend that you get involved with K9 Friends and take a beautiful, loving dog out for the day.  You never know, you might just end up with a friend for life.

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My favourite of the dogs we took home, Cranberry was found in an abandoned warehouse in an industrial part of town. Look at that face!!!!

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As soon as we brought him home, Cranberry decided he would move into our storage room.  Whenever he got a bit nervous, he would run back in there and crouch down in the corner, in the dark.

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It makes me so sad to think about what Cranberry experienced earlier in his life to make him be such a nervous, timid puppy.

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Cranberry and his new daddy. ❤

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Whilst he was very shy and timid, Cranberry loved going for a walk and meeting other dogs and people.

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Flower’s a slightly older dog who has given birth to loads of puppies before being neutered at K9.  She was a really quiet dog, and even though she was sociable with us, she wasn’t exactly affectionate.

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Flower had a tendency to just sit still, almost as if trying to become invisible.

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Flower loved going out for a walk.

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I really loved it when Flower came and wanted to sit next to me.  She was a very chilled out dog who would really suit an older couple or perhaps a busy family. Even though she was really quiet, the house felt empty when we had to take her back.  

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I have a feeling David developed a bond with Annie.  They really seemed to click.

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When I picked Annie up, the volunteers at K9 Friends warned me that she was “ugly/beautiful” and I guess that’s true.  She got a lot of weird looks on our walk, but she always won strangers over with her warmth and affection.  We were both very sad to take her back to the shelter at the end of the day.

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Annie was a small dog, and a little bit emaciated, but she was very strong and she liked to lead the way on our walks.  She was particularly partial to balls and always wanted to chase them down when we encountered them on our walk.  I think she would be suited to an active family or perhaps a single person that likes to exercise regularly.

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It was tough to drop Annie off at the shelter, and I think that she also wanted to stay with us.  K9 Friends are a very caring dog shelter, but these dogs really need to find permanent, loving homes.  If you want to adopt a dog in Dubai, this is the first place you should check out.  If you want some doggie love, on a more temporary basis, then you should definitely register to take a dog out for a walk.  It’s such a richly rewarding experience, for you and the dog.

 

Ejo #106 – My Dubai: Frying Pan Adventures’ Bengali Cooking Class

Hey, guess what? It’s been ten years since David and I moved to Dubai. A whole fucking DECADE!!!! Guess what else? After all this time, I still can’t say that I like living here. And yet here I am anyway. Go figure. And (for a bunch of different reasons) we’re actually planning on sticking around – for a while at least. So, even though I can’t say I enjoy life in Dubai, I am making an effort to at least try and actually live in the city I’ve inhabited for ten years. Believe it or not kids, I am trying. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t written a piece shitting on Dubai for a while. Nearly four years in fact. Sure, I’ll whinge about it every now and again, but that’s normal, right? We all whinge from time to time. Nope, I’ve been making a real, concerted effort to find some kind of peace with the fact that this is where I am now. It makes no sense to keep fighting it.  But that doesn’t mean I need to like it.  I never will.  What it does mean is that, occasionally, I will venture out of the comfort of my home to try something new. Something that might even be a little bit fun.

So when my beautiful friend Zimmy asked me to join her for a Bengali cooking class, of course I said yes! To be honest, I actually had no idea what Bengali food looked like, or even where Bengal was. But hey, I was going to spend some time with my second favourite person in Dubai, cooking up a storm and then eating it. What is not to love about that.

Quick geography and history lesson: Bengal, an area in north-eastern India, was ruled by the Brits until they decided to finally piss off home in 1947. The area was then divided into states belonging to India (the predominantly Hindu, west side) and Pakistan (the Muslim, east side). Fun fact: in 1971 the side belonging to Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh (hey, you learn something new in this ejo every damn month!). Our Bengali cooking class featured food from the Indian side of the road. And it was amazing.

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And now you know where Bengal is.

The class, held at Hyatt Place hotel was a collaboration between one of Dubai’s prominent food bloggers, Ishita Saha, author of Ishitaunblogged and co-founder of food and travel portal FoodeMag, and and a local outfit called Frying Pan Adventures. Frying Pan Adventures is actually the reason I was really excited about this event. I’ve been reading about their back-alley, culinary adventures for years. Let me put it this way; if I was visiting Dubai as a tourist today, I would skip the luxury hotels, waterparks and malls and I would hit the streets with Frying Pan Adventures. For me, a city’s heart and soul are hidden away in its unseen alleys, and I really believe that the best way to get to know a place is through those backstreets and through the food you find there. Not the “five star” Michelin pretenders, but real food, eaten by real people, every single day. For me, it’s no contest.

Frying Pan Adventures is the lovechild of several young entrepreneurs, mostly women, who came together over their shared love of food. And can I just say, I am thrilled that they didn’t just take that love and open (yet another) Dubai restaurant! This city already has 20,000 of them. It doesn’t need another one (are you listening Gordon Ramsey)? Here’s the thing though, only half of those restaurants are listed on Tripadvisor or Zomato. The rest are small, backstreet joints with no website, no Facebook page and sometimes not even a menu. And they’re usually doing a roaring trade with those in know. The ladies (and gent) of Frying Pan Adventures have taken their passion, and their knowledge of these backstreet gems, and opened that world up to those of us who would otherwise never get to experience it. Isn’t that just awesome!

I’m yet to actually go on one of their walking tours (the class I attended was a one-off event), but I have booked to do their Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage next month, featuring food from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran. I’m excited. And you know what? I’m excited that I’m excited. This is a new feeling for me. Of course I should have guessed that I would feel more at home amidst the grittiness and realness of Old Dubai, than in the distorted reflections of its skyscrapers.

And so I, and 19 other people, went along to the special Bengali cooking event earlier this month. I ate some yummy Bengali snacks as I watched Ishita prepare and cook a couple of the dishes on the menu, with the help of some volunteers. She made us begun bhaja; seasoned and fried eggplant slices topped with garlic sauce and pomegranate. Yum! We then watched her make shorshe baata maach, which is a fish dish made with incredibly delicious and sassy mustard flavours. Speaking of which, did you know that the single ingredient that is most definitive of Bengali cooking is mustard oil? I don’t think I’d ever tasted it before, but it’s so fragrant and aromatic and flavoursome. I’ll definitely be cooking this easy to make dish myself at home.

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Jhal Muri – street style puffed rice with chilli and spices.  We were served this while watching Ishita work her magic in the kitchen.

 

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Begun Bhaja – such a tasty dish and super duper easy to make.

 

 

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Shorse Baata Maach – usually made with a type of fish called hilsa which was unavailable, so salmon was deliciously substituted. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it.  Photograph compliments of Zimmy’s partner Arafaat who somehow appears to have climbed into the frying pan to take the shot!

But my absolute favourite dish of the whole day was luchi!!! Luchi, for the unenlightened (as I once tragically was) is a deep-fried flatbread that puffs up while it’s cooking, transforming it into a billowy pillow of delicious, hot, flaky goodness. An orgasm in your mouth. I could literally eat these all day long, and Bengalis do. Luchi is served with breakfast, lunch and dinner. How fucking civilised!!! And yes, in case you were wondering, I do have a thing for fried bread. Don’t judge.  When they went around the group asking people what their favourite Indian dish was, I unequivocally said naan. Coz you can eat it with ALL the other dishes!! Duh!!

 

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Looks like a pappadum, tastes like the freshest, flakiest savoury cronut you’ve ever imagined.

 

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Ishita’s recipe for luchi.  Will try at home.

After the instructional part of the event was over, we were all taken upstairs to a hotel suite that had been transformed into a typical Bengali home with the help of some soft furnishings, knick-knacks and old photos. It was a really lovely setting and we all sat down to enjoy the rest of the food, which had been prepared by the hotel cooking team and served, family-style, by our hosts from Frying Pan Adventures.

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Assorted fritters and an incredibly moreish relish to dip them in.

 

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Khichudi – a porridge made with rice and lentils.  This is comfort food right here.

 

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Cholar daal.  Someone came around and poured ghee on everyone’s serve.  YES PLEASE!

 

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Kosha Mangsho – slow cooked, tender mutton in it’s own thick onion gravy.

 

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Shukto – vegetable stew.

 

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Baked yoghurt.  This was an updated version of a traditional Bengali dessert, and if I hadn’t already stuffed my face full of everything else I might have been able to manage more than a couple of teaspoons of it.  I really let myself down, and I regret it.

 

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The feast!

 

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The team behind the scenes.  Great work, guys and girls!!  Thank you!

 

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The Frying Pan Adventures chicks rocking their traditional outfits, and some beautiful smiles.

It was such a treat to be part of this culinary adventure and to experience something new in Dubai and on my taste-buds. Nothing will ever change the way I feel about this city. But I can easily admit that there are many things here that are good. Pockets of culture and authenticity and realness, and even joy. If I can find more of those things, then perhaps I can also find a better way to live here.  Perhaps I can find my place. For fuck’s sake, if fried bread can’t do it, nothing can.

Ejo #96 – My Dubai: Settling In

Even though I still don’t (and probably never will) call Dubai home, David and I have actually lived here for a really, really, really long time. And when you live somewhere for that long, whether you like it or not, you kinda get to know the place.  We’ve been around over the years, but because of the constant, massive construction, everything changes from one day to the next, which makes it lack stability.  So the city always feels in flux, foreign, and weird to me. To tell you the truth, I’m still not 100% sure which exit to take off the freeway to get to the organic grocery store we’ve been going to for the last seven years. It’s madness. But still, there are some parts of town we do know really well, mostly because we’ve lived in them.

We started off in temporary housing in Garhoud, in a very small studio apartment, provided by the company we work for, while we looked for our own place. Even though Garhoud is not really an area that expats tend to live in long term, we actually really enjoyed the four weeks we spent there. It was a really fun and interesting way to be introduced to this crazy city, and in fact, I kind of miss it. Because the streets were real. They would come alive in the evenings, and not with loud, obnoxious, sunburnt British tourists downing pints (though there is a raucous pub called The Irish Village just across the street from where we were staying), but with the Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis that make up the majority of the population of Dubai. The community that they knit together, in this small part of town, had a really special feeling to it, comingling the amazing smells of regional street food, the cacophony of sounds (including the call to prayer) at all hours of the day and night, the hustle and the bustle of working-class daily life. It was gritty and maybe a little bit grotty, but it was real in a way that “new” Dubai never will be.

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Our temporary digs in Garhoud.

 

 

 

What is this new Dubai, I speak of? Well, I’m talking about the mushrooming clusters of skyrise apartments built in the last decade or so. Old Dubai refers to the original Dubai neighbourhoods of Satwa, Deira, Bur Dubai and Karama (also known as Dolce & Karama because of the roaring trade in knock-offs that goes on there). These were the commercial hubs that flourished when the UAE was formed in 1971 (excellent year, I might add), but which have recently started feeling a bit worn around the edges. So yeah, in this case, “old” means about 46 years. Which isn’t really that old (I mean, really!!!), but it’s definitely older than new Dubai.

When we first got here, in the gold rush days of 2008, Downtown Dubai was where it was at. Or rather, where it was going to be. It was essentially still an engineering blueprint, and the first apartment we signed a lease on was on the 32nd floor of a brand new, solitary tower called 8 Boulevard Walk right across the street from the Burj Khalifa and walking distance to the Dubai Mall. As far as I know, they never did build a 6 Boulevard Walk, or a 10 Boulevard Walk, or in fact any other number Boulevard Walk. Which is kinda weird, but you get used that kind of thing around here. It was a nice enough building and we stayed there for five whole years, enjoying the hell out of the view which really was extremely remarkable. Downtown Dubai, however, was a 24/7 construction zone when we moved in and it stayed that way the entire time we lived there. It’s definitely more developed now, but it’s still several years away from completion. When we moved on to the next place, it was weird not hearing the constant sounds of jackhammers and cement trucks backing up at 3am in the morning.

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The view from our living room.  The not quite yet completed Burj Khalifa, circa 2009.

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8 Boulevard Walk – weird, residential tower in the middle of nowhere, with a fucking amazing view of the world’s tallest building.

 

 

After five years in Downtown, including a couple of years of quarreling with our landlord over rent, we were ready to try something new and took over a friend’s lease on a 4th floor apartment in Dubai Marina. There’s just something special about living on the water, and after five years of cranes and sand and dust, it was fantastic having a great view of a beautiful body of water from our home. In the cooler months we would go for walks along the promenade and we were within walking distance of the beach, a mall, several five star hotels, restaurants and bars. It was also down the street from an amazing döner kebab place, which (in hindsight) probably wasn’t such a great thing. It was a lovely apartment, but again we had a problem with a greedy landlord and decided enough was enough. It was time to start looking for our own place.

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Dubai Marina Promenade

 

I’m going to leave out all the crap that we had to wade through in order to buy our own apartment, and focus on how awesome it is to now finally have our own place and be our own asshole landlords! Actually, we’re not that bad. We get things fixed pretty quickly, we always answer the phone and we don’t hassle each other about the rent. We’ve actually settled into a really nice part of town. You might have heard of it? It’s called the Palm Jumeirah. Whaaaaat? I know, right? Who would have thought? Not me. But here we are, in a lovely F-type Shoreline apartment with access to a gym and a private beach, yo!! Livin’ large!

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So, our apartment is on the trunk of the Palm, at the top of the picture.

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This lovely 2.7km walking track is literally at our doorstep.  I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear the sounds of birds chirping and children playing instead of dump trucks and jackhammers.

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Our beach.  Yep, it’s ours.

 

I honestly don’t have any idea how much longer we will stay in this city, but I’m pretty sure the next time we move, it’ll be internationally. Our apartment is my oasis in a city that causes me turmoil. It is my haven, my refuge, my safe place. And I love it. It helps me tolerate…. stuff. Life. Perhaps I’m a little too attached to it, because honestly I don’t often venture far. I do my grocery shopping and I go to work at Al Maktoum International Airport, which is fine.

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My office.  Not too shabby.

 

Every once in a blue moon I’ll check out a new restaurant or café that I hear about on the grapevine. Very recently I saw an ad on Instagram for a new café called Amongst Few at Palm Strip Mall in Jumeirah. This small group of shops along Beach Road has particular sentimental value to me because it was where we used to go to connect with people back home after we first arrived here, before we got internet hooked up at our place. It’s no longer there, but back in 2008 one of the shops used to be an internet café. I can’t even remember the name of it, but the place is etched in my memory. After all, it’s where I typed up my very first ejo a week after we got here – and now I’m going to cry.

So anyway, when I heard about Amongst Few, I wanted to check it out. As you know, I’ve not been very impressed with the quality of coffee in Dubai, or with the café scene in general. It’s actually been a couple of years since we’ve ventured out in search of coffee. But lately, I’ve been inspired to treat Dubai like I treat the places we visit when we travel. Do some research, and look at it through new, fresh eyes. So, we have been out and about the last couple of months looking for good coffee. Sadly, nothing has inspired a return visit – until Amongst Few. Can you believe it?? I’m not going to get my hopes up, but we have been there three times and we’ve had consistently good coffee every time. That, to me, is a fucking miracle. The meals are a bit hit and miss, but the hits are pretty damn good. I highly recommend the fish and chips. The fish is extremely fresh, and the batter super light and crispy, almost like tempura. The chips? Triple cooked, baby!!! Yum!

So, just as we used to do all those years ago, we make the trek to Jumeirah (though these days the trek is 26km, as opposed to just 10km) in the hope that the wonderful people of Amongst Few continue to make good coffee. Is it too much to ask??? I hope not.

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Amongst Few.  The internet cafe used to be just to the right of this place.

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A view of Jumeirah Mosque across the street.

 

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The menu.

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Matcha latte and flat white.

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Smashed avo on toast with poached eggs, roast tomatoes and feta cheese.

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Fish n’ chips.  The batter is super light and crispy – almost like tempura.  Even the coleslaw was tasty.

The name of this ejo was inspired by a popular hashtag on Instagram (23.5 million posts makes #mydubai popular, right?). I do sometimes hijack this hashtag when I post pictures because… hey, who can say how a person “owns” a place.  This ejo, I suppose, is as close to describing what “my Dubai” means to me as we’re going to get.  I’ll never love this place, but over the years we have inexorably tangled into each other.  And as long as I can get good coffee, I can live with it.