I have not been able to write a blog entry for four days, and I am feeling a bit guilty about it. Thank you to everyone who has sent me messages letting me know that you are reading the blog. The Tim Hortons blog entry got a surprising reaction. Apparently people were finding it on Google. The wife of one of my colleagues, who is currently in Canada, Googled Tim Hortons in Dubai and found my blog – that contained a picture of her husband. I got a message from “a fellow Canadian in Dubai” who also found the blog through Google. Four days ago, the top link on Google for “Tim Hortons grand opening in Dubai” was my blog. Now it has dropped to fifth or sixth with several newspaper articles showing up higher on the list. (Aside: As I was writing this blog entry, I got a notification that I was quoted in torontolife.com – http://www.torontolife.com/daily/daily-dish/caffeine-high/2011/09/23/reaction-roundup-tim-hortons-dubai/ The internet is a fascinating medium – I wonder what Marshall McLuhan would say about that.)
I did want to write before today, but I just couldn’t find the time. Writing the blog itself takes longer than I expected. In an effort to squeeze in as many experiences as I can, as well as take advantage of the hotel fitness amenities, and a few social engagements, I have struggled to get on top of my actual work. I am finding teaching here more time consuming that I expected. As I have said to many people, depending on how you count, I have been teaching the course material for my classes for either three years or 20 years. I was not at all worried about the course content before I left Waterloo. However, normally I teach two sections of the same course in a term, usually with a reasonably large group of instructors teaching other sections of the same course. There is also a great support staff assigned to the courses who manage most of the administrative components of the course including the course webpage and student registration concerns. In Dubai, I am teaching two different courses. In one case, I am essentially the only instructor, although there is a large team teaching the same course in Waterloo, and in the other case, I am trying to collaborate with one other instructor teaching two sections in Waterloo. Creating assignments for both courses, and marking schemes, as well as partially managing the course website material has more than doubled my normal teaching duties. I am also teaching the lab and tutorial sections for each of these courses, which is handled by students in Waterloo. In the end, I feel that I am falling behind, and I needed to get caught up and hopefully ahead of things. There are other projects that I would like to get to while I am in Dubai, and until now, I have not had a chance to think about anything outside of the courses I am teaching. What that meant this week is that Thursday evening, and a good part of Friday were devoted to work. There was no time to blog.
I received an invitation for dinner from my colleague Surya. He and his wife Amy invited me and another colleague – Peter. I had wondered if I would be invited to dinner here in the hotel apartments, and I worried about whether or not I could reciprocate. The apartment is set up to reasonably serve a meal to a maximum of six people. There are six chairs around the dining room table, there are six plates, six bowls, six forks, six knives, etc. Including wives, and children, there are approximately seventeen people from Waterloo currently living in the same hotel (not including me). So there are two problems with me inviting people for dinner. First, I don’t really cook – except I do make a good meat lasagna and a very good vegetarian lasagna. I have always been intimidated by my friends’ abilities to cook an interesting meal. Second, who do you invite when the seating capacity is much smaller than the potential guest list?
I was happy to join Surya, Amy and Peter for what Surya described as “nothing fancy, whatever we have at home”. I was immediately skeptical that this would be a casual dining experience. When I arrived, there was humous as an appetizer. This was reasonable, since humous is definitely a staple around here. However, where I would probably just scoop some on a plate, this humous was garnished with some oil and I think parsley. The pita bread accompanying it had been toasted. When we sat down for dinner, I admonished myself for not bringing my camera. The presentation was something you would see in an upscale restaurant. The meal was basically fish, potatoes, and salad, but that description doesn’t do it justice. The seasoning on the fish was something Amy had created herself. The salad was a fatoosh salad that was equivalent to the fattoush we had had last week at the Abd el Wahab restaurant near the Dubai Mall. I think she used more spices to prepare this meal, than I have ever owned. I feel very inadequate in the kitchen, and now I am worried about returning the invitation. Does anyone else worry about this kind of thing?
Despite dreading the idea of hosting a future dinner, the evening itself was very nice. It was a comfortable atmosphere where I got to find out more about my colleagues. The next night was our second official “Dining out in Dubai” experience. This time we went to the Kahn Murjahn in the Wafi Centre of Dubai. The architectural signature of this area is a hotel shaped like pyramid called Raffles. I hadn’t really noticed the pyramid on the skyline, until Peter used it as a landmark to describe the location of the restaurant. Now I see it all the time. There were only six of us going out for dinner this week, but half were people who had not joined in last week. We decided to take the metro to the restaurant, because the new green line had a stop that was very close to the Wafi Centre. I am really enjoying riding the metro to get around the city. We didn’t really get to see much of the Wafi Centre, either before or after dinner. There is definitely an Egyptian motif to the area. Besides the pyramid, there were many replicas of Egyptian statues and designs on the walls. Everything looked like it was built out of marble, but I don’t know if it is real or fake stone. The pictures I took are not good, because my camera is old and not sophisticated enough to get good pictures in low light.
The buildings surrounding the restaurant were supposed to be set up like a souq. The souq is divided into different sections, such as Egyptian, Lebanese, Iranian, and Turkish. I have been told that the locals don’t spend much time in the Wafi centre area, and I can understand why. Although it was nice, it felt very artificial. I will probably come back at some point and explore the area later, but I don’t expect to spend much time here.
The dinner was definitely worth the trip however. The restaurant was sunken down about two floors from ground level. However it was open air. When I walked “inside” the first thing I noticed was the smell of shisha smoke. About 3/4 of the tables were smoking. I thought it might be annoying, but it was not overwhelming at our table. Although the restaurant was reasonably full, there seemed to be a separate server for each table. The server was dressed in what I thought of as traditional northern African dress, like something you would see in Casablanca. He wore baggy pants and shirt, and had a round, tall red cap with a tassel (I think). He seemed to be standing by, ready to serve at any time during the hour and a half we were seated. Another thing I noticed for the first time while I was sitting in the restaurant, is that I can’t see any stars. I noticed that again tonight. I don’t know if the reason is that the city is too bright, or if the sand blocks out the starlight.
The menu for the restaurant was divided into sections, like the souq. There were Lebanese, Egyptian, Moroccan, Turkish, Iranian, and Gulf options. We decided to order a variety of appetizers for the table, choosing them from different sections of the menu. We had moutabal and mixed fatayer from the Lebanese menu, rokakat from the Turkish menu, zaalouk from the Moroccan menu, and foul eskandarani, from the Egyptian menu. It was all very good, but my favourite was the zaalouk and the moutabal. Both have eggplant as the main ingredient. I have not eaten much eggplant, but when I have I don’t remember liking it. I don’t know if it had not been prepared properly, but I have enjoyed everything that includes eggplant as an ingredient since I have been here – an moutabal is quickly becoming a favourite. I ordered the Tagine Taghazot which is a lamb dish that I couldn’t pronounce even after the server said it to me. The entree was served in a shallow clay bowl with a clay cover that looked a bit like an elf’s hat. It was bubbling when it arrived, and continued to bubble for a minute or two. By the time I had finished eating, which was more than 30 minutes later, the food was still hot inside. The meal was good, but too much to eat. The lamb was very tender, but I would not put this dinner at the top of my culinary experiences in Dubai. However, the atmosphere definitely made this a memorable dining experience. Overall, it was another very nice evening with friends.