There are few foods as ubiquitous and varied as kebab, a meal so simple in its method and preparation, yet so unique on a regional scale.
Kebab dishes cross the Mediterranean from Turkey, Greece and the Levant to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. As well as being common street food and a quick, affordable meal, the Kebabs are loaded with stories of migration, travel, and historic trade routes.
No wonder, then, that the dish is so prevalent and popular in a cosmopolitan country like the United Arab Emirates. In the kitchens of Abu Dhabi, for example, this spicy, grilled meat dish is indicative of the vibrant immigrant communities rooted in the city.
Around the corners and in closed restaurants, dishes ranging from Lebanese shish taouk, Afghan chapli kebabs, desi Bihari kababs, Bosnian cevapi, Turkish iskender and many other spicy meats sizzle on skewers, vertical rotisseries and in frying pans. In addition to incorporating the indigenous flavors of their lands, these dishes reveal the cross-cultural mix at the heart of the capital’s development.
Cevapi at Bosnian refuge
At the Bosnian Hut, a restaurant tucked away in the Al Danah district, the cevapi specialty, accompanied by roasted coffee with honey, attracts European and Arab diners. Led by Chef Teufik and an almost 100% Bosnian team, the restaurant is committed to cultivating a kind of ‘Little Bosnia’ community vibe through its food and decor.
We don’t use too many spices, so what matters is the taste of the meat
Chief Teufik, Bosnian Refuge
“We try to be as authentic as possible – and people who have been to Bosnia have come back to say that our food is almost the same as the food there,” says Teufik.
“I wanted a way to express myself when I turned to the kitchen. Me, personally, I like to make biryani, but I know I can’t do it better than Pakistanis, Indians or Bangladeshis. I have always cooked many different cuisines, but Bosnian kebabs are something from my culture that I can passionately share with the people here.
The defining element of the Bosnian kebab, he says, is the quality of the meat. “We don’t use too many spices, so what matters is the taste of the meat. And often, this can even change depending on the region.
The living conditions of the cattle play a huge role in taste and texture, he says. A sheep raised in the mountains or lush pastures and offered fresh water and fresh produce will certainly taste richer than imported meat bought at the cheapest price.
“Spicy and hot foods are more popular in southern countries,” he says. He deduces that the spice trade through the colonization of the subcontinent and Latin America probably did not circulate in Eastern European countries, leaving food aficionados to hone the quality of the food instead. their natural products.
Shami kebab in Kabul Afghanistan
Some kebabs aim to bring out the flavor through the quality of the meat and fat that interacts with each other. In Kabul Afghanistan, a restaurant with holes near Madinat Zayed, service manager Assad Ullah explains a similar approach to Afghan kebabs. He says some food stalls in Kabul simply cook chunks of plain meat with goat’s brain, allowing fatty flavors from the brain to naturally season the meat.
The restaurant’s shami kebab – a spicy creation of ground lamb cooked on a skewer on a grill – comes highly recommended. The popularity of this dish is linked to the overall history of the Ottoman Empire. With touches of cumin, cilantro, caraway and garlic, and served with a cup of hot saffron tea and a bunch of onions and mixed herbs, these kebabs form a regionally common flavor palette.
“Shami,” Ullah says, “comes from the word Syria in Arabic. I don’t know why we give the kebab its name, but there has been a lot of migration between the Levant and the countries of Central Asia. Shami kebabs are also a home-cooked minced meat kebab in South Asian cuisines – the root of the word shaam being the Hindi, Farsi, and Urdu word for evening.
The more fusion and variety, the more attractive and interesting the food becomes
Chait Yildiz, chef, Café Otantik
Ullah has been in Abu Dhabi for about two years, having arrived from Afghanistan for the sole purpose of opening and running the restaurant. “I think Afghan food pleases a lot of people here. We have Arabs, Pakistanis and even Filipinos who come to eat here. Some nationalities in particular like the food because it doesn’t have as many spicy flavors as Pakistani or Indian dishes, but it is still satisfying in taste.
In the United Arab Emirates, he notes that a restaurant often has to adapt and master a variety of cultural dishes, as opposed to the hyper-local specialization seen in its hometown. In Afghanistan, if a restaurant or food stall does a kebab really well, they will do just that and maybe add their own unique touch. Conversely, serving Afghan kebabs in Abu Dhabi requires slight adjustments to ensure wider appeal.
“No one in Afghanistan eats hummus with their meat, but it’s almost an obligation here,” he says. “Normally, this is a simple meal of meat and bread. Some restaurants try to create a VIP experience, but it’s really not necessary.
Princess kebab at Café Otantik
In an attempt to engage the wider Abu Dhabi community, however, large dining establishments often focus their offerings on pan-regional recipes that mix and match spices and create fusion dishes, thus making kebab a dish. everyday for all tastes.
At Café Otantik, a Turkish restaurant in the Tourist Club area, Chef Chait Yildiz incorporates the unique flavors of each major Turkish city, tasting and combining the tastes of Anatolia, Bursa, Istanbul and Ankara. A rich butter sauce, tomato paste, yogurt and paste of crushed eggplant and pine nuts serve as condiments for various meats – from doner-style iskender to tender minced skewer. The Otantik Princess Kebab is an amalgamation of these elements, a varied dish of meats served on mashed eggplant, grilled peppers and a thick, buttered bread covered with cheese.
“We serve a lot of different things here, all authentic Turkish cuisine, but the more fusion and variety, the more attractive and interesting the food becomes, even for people who are not Turkish,” Yildiz explains.
Spicy kebabs at Barbeque Nation
Barbeque Nation at Al Wahda Mall takes a similar approach to its Indian cuisine, elevating the simple kebab to encompass the various flavors found across the subcontinent. As part of an all-you-can-eat offer, skewer on skewer is placed endlessly on a small pit of hot coals at the table. Here, taste and aroma are the crown jewels of every skewer – a testament to the richness of spices from the subcontinent. From ground lamb seasoned with cardamom and saffron to shrimp in coconut curry and pieces of chicken marinated in chili and tomato paste, or crushed green chili, yogurt and cilantro, the variety presents another dimension of Abu Dhabi kebab culture.
As a global kebab cuisine, the capital reinforces its identity as a growing center of migrant achievement and cultural expression. The city is not so much a melting pot as it is a bowl filled with slowly familiarizing cross flavors. Here, kebabs not only signify ethnic and geographic diversity, but also contain in their taste profiles and cooking techniques, taste documentation of the cultural changes that occur through the journey of people and ideas.
Updated: July 19, 2021, 13:05