Dubai: It’s a breezy Friday evening. The lane is narrow, lined with tiny eateries, there’s a hum in the air and a sense of expectation. Feet shuffle. In the bylanes of Dubai’s Grand Souq, just before iftar, 18-year-old Ubaid Patel, geared up in his cycling attracts join the waiting crowd. Suddenly the hum breaks, feet move as the dishes in the stalls are stacked up. Plates of hot, crunchy samosas (deep-fried savory snacks with filling), pakoras (sinters) and wadas (deep-fried lentil-based fritters) are up for sale.
Patel is quick. He swiftly moves past the building crowd to get the snacks packed for his family, so he can get home in time to end the fast. He is not the only one. Like him, many others buy their iftar snacks and leave. Within a few minutes, most of the trays are empty and the eatery staff are busy preparing the next round. This cycle will go on until 12am, in the famous ‘iftar lane’ in Bur Dubai, located adjacent to the Dubai Creek.
We had heard many a reference to it but lucky upon a recent video of the lane from the Instagram food blog fryingpanadventures. It looked delicious! There was no question, we had to explore and bring this secret to the wider Gulf News Food community. So, off we went, one Friday evening to experience and taste what was on offer in the lane.
We made an interesting discovery….
This lane is essentially two shops, from two neighboring districts in Kerala. As you enter the coral-walled pathway, the staff and the owner of the two shops, in a rhythmic tone, will say “the lo, the lo”, a Hindi term that means – “buy it, buy it”. They even offer you a free pakora to taste, knowing very well that you cannot stop with one.
It is a business that started with a small frying pan.
– Mohammad Sameer, 43
The two shops are Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil and Al Shaab, both of which have a small seating capacity and a history linked to Malappuram and Thrissur, the two districts of Kerala. We spoke to 43-year-old Mohammed Sameer, Kerala-based expatriate and owner of Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil Restaurant, who said: “In 1968, my father came from Malappuram in Kerala, India, to Dubai. After working for two years at his sponsor’s house (Hamad Khalfan Al Dalil) and with their assistance, he set up this shop. It is a business that started with a small frying pan.” Today, Sameer employs nine members of staff and manages a busy kitchen. He is involved in sourcing the right ingredients, maintaining inventory and keeping up with the taste and consistency.
They serve a variety of deep-fried snacks like mirchi pakora (chillies, battered in gram flour and deep-fried), onion pakora, wadas, banana fritters and samosas. However, there is one snack that customers keep coming back to – their samosas. It is a deep-fried savory snack made with a filling, which varies in the southern Indian states, where a mix of vegetables is used, while, in the north of India, a spiced potato-based filling is preferred.
According to Sameer, their samosas are pretty different. They use a specific brand of flour (which he said is a trade secret and cannot disclose), so these deep-fried crispy savories don’t get soggy, even after three to four hours. The filling is mixed vegetables, coriander and Arabic spices. Similar to the tiny samosas you find in Kerala, but differ in taste because of the spice mix. He added: “We’ve toned down the spices to suit the Arabic food palate. This recipe that we follow today was built after a lot of trial and error.”
During the first few days of Ramadan 2022, they sold about 15,000 samosas in a day. The demand tapers as the month progresses, they said. Now they average 7,000 samosas in a day.
The different kinds of sambusas sold here are delicious and the commute and time spent to come here are all worth it.
– Khalid Murad Ali Al Beloushi, 30
Khaled Murad Ali Al Beloushi, a 30-year-old Emirati media professional who lives in Ras Al Khaimah, makes it a point to come here and pick iftar snacks with his wife. He said: “I come all the way from Ras Al Khaimah just to get sambusas [Arabic name for samosas] and other fried snacks from this lane. I have been doing this for years, especially during Ramadan. The different kinds of sambusas sold here are delicious and the commute and time spent to come here are all worth it.”
This lane is unique, and the shop selling these sambusas is different from the others.
– Anar Akhmedina, 53
Anar Akhmedina, a 53-year-old expatriate from Kazakhstan who has been in the UAE for fifteen years, agrees. She has been visiting this lane for many years, especially during Ramadan. She said: “I come here for the traditional snacks like sambusa for iftar because they are all so delicious. This lane is unique, and the shop selling these sambusas is different from the others.”
On an average, we make about 5,000 to 6,000 samosas and sell them every day.
– Fahad Elayadathu Puthanveettil, 32
The adjacent restaurant – Al Shaab, which also sells samosas and pakoras, is owned by 32-year-old Fahad Elayadathu Puthanveettil from Chavakkad, Thrissur in Kerala, India. He joined his family-run business in 2016, which was started by his late father, Mohammed Unni Haji, in 1970. He added: “We are a small team of six people, including me. The profits are not much, but we sail through by selling 100 pieces of samosas for Dh50. On an average, we make about 5,000 to 6,000 samosas and sell them every day.”
We serve tasty food at inexpensive rates; one of the reasons we have a large customer base.
– Shahid Ali, 36
Thirty-six-year-old Shahid Ali, who has been working at the restaurant since 2015, said: “We serve tasty food at inexpensive rates; one of the reasons we have a large customer base. This year, we have also introduced a special dish, only for Ramadan called masala kadala.” A spiced chickpeas dish with fried onions tempered in mustard seeds and garnished with fresh coriander. Their bestselling snacks are samosas and pakoras. In fact, pakoras and samosas are sold all year round in the two shops, and they open their shutters from 7am and run until 12pm. However, during Ramadan, they start around 8am.
Coming here feels very good, and it reminds me of home.
-Imran Malik, 28
Twenty-eight-year-old Imran Malik, an Indian expatriate from Mumbai, who works in a trading shop in Bur Dubai, finds this lane convenient to pick snacks for iftar, on the go. He added: “Like me, many others who work around this area come and pick up freshly fried snacks from here, go back home and share it with their friends and family. Coming here feels very good, and it reminds me of home.”
It became a regular spot and I come here often to get fresh samosas and pakoras packed and later have them at home
– Naeam Sarfuddin, 31
Another expatriate, 31-year-old Naeam Sarfuddin from Bangladesh, who has been in Dubai for the last eight years and lives in Bur Dubai, comes here often to buy samosas and pakoras. He said: “I live nearby and when I came to Dubai, I learned about this famous lane. So it became a regular spot and I come here often to get fresh samosas and pakoras packed and later have them at home.”
Expanding the menu with the times
With time and based on customer demand, Sameer introduced other popular south Indian breakfast dishes like idly (steamed rice cakes) and dosa (savory rice and lentil crepes) on his menu. Where Fahad introduced chat (Indian street food).
Despite the numerous food delivery apps and restaurants opening, the popularity of this lane has not waned.
Earlier, customers would place an order and come buy them for iftar gatherings, but over the years and with food delivery trends, a lot of customers these days either send someone to collect food packages or request delivery.
Do you know of any such ‘secret’ food places in Dubai? Share your food stories and recipes with us on firstname.lastname@example.org