Food often associated with memories are always the best. Certain simple foods evoke a lot of nostalgia. One of it is definitely this sandwich that I am going to share today. I am marking it under Emirati Cuisine since it would have defined the childhood of a lot of Emiratis once upon a time. It is something that had slowly disappeared, but is making a comeback in the form of other avatars. However, the sandwich is not strong enough to withhold the competition in the form of the fancy burgers, freak-shakes and desserts that have rocked the food scene in the UAE. Yet, for those who were born and bought up in the 80s and 90s would know what this simple sandwich that you got for a dirham from your local “baqala” would mean to them.
D came to UAE for the first time in the late 1970s. He had come by flight, one of the first flights to be introduced between India and UAE. Uncle – D’s mother’s elder sister’s son – was already here in a small place called Dibba several years before that – he came by “launch” or “pathemaari” as it is called in Malayalam. I am sure many of you must have watched this movie of Mammootty and had a heavy heart at the end. Somehow, uncle’s life felt very similar to that movie in many ways.
When D had just finished his degree, my grandfather decided to pack him off to come here, fearing that he would go on with his singing hobby and become a “nobody”. Just the story of many of them who packed their bags and landed up during that time, right? 😀 D stayed for a few months with uncle in Dibba before he landed up the job in Sharjah, where he worked for 39 years of his life, before he retired in 2013. Uncle had a small “baqala” (grocery) in the main street of Dibba – the shop that helped him marry off his sisters and his brothers, before he got married during his 40s. The typical “taking care of the family” character that you would have seen in hundreds during those good-old-days…
We would go to visit him whenever we would get a vehicle to go there – D never drove in his own life. D loved him so much and respected him a lot, and the admiration was mutual. When we go there, we – my siblings and I – would stand in the corner and eye all the pofaki packets and colorful chocolate packs on the old counters. It was a very haphazard shop, not like the flashy places that groceries have now become. He would keep giggling and tell us to pick whatever we want but umma would roll her eyes and that was enough for us to withdraw our hands back. Uncle would still pack us bags of things he felt we wanted and we would go off happy, much to the sadness of umma, who would talk all through out the trip as to how uncle never had anything back home, thanks to his generosity in taking care of his siblings and not thinking about himself. We never understood it then, but now we understand what she would mean…
In between D and uncle talking, a lot of naughty boys would come in. “Ey Ibrahim, atheeni samoon!” (Oy Ibrahim – that was uncle’s name – give us the roll!) It was an order to him. He would patiently cut through a roll, slather a thick layer of Kraft cheese, douse some Excellence red sauce, then open up one pack on Oman chips and sprinkle it in there. He would then neatly wrap in butter paper and give it to them. Some would pay him, some would just run away. But he just wouldn’t say anything. He would simply giggle and say, “They keep doing it all the time, no problem… what to do?”
He would be forced to do this during Ramadan afternoons as well, when food is not supposed to be given out or eaten in public. Once it so happened that he was caught for handing over the rolls – he was under so much pressure from the boys – and was asked to be present at the station. While he waited thinking of the big fine he had invited, the officer appeared from nowhere and gave him a hug. He told him, “I know you don’t remember me since you see so many boys daily. They come for your samoons, eat and grow up and are replaced by a new set of boys. I was one of them who would have it regularly even during Ramadan and I know the pressure you go through. It’s OK, please go, there is no fine!” Uncle’s eyes were really wet. These naughty boys would all grow up to become high ranking officers and well placed government employees.
He passed away one night as he returned from his grocery. In his late 60s, still not having much under his possession… As per his last wish, he was cremated in Dibba itself. After all, his whole life apart from the first few years was all spent in this country. His shop was then taken over by the owner of the building and given out once all the legal formalities were settled. It’s been eleven years now, I was carrying Rasha during that time and I still vividly remember his janazah formalities. We hardly go to Dibba now since we have no relatives to visit there but when I go, I do try to locate where his shop was. That whole area has changed with better roads, lots of other shops. But the memories are still there. May his soul rest in peace, and may Allah give him the goodness that he deserved in the Hereafter, Aameen…
Sometimes when I write something heavy that makes me dwell through the post, my head gets heavy. I don’t know why… the twitching headache and the wet eyes comes along with it. Life is definitely no longer the same. Our childhood was slow, gadget free. Our happiness lied in what we got for 50 fils or one dirhams, like the purple Hobby chocolate (one of my favorite!), the Nestle Toffee, the packet of Oman chips, etc… Coming back to this sandwich, you can’t replace the ingredients used in it. The chips has to be Oman, which used to be 50 fils but now is a dirham, for the same quantity – you can literally count how many is there in that 15 gm pack! 😉 The cheese has to be Kraft, and that too with the golden pack and the hot sauce has to be Excellence. These were the only cheese and hot sauce brands in the market before a huge number of brands came in and swept those two categories.
When I had all in hand, I just gave it to Rasha and asked her to make sandwich, and she was like, “Seriously?”. She assembled as I clicked the pictures. We enjoyed it so much that we finished off the whole pack of 6 rolls all by ourselves! Hehe… Nowadays, we do find in certain cafeterias the same combination given in a paratha, but the samoon is what gives the nostalgic feel. There is not much of a recipe as such, but I still save it up here, for those who miss the past, and for those who would love to have a peak into how the past felt like… 🙂
- 1 samoon/ roll
- 1 heaped tbsp cream cheese (Kraft preferred, can use more as per your liking)
- A nice dousing of chilli sauce (Excellence preferred)
- 15 gm pack of Oman potato chips
- Cut the roll by the center and spread out.
- Slater the cheese on both sides, drizzle the hot sauce, and sprinkle the whole packet of chips into it.
- Close, give it a slight press to hold shape. Enjoy!