Life Beyond Chicken Tikka

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Thu 29 Feb 2024, 8:29 PM

“Can you guys come to Sharjah?” The WhatsApp message stayed unseen for some time as it was a Friday, and no office urgency was expected early morning. Typically, the first thing I do in the mornings is to reach out for the phone and look at headlines on BBC, CNN, The Guardian and major Indian newspapers. The morning cuppa goes down with that before I open the door and pick up the two local newspapers that count and The New York Times. A quick postmortem happens on the spot. All this happens before 6am despite my 1-2am bedtime - a typical case of the circadian rhythm not in sync with the master clock of nature. A five-hour break from global happenings is unthinkable, er, a sin, for a newsman.

Sorry, my routine is not the point of discussion. WhatsApp buzzed again like a missed call, a reminder by my daughter to read messages.

"Can you guys come to Sharjah? I need to go and buy scrubs and other stuff. Isn't it dad's pay day today?" The feeling of exultation resonated in her words.

"Oh, you still haven't forgotten it after a Covid wedding and a baby?" I replied.

Girls are like that. It doesn't matter if they are in the twenties, thirties or forties; CEOs or CFOs; doctors or engineers, they still love to hold their dad's hand and shop around, asking "can I buy this, what about this?" until we drop.

And dads don't despise it. They rather love it because the big daughter of today was once their baby who they nursed and educated and moulded to take on the world. Such moments are a callback to the good old days when their giggles and hollers, demands and requests, and mischiefs and goodness sculpted you to a responsible parent and a good human.

Dads love their daughters much more than anyone else. They would look the other way when mothers pull them up. Dads let them freak out while mums set a curfew. It's that unbelievable balance of freedom and restraint that makes them a balanced person. It's a give and take.

But again, this is not what I want to talk about today. It's about food - food that your children grew up with. They are what they eat. If they love food, they love life too. They will find a good food joint to go to, however far it is from the hostel and despite a roaming warden.

"Let's eat first before shopping, I'm starving." This is what she said when we - Vava, wife and yours truly - met up at the standalone City Centre Al Zahia nestled in an affluent quarter of Muwaileh, Sharjah. For food lovers, anything else can wait. Rather, should wait.

"Don't even look at the Indian stalls. Head to the Southeast Asian or Chinese ones."

"Are you sure they are authentic?" I asked.

"Never mind dad, at least you get to smell the black sauce. You remember the green salad sautéed in oyster sauce and served with chicken rice in some Singapore kopitiams?"

"But you don't get authentic Singapore food here. The last serving of chicken rice at a joint in Dubai Mall was such a big tragedy."

"Yeah, we then headed to a place in Sports City, remember? It wasn't too bad."

“That's the difference. We get genuine Indian food in Dubai. In fact, better than what we get in India."

"Dad, when are you going to grow up? There's life beyond chicken tikka, tandoori, matar paneer, masala dosa, rice-sambar and Andhra biriyani. Didn't you live a decade in Singapore?" Vava argued, waiting for the buzzer to collect Indonesian fried rice with chicken cooked in black pepper sauce.

"I'm not a foodie anymore. Some rice and dal would suffice. That's how I keep my cholesterol under check." I said matter-of-factly.

"How can you forget the common man's chicken rice? It was my sustenance when you guys were away at workplaces. For two dollars, my lunch and dinner were taken care of. The fragrance of the poached chicken artistically arranged on seasoned rice; red chilli sauce served with cucumber garnishes; and chicken soup sprinkled with chopped spring onion. I miss it dad."

"You smelled of garlic even two years after you left Singapore," wifey stepped in.

"Stop it mum. Youl all loved and relished Chinese and Malay stuff at kopitiams - from nasi goreng with Ikam bilis springled on it; barbequed stingray, chilli crab, laksa, oyster omelette, char kuay teow, prawns in coconut gravy, chicken chop with black pepper sauce. It's sad you all have changed your loyalty. It's Karama zindabad now."

"Take it easy," I said.

"I love chicken rice. It was my childhood, like how shawarma was for brother. And like how sardine and tapioca were for you," she rubbed it in with a reddened face.



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