Tag Archives | adjusting

Abu Dhabi Tex-Mex: the secret of Maria’s kitchen

When we first moved to Abu Dhabi, I binged on Middle Eastern food: humus, moutabel, babaghanoush, tabouleh, chicken shwarma.  Yum.  And when I could no longer look a chickpea in the face, there were other foods to choose from…but I couldn’t find good Mexican food in a restaurant, and in the grocery stores, all I could find were the Old El Paso taco “kits,” replete with stale corn tortillas and “taco mix” made with an ocean’s worth of salt.

Then someone who lives in Abu Dhabi read my blog (imagine! an actual reader who isn’t my mother or my sister!) mentioned Maria to me, and then a friend in my building mentioned Maria, and then someone else mentioned “Maria…” They sounded like maybe they’d found the Grail—a Grail made of masa, chipotle, and black beans.

Maria doesn’t have a website or a restaurant or even one of those New York-style high-end food trucks.  She’s more like having a friend who also happens to be a fabulous chef. To order from Mari, someone has to give you her email address, then she sends you a menu, you  put in your order, and then once a week, you go collect your delicious, home-made Tex-Mex meals.

Maria’s salsa makes even rice cakes taste good

When I went to pick up my order, I had a moment of cultural confusion: sitting at a low table was a dimpled woman wearing bright-red lipstick and wearing full hijab: black abaya, black sheyla. She was checking orders and handling the money while three teen-age boys in dishdashes gathered each customer’s cartons and containers.  The food smelled delicious—but how on earth had an Arab woman learned to cook really authentic Mexican food? Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on January 27, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, expat, food, NYC, Travel

Of Mail and Metaphors

What’s your address? Everyone asked us that question before we moved to Abu Dhabi, as if they were really going to write actual letters that needed to be delivered to actual addresses.

As if.

But even if people were going to write letters to us, or send us packages of things I can’t find here (what I’ve learned is that what you can’t get in a certain place tells you more about that place than what you can get)…you couldn’t send it to my apartment.

I don’t really have an address. No one does.  There isn’t any home mail delivery in Abu Dhabi and there aren’t what you’d call street addresses, either.

I’m used to hopping in a cab and barking out the address of my destination New York style: 14th between 2nd and 3rd; Houston and Avenue D, south side.

Not here. Here everyone navigates by landmarks because instead of the streets having no name, ala U2, the streets have 2 or 3 names. Our building is on Electra Street. Also Sheikh Zayed the First Street. Also 7th street.  The nearest big cross street is Sheik Rashid Al Bin Maktoum Road. Also Old Airport Road. Also 2nd street.

To add another layer of fun to this larky layout is the fact that behind these multiply named streets, behind the tall buildings that line the wide avenues are honeycombs of shopping districts: tiny shops jammed along crisscrossing little alleys that have no names or numbers at all.

It’s a constant set of triangulations: to find one thing, you need to have one or two other things to orient against: the tailor who hemmed my pants said his shop was “behind Wear Mart and down from Swiss Arabian perfume store.”  The dry cleaner puts this address on the dry cleaning bags:

Not having street addresses creates a disconcerting sense of living in a small town—just turn left at old Mike’s café, drive on past Aunt Tilly’s shop—even though we’re surrounded by skyscrapers and multi-lane highways.

If you want mail, actual mail? You need one of these:

Instead of a post-box, though, many people get their mail delivered to their offices. To get a post-box, you need to fill out an application, turn in copies of your residence visa or passport, two passport photos (I have no idea why), and then of course you need to stand in a bureaucratic line (or two or three). Getting mail at the office means I get my beloved New Yorkers in print, as god intended them to be, but about two weeks after the fact.  You want to know what’s happening in the city in late August? I’m your gal.

What surprises me is how strange it seems not to get mail delivered here, to our apartment. Who knew that “getting the mail” was a ritual important enough that it would be missed?

We’re slowly putting together our routines—boys off to school in the mornings, Husband and I off to work—but I still don’t feel “at home” here.  And as I was roaming around taking pictures of post office boxes, I found a (slightly overstated) metaphor for these early days of expat life: I am an unknown letter…or, rather, a letter that hasn’t yet been addressed.

Continue Reading · on September 22, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, NYC, UAE, Uncategorized

Things I’ve Discovered…

Yesterday I wrote about things I missed, so today it seems only fair that I write about a few discoveries.

First thing: we’ve traveled to the other side of the world and found ourselves in…mall culture. It’s hot as hell here, if hell were filled with air the consistency of hot tapioca.  Combine the heat with the whole Ramadan fasting-from-sunrise-to-sunset thing and you create a month-long interior, mostly nocturnal culture.  After iftar, the meal that breaks the fast at sunset, people head outside…to the mall.

And you know? Mall culture is pretty much mall culture, world wide. Is this what Thomas Friedman meant by “the world is flat”? You be the judge:

Given the weather here, something from Louisiana almost makes sense. Almost. This outpost of US culture, however, does not:

Hardees? Really?  (These pictures are slightly blurry because I had to take them in a hurry–seems there’s a wee prohibition against photography.)

Discovery two: yes, Virginia, there is liquor here, right out in the open, just like at home:

Furthermore, the beer is available just down the aisle from the chips.  And in the next aisle over, some serious gourmet imported coffee:

Outside the mall and grocery store, a more original fast food.

When I walked by this bush, I thought that brown blob was some hapless bug, but it’s not. It’s a date. From a date palm, one of several growing outside Marks & Spencer:

Shimmy up the tree, and the snacks are yours for the taking. Or you can get them in the supermarket.

I’ve also discovered that when the horizon isn’t covered in a heat-induced haze, my windows are filled with the blues and greens of the gulf:

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Continue Reading · on August 16, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, expat, lost in translation, Travel, UAE

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