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How much can you eat in one sitting?

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Saturday, 23 April 2011 | Views [1350]

Not quite breakfast, not quite lunch.

That’s how I learned it when I was young. It was that kind of event that you had to skip your breakfast for - a time where I would develop from hungry to ‘hangry’, as I don’t like to be kept from my food. You would gather with friends or family for a mid-morning feast, often including pancakes or egg-based concoctions, coffee and lots of laughter. If you were feeling really devilish, you might order something with a side of ice-cream, or something containing chocolate. You would relish in your coffee, maybe order two, and possibly run your eyes over the paper if your time and company permitted.

In Dubai, brunches are a cultural institution. Friday is the holy day of prayer for Muslims, when they will gather at the masjid around 11.30am for the main prayer session of the week. Meanwhile, expats gather around tables for an afternoon of everything your digestive system could possibly desire. It was a strange concept the first time I embarked upon one of these adventures, across three restaurants of one hotel. A Dubai brunch will generally start at noon and run until four at any of the many MANY hotels in the city, where long spreads of tables nearly buckle under the load of sumptuous delicacies for you to sample, or gorge yourself on. The range is phenomenal, decisions are often difficult, and you can bank on a solid three hours of excessive indulgence on any given Friday brunch date.

You will not be alone in your gastronomic experience, as your friends or colleagues will band together with you to pile up plates and compare and share the best of the spread. Alternatively, they might tell you to go and get your own because it’s just too bloody good to share. Laughter and stories will fill the hours, as there’s always something chaotic, hilarious or completely ridiculous going on in any given week here. You might have had your power disconnected, an argument with security, an incident with waxing at the salon, some traffic or visa nightmare, a mystery illness, a story of recent travels, or, if you’re me, some mention of a long run precluded by drinking golden syrup straight from the bottle (best energy hit – EVER). Either way, there’s plenty of chatter to keep you going while you test your clothing’s ability to stretch at the waist and eat your way through the afternoon with savouries to die for, and sweets that could kill.

The beauty of these brunches is in the beverage availability. In Dubai, alcohol is subject to high tax rates, based on the fact that the country is under Muslim law. That’s fine by me; I moved here, I follow their rules. That said, one’s wallet tends to hurt when you say goodbye to the better part of AU$100 for a NZ$12 bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. In steps the Dubai brunch - where you find yourself not only in front of endless tables of food, but also an open slather, all-inclusive bar while still keeping your travel savings stash afloat. It is, in one word, awesome. That said, mix a little mid-April heat, an uncountable series of mojitos and an uninitiated young Australian, and you will find her in a bit of a sad state by 6pm that night…somewhere in the bathroom of the Ritz-Carlton.

That was a year ago, and tales of that evening still rear their ugly heads. Today however, I enjoyed the birthday celebrations of a friend with a super-awesome brunch at the grassy expanses of a golf club in Dubai. With a picnic in the park theme, we flicked off our shoes and found our way onto the grass, feasting on breads, olives and spreads from a beautifully prepared basket before heading towards the barbecue buffet. I realised how much I missed the feeling of grass between my toes as I loaded up my plate with grilled prawns, baked fish parcels and some of the most beautifully prepared baby potatoes I’d ever seen. Andrew adeptly attacked the “Pork Station”, having been starved of piggy goodness for some time (pork is haram, or forbidden, in Islam), while champagne and orange juice spritzers got the afternoon bubbles flowing, before the mojitos made their refreshing way in front of me again. We munched our way through what we thought was pretty much everything the buffet had to offer and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of one another’s company. It was the epitome of the work-hard, play-hard culture of Dubai and I loved it.

But the food didn’t stop. Every twenty minutes or so, someone would deliver new platefuls or bowlfuls of more delicacies to the low tables on the grass. Pasta salad, potato salad, grilled vegetables, quiche, cheeses, crackers and baguette, chicken pie – it all just kept coming! We’d already filled our stomachs with the anemia-busting goodness of the barbecue, but the food just wouldn’t retreat! This time, I made sure there were plenty of Diet Cokes and bottles of Evian making their way into my veins, rather than a continuous stream of white rum, and continued eating until my heart’s content. Needless to say, I was very thankful I’d notched up an easy 15km of running in the last 24-hours as the custom-made chocolate crepes, hot cross buns and chocolate mousse birthday cake graced my palate and danced on my tongue. Oh baby.

I rested back on my arms, leaning onto the grass, trying to ease the pressure off my expanding waistline. I pondered whether or not I could handle anything else that contained chocolate. Maybe. Maybe not. But I wanted it. The sunshine warmed my skin. It was hot out, but not unbearable. Summer is coming and we might only have two weeks left before we retreat to air conditioning for the season. I was grateful I’d been drinking plenty of water, was feeling the perfect kind of happy, and soaked up the celebratory ambience while a warm breeze tickled my skin. Everyone loves to sing Happy Birthday, but it’s even better to sing Happy Birthday whilst partaking in the wonder that is the Dubai brunch.

If you ever visit, we need to take you along. You haven’t really been to Dubai until you’ve found your way out to a taxi, clutching your stomach gasping something about not eating again any time in the next week. At least this time, I walked out without stacking it off a pair of stilettos.

That’s progress right there.

This one’s dedicated to you Lou – Happy Birthday pretty lady!
Thanks for sharing a wonderful day.

Tags: culture, dubai, food

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