Camel Burger Anyone?
The restaurant is empty due to the rain (even though Time Out Dubai دبي just featured Asseelah أصيله). There are two servers, two Italians and myself in the whole place. Near our table is a huge column supporting the center of the restaurant. It is shaped like a tree, but instead of bark has row upon row of coiled rope. The décor is Islamic ين الاسلام with accents of nature.
Normally in a foreign country I would try the local beer, but Asseelah أصيله doesn’t have one. We settle for a Peroni. To the restaurant’s credit, they serve it in traditional, etched Italian glasses. I order the Maley مالي fish salad and Chicken Margoogat مارغوغات (which I mis-pronouce as Chicken Mr. Magoo). They serve pita bread and ghee at the table instead of French bread and butter.
The food is excellent. The cooking style reminds me of what to do when meat is scarce, tough and needs to be hearty. The desert doesn’t favor the weak or the hungry.
On a whim, we split an order of camel burger sliders. I have eaten cow, goat, sheep, deer, buffalo, horse and a variety of ocean-based creatures (some still alive at the time). Until now, I have never met a protein that I didn’t like. But in the case of Camel, I finally met my enemy. It is not the cooking or the recipe. It is the meat. Camel is hard to describe, but it definitely does NOT taste like chicken. There is a lingering flavor. It haunts your palate like a bad ex-girlfriend. My culinary spirit guide Hannibal would be disappointed.
Our waitress apologizes that none of us like our camel burgers. I am puzzled by this. This one animal has given its’ life for us to try it. A sacrifice that has not been in vain. Now all of its camel relatives are forever safe from me. They are the blowfish of Arabia. One bite and you’ll never go back.
On a whim, we split an order of camel burger sliders. I’ve eaten cow, goat, sheep, deer, buffalo, horse and a variety of ocean creatures (some still alive at the time). Until now, I have never met a protein that I didn’t like. But in the case of Camel, I’ve finally met my enemy. It is not the cooking or the recipe. It is the meat.
As we leave the empty restaurant, I see Asseelah’s أصيله head chef looking exhausted and worried. This kind of stress is not limited by Emirati culture or geography. I’ve had, and seen that same look with struggling business owners back home. Different countries with different ways, but we all have the same question. How do I put food on my family’s table for just one more day?
It is strange. No matter how drastically different the foreign land, the day to day lives of its’ people have so much in common. Their individual orbits are like the same ball of reality just tied to different ethnic strings. We swing the sphere round and round. The taut string stops the ball from carving a straight path out into the unknown, the nothingness beyond. With each swing we become more tightly fixated on the frustrating minutiae of our daily lives. This fixation is the string that we the ball have tied ourselves to. We try to follow our nature but instead go round and round.
As the circle endlessly repeats out of nothing repetition creates something – a common past. The string continues to reprise our path. Each rehearsal breeds a frustrated familiarity. Familiarity breeds the illusion of comfort.
Regardless of where you go, the same tethered lives follow the same daily orbits. And as we get older we yank the leash tighter and tighter. Our wealth of experience becomes ever smaller. Maybe that is all death really is, a cutting of the cord and the freedom to just be.