When I first started this blog, I had compiled an anal and very ambitious Excel sheet of restaurants I needed to target in Dubai. It had five categories: Name, Cuisine, Notes, Location, Contact. The list had a grand total of 8 restaurant entries (of which I have tried 2 to-date) and it now languishes in some cobwebbed folder of my hard drive.
It quickly became evident that restaurant recommendations don’t ascend on me when I’m staring at color-coded cells of an Excel worksheet. Let's take parties for instance, where restaurant recommendations drop into my lap faster than crumbs falling out of the cocktail snacks I'm scarfing down. Someone inevitably offers up that I’m a food blogger. This rattles people back to the reality of how uni-dimensionally food-obsessed I am, forcing them to instantly shift debate topics from Middle Eastern politics and stock market returns to fried fish and kababs. Thank goodness. How could I hold a conversation about anything else.
Restaurant lists land up in my email inbox from closet foodies who, unsolicited, generously compose long emails disclosing their restaurant secrets in obscure patches of town. Each of you Samaritans know who you are, and one day, ONE DAY, I will make you proud by not blithering about and actually blogging about the places you’ve suggested I try.
Restaurant recommendations flirt with me as I drive around Dubai, teasing me to take my eyes off the wheel and spot that new Goan…*screeeeeeech* *BRAKE!*
So anyhow, it was just a matter of time before I moved from a tight-ass Excel system to a more laissez-faire Blackberry Notes list. I would furiously type restaurant names and recommended dishes down with banker-feigned urgency that bordered on that of closing a multi-million dollar deal. The BB list is unordered, messy, capitalized in all the wrong places, and hibernating in oblivion because…I switched to an Android. I’ve also kept lists over two different email accounts, over Evernote (with a ‘must-try’ tag), as reminder appointments in my calendar, and more likely than not, in my head. The last list has a capacity of storing not more than five restaurants at a time, and every time someone squeezes a new restaurant onto my mental list, one of the previous five gets swished around and flushed out to the murky gutter of lost and forgotten thoughts.
The only list option left now to track everything in the most portable and durable way is to consolidate all the lists and...tattoo them onto myself. Can you imagine a girl walking around Dubai tattooed all over with restaurant names?
Don’t answer that. Meanies, all of you.
Sometimes I feel so unaccomplished when I look at the lists, that I resort to listing out restaurants I’ve already tried so that I can proudly cross them out seconds later, with an uber sigh of completion and achievement. Other times I feel like revolting against my own lists, and strut into an unlisted restaurant with the spontaneity of a hot-blooded restaurant-list rebel.
That’s what happened yesterday. I had narrowed my lunch selection down to five listed places, and then, twenty minutes before lunch, I threw a curveball at myself and walked into not-on-the-list Dapoer Kita, a three-month old Indonesian eatery that’s hiding on a street of Karama close to the fish market.
The reward for straying off of the list stared back at me from the hearty depths of this incredible Sop Iga, or beef rib soup.
The soup had sucked out all the meaty oils from the chunky beef ribs, leaving behind tender meat and a few streaks of fat clinging to the bones. This was one of those healing winter broths, full of crunchy scallions, mildly pungent clove and salty beef juices. And you can be sure it's going down in my ‘What to Run to When I Have the Flu’ list. Yes, there’s that list too.
The Ayam Bakar, Indonesian-style grilled chicken served with a mound of steamed rice, also hit the spot. The chicken pieces might feel skinny if you’re a fan of super-sized giant chicken chunks, but that was the last thought on my mind as I crunched away at the sweet, sticky glazed skin that was painted with the colours of soy sauce and brown sugar.
In contrast to the rich glazed skin, the chicken flesh on the inside was simple, no-frills, and downright juicy. Well-glazed and grilled chicken like the one we had at Daoper Kita would be welcome on my dinner table any time.
Our plate of Ayam Bakar had two unexpected peanutty-soy accompaniments, one that played up to the smooth creaminess of tofu, and the other to the more chewy, chicken-like texture of tempeh.
The first variant (on the left) was a supple slab of tofu dusted with peanuts – salty, soft, and...deep-fried? The second soy variant, a tempeh cracker covered head-to-toe in gloriously crunchy chopped peanuts, was somewhat bland and anticlimactic. But in all fairness, the chef had given us the option of a flavour boost by providing a dipping bowl of lethal, lipstick red chili paste (sambal ulak) on the side.
Our side order of Ketoprak was really not a side at all, but a full-sized plate of silky bihun noodles covered in a thick blanket of peanut sauce, and cuddled by a cluster of prawn crackers around one edge of the plate.
The rice noodles curled their way around chunks of deep-fried tofu and slices of lontong (cylindrical rice cake cooked inside a banana leaf), and occasionally tripped over a crunchy bean sprout that provided freshness to an otherwise rib-stickingly heavy dish. While I’m usually a big fan of layering on the peanut sauce nice and thick, somehow the ketoprak seemed like the third wheel on the table, almost too heavy and monotonously peanutty compared to the simple, cosy flavours of the sop iga and ayam bakar. The Ketoprak itself may not be to blame, it might have worked solo, or maybe paired with braised kankong to freshen up the palate.
We [my cousin and I] ended the meal childishly sniggering over a drink called kopi susu. If you’re Indian, you know what susu means so I’ll spare us all the dirty explanation. All that matters is that the coffee actually turned out to be more than drinkable, it really hit the spot (not the susu spot, but all others.) It was rich, sweet and milky, with little specks of coffee powder innocuously bobbing about and a comforting, caramel-like aftertaste.
Turns out, Susu means milk in Indonesian, but to all my inappropriate Indian fellowmen, the drink is more fun if you can let your imagination run wild.
If you plan to visit, my suggestion is to check out their menu and figure out the meanings of any alien dishes before you head out. That way you can walk in and order like an Indo-pro.
I have my bets on their gado gado, oxtail soup, kankung kah, both their ayam rica-rica and woku, and their slushy ice dessert, es campur (which looks quite similar to Filipino halo-halo or Malaysian ice kacang). There was also a small lunch buffet counter with an array of dishes that I might target once I get through the main menu: green shoots of braised kankong (swamp cabbage), rice, beef curry that hinted of rendang, fish basking in chilli sauce, and a couple of other dishes that looked like they could collectively kill my post-lunch productivity. This is the sort of place that’s just begging for multiple visits to discover the rest of the menu, which means that even if Dapoer Kita wasn’t on the list(s) to begin with, it’s definitely on there now.
Dapoer Kita Restaurant
Phone: +971 (4) 3795501, (50) 4539991
Sheikh Mohamed Bld II No. 3-4, 43A Street
Near Fishmarket, Al Karama, Dubai