For many of us who have grown up in Dubai, Sharjah, or Abu Dhabi, making the shift back to India, and Goa, in particular, is tough. Though at first, it may seem like an adventure, after a while you begin to miss stuff. Now, I’m not talking about major infrastructural stuff. No no. I’m talking about the little things that made growing up in the Gulf memorable. Things like Masafi water or Abra rides to get from Deira to Bur Dubai – these little things were and still are intrinsic to life in the Gulf. Here is a list of 10 things that every Gulfie I know misses about ‘home’.
It wasn’t a party, school recess, or picnic without Oman chips. These chilli powdered potato chips were every kid’s best friend! Paired with a box of Areej (juice) or Laban (buttermilk), and for some of us, it was a great lunch replacement. While we’re talking about chips, honourable mentions going out to Emirates Pofaki, Salad Chips, and Square Chips – particularly the salt and vinegar flavour.
One of the biggest insults to Gulfie kids when they move to Goa, is the pretend Shawarma that you find readily available on carts on the side of the road. This is not shawarma. Real Shawarma is made in pita bread, slathered with tahina and garlic, loaded with chicken or mutton (yes, mutton), and stuffed with pickled carrot, cucumber, and beetroot, and a solitary french fry or two – that is not there by mistake (though it might seem like it is – but it’s not.)
How many of you ate raw Nido milk powder right out the tin? Yeah I know, I did it too. Nido for me now is an enigma. Thinking back, I know we had great fresh milk from Al Marai and Al Ain, yet every Indian (read Goan) household had tins upon tins of Nido milk. Was it because of the convenience of powdered milk that could be ‘made’ whenever, wherever? Or was it that it just tasted better than fresh milk? Yeah, it’s the second one.
Air-conditioned public buses
When you need to get home after activities at school or go to a friend’s house, we didn’t take a cab. We took the big red and white, uber futuristic public bus, because it was convenient, fast, always on time, and most importantly, air conditioned! Pretty much every school kid I knew had a green bus card that gave you unlimited access to any bus, any time -YES! Swipe your card as you enter, and travel Dubai. There was no better way.
Channel 33 and MBC1
There was no Netflix back then. There was barely satellite TV. All we had then was a metal coat hanger of an ariel on the roof of the building, attached to the TV via a shady cable that never quite sat right. If you were lucky, your dad went the extra mile and bought that little box with the dial (the booster box) that tuned the coat hanger on top of the building to the right angle thanks to a clever little motor. If not, you needed one person on top, and another down yelling “left, left, no no right, okay stop!” All of this so we could watch cartoons between 2 and 5, our dad could watch the news at 7, and mom could watch Bold and the Beautiful from 8 onwards.
Al Ghurair, Bur Juman, and Wafi
The OGs of all the shopping malls there ever was in Dubai. Sure Deira City Centre came up later and dwarfed all these three, but they hit back, expanding and becoming as big (if not bigger) than their competition. Nowadays malls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are just these massive, charmless monstrosities, but back in the day, they were our Friday night. Shout out to Lamcy and it’s two screen cinema as well!
Dubai Shopping Festival
Every month there was something happening in Dubai. Whether it was the Dubai Tennis Open, GITEX, Dubai Summer Surprise, or some other random festival. But one event was key among them – The Dubai Shopping Festival. Usually held at the end of the year, DSF was the one festival everyone waited for because that’s when Dubai went 50% off – sorta. As part of DSF, every store in Dubai had sales with insane discounts. Plus there were exhibition areas and games, prizes to be won, and in the middle of it all, Christmas! Oh what a great time to be alive in Dubai!
Shani and Rani
These may sound like two characters from an epic Indian mythology that didn’t make the cut, but the reality is, this was the only permissible alternative, given by our parents, to the standard Pepsi and Coke. These fruit flavoured drinks were sweet, refreshing, and the perfect picnic companions to the aforementioned chip selection. While there were substitutes for Rani in the form of Capri Sun and Areej, the real hero here is Shani – there was nothing like Shani.
So I sorta glossed over this earlier, but when it came to bread, yeah, this was bread. You’ve got every imaginable form of bread in the Gulf, but none of them was ‘kuboos’. ‘Kuboos’ went with everything! It was a wrap when you needed it, a sandwich if you put two together … it was even a taco if you bent it right. Kuboos is truly the only multi-functional, multi-talented, but not multi-grain bread that you ever needed in your life. Pop some la vache qui rit on it, and you have yourself every breakfast I ever made myself.
Rounding off the list is only drink that could quench your thirst during a Dubai summer. Laban Up. Made by Safa, this buttermilk delight was (and still is) so popular, almost every milk company tried to get in on the action. There was Al Rawabi Up, Almarai Up, Al Ain Up, and a number of other ‘ups’. But if there’s one thing that any Gulfie kid will tell you is their fondest memory of growing up in the UAE, it’s Oman Chips and Laban Up. The only marriage that was actually made in heaven.
Are you a Gulfie return? Did you grow up in the UAE? What do you miss the most? Let us know in the comments below.