10 things that Gulfie returns miss about the UAE

Oman chips to Laban and everything in between

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’.

Oman Chips
Oman Chips – The OG of chips

Oman Chips

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.

The real Shawarma! See the french fry?

REAL Shawarma

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.)


Nido MilkNido Milk

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.

Dubai Buses
The one-of-a-kind public buses

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 33Channel 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.

Wafi Mall
The old facade of the Egyptian themed Wafi Mall

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
The best time of the year

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 juice canShani 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.

Kuboos breadKuboos

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.

Laban UpLaban Up

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.

With inputs from my fellow Gulfies, Ophelia and Marion.

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4 thoughts on “10 things that Gulfie returns miss about the UAE”

  1. Mark, I am very amused. Having spent a large number of years in the U.A.E., I still think that I would have no problem with resettling in Goa. My daughter loves Goa and has no list of thing that she misses. Mall culture, is not necessarily the best. Lamcy is not open for some time now following a fire. Nido: I find this really funny, I had to buy some cans of it to bring to a friend’s mother, because she had retired from Kuwait to India and loved Nido. I haven’t yet checked on the quality of milk in Goa, but there are people who live there on a permanent basis and do well. Their kids as well seem to be fine. Bread: I miss poi, Qubz are nice, but with the variety of bread, Indian chapati, rotis, naans, Goan bread, pol, I don’t think I am going to miss Qubz too much. Shawarma, too, I like it but not to the point that I would stay away from Goa for it. Shani and Rani, we prefer fresh fruit and juices, and never have sodas, so that does not apply. Shopping Festival is good, but there are so many festivals in India now, that I could enjoy. Traveling: Now that is a big issue. I don’t need air conditioned transport. I need regular scheduled buses, metered taxis, and a proper transport system. Even at home in Goa, we are happy with fans to stay cool, with our large windows open and the fans on, we are fine. Traffic noises and fumes, that is my bugbear.
    All in all, happy to settle down in Goa. Waiting for the election results now to decide whether it is a good decision

    1. Yeah, I do understand what you’re saying. It’s been 15 years since I moved to Goa after having been born in Dubai and lived there all of my formative years – close to two decades. In a way, I guess this post was a summary of my childhood, and the childhoods of so many of my friends who are all over the world now. Pretty much everything on this list is so intrinsically ‘Gulf’, you’ll be hardpressed to find it anywhere else. As much as I love Goa and call it my home, every now and again I do feel a bit nostalgic when I see a couple of my ‘childhood favourites’ in import shops, and still, get excited when friends and family come on a holiday and bring silly things like ‘choki choki’ or ‘kanchos’.

      Goa and India, in general, has its own charm, and the two are incomparable. Would I move back to Dubai if given the opportunity? Probably not. But I will always miss my Oman chips and Laban Up … 🙂

  2. OMG OMG Thank you so much for this! All of my childhood summed up in this post!
    I went to lamcy almost every weekend more often than Wafi. And laban up and chips Oman! DAMN I miss that so badly
    It’s been 8 years since I came back to Chennai in 2011 from dubai.
    Chennai is nice in some ways but I never really feel set here, I just wanna time travel back to the old Dubai!
    My childhood was totally around Bur Dubai and Karama, Going to Mina Bazaar was a ritual kinda thing lol
    Whoah I forgot AREEJ and also MELCO Juices, those were the real deal until I started taking Al rawabi’s juices a few years later
    Since I’m Tamil the only real channel apart from Channel 33 I enjoyed was Sun Tv, the shows were super awesome back then
    Before iPods were a thing, I used to listen to all the songs of Tamil movies( even up to 2004) on CASETTE TAPES in my dad’s Camry
    My dad even offered to buy me a portable CD player when I was in grade 2 but for some reason I prefered a tape player with earphones!!
    Oh yeah you kinda missed the KM Trading mall in Oud Metha too!!
    I have so many tons of memories be it my daily routine of cheese pizza from CEASER’S restaurant or the the chain of fast food restaurants pizza hut, Hardee’s KFC and so many others including Baskin Robbins on Khaleed Bin al Waleed street in karama just a minute’s walk away from my house!
    Thanks you so much once again for bringing back all my Golden memories!!

    1. Naufal, I’m glad this brought back so many awesome memories for you. You know, this was probably one of the most difficult posts I’ve done, because it was hard to remain as objective as possible while maintaining word count and keeping the list concise. I have too have so many wonderful memories related to my cassette collection and my very first walkman. For me, when I was in A Levels at St. Mary’s, I hung out in Karama ALL THE TIME! Even though I lived in Deira, so Bus #19 was my best friend!
      I remember those cheese pizzas at Caesar’s … They were SOOO GOOD! I was never really a big fan of KM Traders, but if we needed to shop, you know we’d be at Lulu!

      Thanks again for the comment, and for bringing back some more memories!

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