First person: My daily food woes in viral times

— Alamy photo
— Alamy photo

Dubai - Food parcels and bills are not to make an easy match when you are in a new city, especially when there is a virus hovering over your shoulder

By Joydeep Sen Gupta

Published: Fri 26 Mar 2021, 11:12 PM

Last updated: Fri 26 Mar 2021, 11:19 PM

Home is not where the heart or, for that matter, hearth is. Moving countries at the best of times is always a big ask. More so amid a raging pandemic that made 2020 one of the worst years in the history, as it competed with 538 and 1347 in the Common Era (CE) to bring out the rear.

Amid the all-pervasive doom and gloom, a new job gave me a second chance to count dirhams in Dubai at the end of last year. Despite a period of prolonged lockdowns, social distancing and a masked existence in public places, hope sprang eternal for me.

I left Delhi, India, and landed in Dubai on a foggy morning in end-November for a fresh career move.

However, the initial euphoria fizzled out in no time, as I checked into a business hotel which had masqueraded as a hotel apartment in an online lure for which I had fallen hook, line and sinker and had committed to a month-long stay. But as home truths hit me hard in the first week of my stay — when I was under quarantine as per protocol — food, unexpectedly, proved to be the biggest challenge.

I figured out on the first morning during breakfast that the hotel’s restaurant was suited neither to my palate, nor pocket.

Counting money was my motto. But the plan went awry from day one, as the cost of each dish was at odds with my die-hard bid to scrimp. I failed to hit pay dirt at the outset, as the breakfast cost Dh55. I had set myself a target of not a dirham more than 25. Alas! I was not destined to stick to the script. Perhaps, life is a strange business that thrives on schadenfreude.

From then on, a daily hunt started to look for cheaper eating options in and around the hotel.

Though Satwa was less than a one-kilometre trek away amid a benign wintry Dubai sun and cool breeze and cars zipping by in a formula-one last lap redux, I soon realised oily Pakistani dishes cannot be a daily staple. At work, I was largely living off salads and juices, as options beyond Kerala cuisine — again unagreeable with my palate — were few and far between.

Few eateries were willing to deliver a Dh20 order, while I was stubborn not to pay any delivery charge.

The struggle continued at the expense of me going hungry for several days on end, as my self-determined daily food bill budget and what’s on offer were at gross variance.

A month passed, and the Yuletide spirit, despite the Covid-19 challenge, was around the corner. The Christmas-New Year holiday season premium was back in business and hotel room rents skyrocketed.

Fortunately, I managed to hit a sweet spot and moved into a studio at a staid hotel apartment complex on Sheikh Zayed Road.

A tenant, for once, was a winner all the way, as a demand for a one-cheque rental payment has faded into near oblivion. I managed to wangle a monthly deal, where cash and consumer are kings. But money can’t buy everything. And a dirham saved is a dirham lost: the studio doesn’t come with a kitchen.

So, takeaways are the order of my daily meal struggle, as keeping track of costs has gone for a toss. I’m a long way off my target, and it doesn’t appear that I can meet it anytime soon. But there is a silver lining to my food woes and daily accounting travails. I have discovered a restaurant after my heart in Oud Metha, whose avuncular owner has been a guardian angel.

My budgetary constraints are off syllabus when it comes to this restaurant, whose mouthwatering dishes are a rosy reminder to home and hearth. The urban gypsy in me can take a break, as I savour its delicious offerings in a trip down memory lane.

I plan to enrol for to take cooking classes. Truth be told, I have never made a cup of tea or boiled an egg in my mid-life.

But never say never.

And I’m ready for another challenge in a roller-coaster called life.

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