Dubai Diaries: Rigga is where the food is

Dubai - The night market serves up a feast of delicacies that bring back memories of Manila.

By Kirstin Bernabe-Santos

Published: Wed 19 May 2021, 9:07 AM

The more I think about how impossible it is to fly to Manila right now, the more I miss home. Mornings when I’ll wake up to the call of our taho (soy pudding) vendor. Or afternoons when I’ll find fried, sugary bananas at every corner of the neighbourhood.

At the ungodliest of hours, I can easily cry on a friend’s shoulder at a nearby eatery serving lugaw (porridge) or tapsilog (cured meat served with fried rice and sunny-side up eggs). Sure, I can learn how to whip up all these cravings from scratch — but then I can never cook up the feel of home. Except when it’s Rigga o’clock.


These days, as new Dubai sleeps, my husband and I often find ourselves on the road, driving to Al Rigga’s night market. Last Friday, we got there at 1.25am, so as soon as we were served our food, stall owners started packing up, pulling their shutters down.

We didn’t mind. We took our seats and still enjoyed every minute, every bite. Being nearly permanent customers of the market, we now have solid favourites from appetizers to dessert. We start off with classic street food fish balls, kwek-kwek (deep-fried quail eggs coated in orange batter), and takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls, but a Filipino favourite). Since these are ready almost instantly, we munch on them — stick after stick — while waiting for our bigger orders. Pares is our go-to meal, a foolproof pairing of braised beef and a bowl of piping hot soup (plus, rice, of course).

For dessert, we can never leave without having puto bumbong and bibingka, rice cake delicacies that mean Christmas for Filipinos. At the market, though, they are served all days of the week.

My husband and I have always loved talking over a spread of midnight snacks — except when it’s Rigga o’clock, when no one dares to say a word. We savour every moment. You see, we go all the way to old Dubai from the faraway land of IMPZ not only for the food but for the vibe.

Speakers are blaring with either karaoke hits or anthems by iconic Filipino bands like the Eraserheads. While a basketball game is ongoing on one side, cue balls are jumping on billiard tables on the other. And here’s one thing we love the most: Al Rigga is one of the few places in Dubai where we Filipinos can eavesdrop on each other’s gossip.

There’s something comforting about understanding all the random conversations around you, in a city where countless languages are spoken. It’s easy to understand why many of our friends choose to stay in the district even when they take up jobs an hour away.

Rigga is a slice of the Philippines. It is home. The only time I felt it wasn’t was when I caught a tall blonde man staring at me — while I was gnawing at a stick of grilled chicken intestine. Delicious! But only for Filipinos, I suppose.

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