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UAE's Hidden Gems: A sandwich and a slice of history, all for Dh3 in Dubai

Photo by Rahul Gajjar/Khaleej Times
Photo by Rahul Gajjar/Khaleej Times

Dubai - This week we hit the streets of Meena Bazaar in search of Dubai’s cheapest sandwich.

By Rahul Gajjar and Abhishek Sengupta

Published: Thu 21 Jan 2021, 7:35 PM

Heard of a little corner shop or a hole-in-the-wall eatery that’s rumoured to sell the best burger, or the best sandwich, or the best kebab? Or another ‘little-known place’ that ‘launches a thousand ships’? UAE’s Hidden Gems, a weekly series, features one such place a week. This week we hit the streets of Meena Bazaar in search of Dubai’s cheapest sandwich.

So, what would you get for Dh3 in Dubai? A small bottle of water at a grocery, about half a gallon petrol at a fuel station, or a ride aboard an abra across the Dubai Creek three times over.

But if you are in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Bur Dubai’s busy Meena Bazaar neighbourhood, you could also sink your teeth into a sandwich of your choice — from filafil to aloo vada (potato fritters) and samosas as filling, all wrapped in khubz and served fresh for Dh3 at the Farisian cafeteria.

Times have changed and so have the prices of a sandwich here — going up from a few fils to Dh3 now — but what hasn’t budged is the style and manner the pita wraps are dished out every evening.

At the heart of this cracker-barrel operation that has stood the test of time for around four decades now is Mohammad Ansari, who sailed to the UAE as a teenager aboard an abra from Iran to “earn money”.

“I have remained here since and this place has become my home,” says the visibly frail Ansari, now in his 60s, while offering us a seat inside what used to be the cafeteria’s dining area in the pre-Covid-19 era.

“This used to be buzzing throughout the day with people chatting over filafil, but not anymore. Yet, business hasn’t stopped. People haven’t forgotten us,” he adds, gesturing to a loyal patron waiting to grab his filafil sandwich through the window counter after the day’s grind.

“For thousands like him, we have been providing the cheapest and best way to fight hunger pangs since we started out in this very place in the ’70s.”

Is it the tastiest filafil in town? Perhaps not. Filled with a dash of freshly prepared green chutney made of coriander, mint, and ‘secret herbs’, freshly cut veggies like cucumber, tomatoes and cabbage and a patty in the form of a filafil, samosa or a potato vada, it gives you a slight kick of the chilli.

But is it the best filafil in town? Perhaps yes, because every time you dig into a sandwich here, you taste a slice of Dubai’s own history, all for Dh3.

Falafel and Farisian’s three versions

Falafel, also spelled filafil, is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Served typically in a pita or wrapped in a flatbread known as taboon; “falafel” is Middle East’s version of a wrapped sandwich where the falafel balls are topped with salads, pickled vegetables, hot sauce, and drizzled with tahini-based sauces. At Al Farisian, the tahini gets a chutney makeover and the falafel balls have samosas and aloo vada (potato fritters) giving it a run for its money.

Three things you won’t get anywhere:

>A sandwich of your choice for Dh3 only

>The chance to snack on a slice of four-decades of history

>Samosa wrapped in a bread like falafel



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