We drove down to Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi for the opening of a brand-new Turkish restaurant called Zaza. Yes, it was a bit far away and it was probably not very bright of me to accept the invitation on a Thursday evening but I had to do it. This place looked really good in the pictures and I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to experience the uncontrollable energy and haphazard service that is usually associated with a soft opening. Plus, there is added pressure on the chefs and it is always fun to see how they perform in the midst of all the chaos.
I love Turkish food mostly because I am a hard-core carnivore but also because it is influenced by the cultural diversity of the Turkish realm. The Ottoman Empire embraced cultural and culinary nuances of countries like Iran and Spain, to incorporate them into its own cuisine. Zaza is no lazy rollout. It has an extensive menu that covers every aspect of Turkish cuisine and there seem to be some Arabian influences as well. There is a bread and Pide (Turkish pie) oven on one end of the restaurant and a pastry section with an elaborate selection of Baklavas (Turkish sweets) on the other. The walls are adorned with bright murals of a funky Turk in traditional garb, probably to reach out to the millennials that throng the passageways outside the restaurant.
My favourite part of the visit was being able to order Salgam Suyu; a fermented black carrot, spicy juice that reminded of my days in Istanbul. It took some courage to drink it when I first saw people enjoying it under the Bosphorus Bridge. It had chunks of pickled carrots and pickled green peppers floating in a sour, deep red liquid. I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it but there wasn’t a drop remaining when I returned the glass. The Salgam Suyu served in Zaza did not have any floating chunks of pickles but it was a prepackaged Turkish import so you can be sure of its authenticity.
The food was good and the live Bouzouki music turned this into a genuine Turkish experience. The service was lacklustre but I did not expect it to be any different because the restaurant was packed and this was literally the first night of operations. I am sure the service staff will up their game once they get their bearings straight.