Fun with vegetables at Rajhdani Street.

Whenever someone says Indian vegetarian, the first thing that comes to mind is a huge round platter (thali) with little bowls of assorted vegetarian curries and pulses, some rice, possibly some bread and a dessert all served at once, on the same thali.

Rajdhani Street serves traditional Indian dishes as well but since this is not your average vegetarian restaurant, there was a lot more going on than I could have imagined. We were served  magic potion’s in what looked like Harry Potter’s drinking glasses and green concoctions in test tubes straight out of a sci-fi flick. We even got to try pav bhaaji (thick vegetable curry) straight out of a fondue pot and experienced a dhokla pizza for the first time in our lives. This was a glimpse into the future of Indian Vegetarian food.

I was there at a blogger’s meet and had the pleasure of meeting some really cool Dubai food bloggers while  re-discovering vegetarian cuisine. The only regret was not being able to sample any of the main courses because I was so full on the appetizers. That’s what happens when you get an engaging conversation going on along with an endless supply of really good food. I am pretty sure I will return for the main course at some point but for now, here is a lowdown of the dishes thatI was able to sample.

Dhokla is a food item that originates from the Indian state of Gujarat. It is made with a fermented batter derived from rice and split chickpeas. It can be eaten for breakfast, as a main course, as a side dish, or as a snack. The guys at Rajdhani street made sure you can eat it as a late night takeaway dinner as well by turning it  into the dhokla p izza. Took me a while to get used to it but once I got going, there was no stopping me. I’m not sure if I can ever look at pizza the same way again!

I also enjoyed the paneer ka lifafas which were basically deep fried cheese pockets. Definitely not something you want to be seen around if you are on a low calorie diet but probably the best thing for mindless eating while engaging in a deep intellectual conversation about the future of food blogging in Dubai. A word of caution – they were highly addictive and you could end up stuck somewhere in the space time continuum after having a couple of these puppies. There was a possibility of eventually finding your way back to JLT, as long as you did not wash them down with the Maharajah Lassi or the Malabari Chas.

If travelling through different dimensions is not your thing, may I suggest the  Masala thumbs up, a magical potion from Hogwarts guaranteed to solve all your digestive issues or the Hara Pudina Shikanji (mint lemonade) a refreshing drink served in a tall test tube straight from Dr Jekyll’s lab.

My favourite dish of the day was the pav bhaji fondue. Pav bhaji is a popular street food from India  with many variations in ingredients and garnishes, but is essentially a spiced mixture of mashed vegetables in a thick gravy served hot with a soft white bread roll, drenched in butter. The dish originated in the 1850s as a fast lunchtime dish for textile mill workers in Mumbai.

A  fondue is a Swiss dish of melted cheese served in a communal pot over a portable stove heated with a candle or spirit lamp, and eaten by dipping bread into the cheese using long-stemmed forks. It was promoted as a Swiss national dish by the Swiss Cheese Union in the 1930s.

So this dish was essentially the fusion of a decades old Western staple with an Eastern street food classic. It was so good looking that I kept staring at it for a while before daring to destroy the immaculate presentation. The colour added by the spiced garnishes transformed it into something out of a Paul Klee original. It was almost too pretty to eat but when has that ever stopped a food blogger in the past? Sadly, I could not admire it for too long as my fellow bloggers were attacking this dish from all kinds of angles. So I joined in with them and like all good things, the Pav Bhaji fondue also come to an end. With it, the space in my stomach filled up and thus ended a wonderful evening. I excused myself from tasting any of the main courses but promised to go back and sort out my unfinished business.

License to BLOG!

If I have ever influenced you to eat at a new restaurant or to savor a particular dish created by a chef you may not have heard of before, please know that I am truly very, very sorry. I have tried my best to be on the right side of the law for most of my life. Yes, it is true that in my juvenile days I may have ended up driving a car on nights that I should have taken a cab but please know that I am way past all of that and I have no intention of ever breaking the law again.

It is not just the repercussion of breaking the law that makes me want to be a good citizen, it is the law itself that encourages me to respect it and abide by it. I know for example that speeding can get me killed and there are laws in place to prevent that from happening hence I respect those laws. I also know that if I want to sell goods or service to others, I would need to work within the parameters of the law to do that. I understand that by doing so, I would also be protected by the same legal framework because it would encourage fair competition while keeping me safe from thieves, cheaters and scam artists.

So once again, please allow me to apologize. I apologize for ever having saved you from a terrible night out. I apologize for helping you plan your weekend or ever leading you on to fantasize about the best biryani in Dubai. I apologize for every Instagram post that encouraged you to get out of your comfort zone and try new things and if you live out of the UAE, I apologize for showing you how much fun we have down here.

Blogging without a license is going to be a crime punishable by a fine very soon. This license can be obtained by spending 30000 AED. I love to write, I love to eat and I love to share honest reviews of restaurants that I eat out at but I don’t love any of this, that much. Less than 2% of my Instagram posts have been paid for by sponsors. Less than 5% have been made covering restaurants where I did not pay for a meal. The remaining 93% of my posts have been paid for by me. So this is not a money making venture at all. I run my website because I love to blog. Instagram and Zomato are just two different ways of promoting my website. This website does not sell anything to anyone. The only thing available on that site are honest, tongue in cheek reviews of restaurants I have eaten out at.

I have been banned by some PR agencies because they could not deal with my honest opinions about the restaurants they represented. Others have taken my feedback in a positive way and have gone back and made changes based on that feedback. I am not the Mother Teressa of bloggers but I honestly feel that my blog has helped both consumers and restaurants. The only thing I ever got out of it was the satisfaction of sharing my experience with others in a meaningful way.

So I do not think I should need to pay for a license for doing that. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that blogging, like all other sectors needs to be regulated. I also believe that all bloggers should register with the relevant authorities. I also know for a fact that there are many bloggers who make a lot of money in the UAE. Those are the ones that should be paying for a license. Not puny little food bloggers who thrive on the satisfaction derived from comparing shawarmas in Dubai. There are lifestyle and beauty bloggers who make a ton of money and I don’t think they would have any problem spending 30000AED on a license. Not me though. I would rather enjoy all my meals by myself than pay for the privilege of taking a picture of my sandwich and posting it on Instagram.

I believe there will be lots of other micro influencers like me who would be forced to shut their blogs down. Their combined followers may run into hundreds of thousands. Not only will this move deprive these followers of the information and entertainment they crave while leaving them at the mercy of huge trans global publishing houses but will also kill creativity at the source. The hashtag #visitdubai will not be pushed out into the world with the same fervour as it once was.

There may be a way around it. Let everyone register for free. Bring everyone into the fold. Let all bloggers share all information on a centralized online website with full transparency. Everything from money made or spent on each post, blog and video upload along with name of the client, name of photographer, DOP, writer etc should be known to the authorities . At the end of the month, charge a percentage to those who are making money and let the rest operate and grow their blogs without fear of breaking the law. Make them feel that the law is there to help them and not to punish them. Think of it like a taxation system for bloggers. Everyone would be in the net but only those who are actually making money will pay for the privilege of having a license to blog.

My voice may get drowned out in all the views on this subject but if it does get to the right people, I know they will listen because I believe they have the same intentions as the rest of us. Please help me spread this so it may reach out to them. Till then, bye for good I guess. 😦