I rant you risten

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

virtual tikka tour

Flashback: sometime in the early 80s… location: outside 5 star tikka joint in Manama… setting: dad’s car… players: my dad, brother, sister and myself… memory: Tikka experience 101…

I have no idea where to start with this one… I mean Bahraini Tikka, wow, it’s a phenomenon that you can’t really explain in a post… you have to actually sit there and immerse yourself in a tradition that’s been experienced by generations to get the right feel of it… First off, Tikka is bite sized marinated pieces of meat and fat on a long skewer that is grilled to perfection (but there’s so much more). Kabab (not to be mistaken with Kebab) is grilled minced meat with spices also grilled on a flat skewer… so if you will follow me, I’m going to attempt to take you’re taste buds on a Virtual Tikka tour.

There are many Tikka joints scattered around the island, some are really basic, while others go the extra mile… Every major town has a couple of tikka joints of notable mention. BIG UPS to: TIKKA ABUL, TIKKA AMIN, ASIR, TIKAA AJEEB, and MANDALY… Entering one of these fine establishments you immediately realize that there’s no maitre d, no napkins, and consider yourself lucky if you find bottled water… But I’ll tell you what you do find: a long rectangular grill with a width no greater than 13 inches, filled with red hot coals ready for that grilling experience of a lifetime, wholesome barbequed comfort food, and a messy meal with a tradition to it…

Skewers normally cost 100 fils (28 cents US), and you’d usually order your quantities in half dinar (500 fils) or dinar amounts… So there you are in a no frills Tikka joint… Yer Hungry, so you place a half a dinar order of tikka, a half a dinar order of kabab, take your can of preferred carbonated beverage and wait for your meat… for the sake of my childhood memories we’re going enjoy this virtual tikka experience the way my dad made his kids enjoy it, in the car… His reasoning behind this was that the place was too dirty to eat in, but you didn’t want to drive all the way home in the car and risk having your meat get cold and the fat solidify (solidified marinated fat isn’t appetizing, take my word for it). I digress… Allow me to explain the cooking method involved in grilling your tikka. The griller arranges the skewers on the grill and lets the hot coals serve their purpose (sometimes there’s a little electric fan directed to the grill to keep the fire going). The skewers are arranged with a couple of pieces of meat followed by a piece of fat, this is very important cause you need a little bit of fat to melt and drizzle onto the meat. The sizzling doesn’t stop until the griller decides it’s time and he flips all the skewers to get the other side nicely charred. Once the meat’s cooked, a huge piece of Iranian bread (think thin pita bread with the diameter of a medium/large pizza) is folded in half and by properly holding the fold, the meat easily slides off the skewer (I know, it’s hard to explain, you just have to see to understand it).

All of a sudden, there’s a knock at your window and there’s “Qamar-el-din” the man of the moment with a plastic bag filled with a bunch of aluminum foil wrapped bundles (if he’s nice, he might have some extra plates for you to enjoy your meal on)… You take out one of the aluminum bundles and unwrap it to find a whole lot of Iranian bread rolled up in a mini parcel, once you unravel the bread, you’re nostrils are immediately greeted with the smell of succulent grilled meat… mmmm… There’s a paper bag filled with your required veggies: Bagul, onion slices, green chilies, and lemon wedges… Bagul looks like thick blades of grass, but tastes pretty good (it’s all part of the experience, bear with me)…. Take the lemon wedge and squeeze the juice all over your meat, then tear of a piece of bread, arrange some bagul and onion and then add some of the meat and all of a sudden you’ve got your first bite… The combination in your mouth takes your taste buds on a heavenly roller coaster and you start wondering how can you eat this everyday for the rest of your life… The meat is hot and juicy with the lemon juice enhancing it’s flavor, while the bagul and onion provide you with that raw veggie “good for you” filler taste. The whole thing is wrapped up in bread making it easier to eat since everything is arranged in a mini roll… Some people hate the fat and some people love the fat, I don’t mind it as long as long as part of it is burnt and has that marinated lemony crispy yet soft center taste to it… Over the years, various tikka joints have improved their variety offering different types of marinades: yogurt, lemon, chili, and tomatoes (they’re all good depending on your taste and they still retain the original flavor of the meat). Kabab meat is served and eaten just the same as the tikka except the meat is minced and a lot softer. The spices used in the meat mix are complemented with the grilling style delivering a wonderfully flavored meat. I personally cannot make up my mind, which tastes better, so I usually end up ordering both, as should you…

Personally, the best part of the meal is the oily bread… Think of the tikka parcel like the earth, and the meat is the core. It’s then wrapped in layer after layer of bread (Gurss – the actual “loaf” - if you want the Bahraini lingo). The inside layer is soaking up all the juices and oils from the meat flavoring the bread and making it so moist… mmm heavenly… I know what you’re thinking… I need me some tikka right now… I couldn’t agree with you more…

WARNING: Sometimes eating tikka leaves a film of fat that covers the roof of your mouth… It doesn’t taste like fat, but it does taste like there’s an artificial film coating the roof of your mouth and can be a small price to pay for the taste. I’ve found a good way to combat this unwanted after effect: whiskey, but vodka works just as well… I’m not a scientist, but I’ll tell you the higher the proof the easier it is to breakdown the film in your mouth…

Tikka is a Bahraini tradition that’s slowly losing it’s fight to corporate fast food… Keep your memories and enjoy tikka, it’s much cheaper than buying a burger meal, and you’ve just helped local businesses survive a little longer… Bad tikka joints do exist, I just experienced it this weekend, but that shouldn’t deter you, there are many great eateries just waiting for your appetite and money…

5 comments:

Mahmood Al-Yousif said...

man this is delicious! I'm gonna have some tonight for sure!

listen, mind if I lift this piece and put in on BahrainWiki? You can save me the trouble and do it yourself if you like!

Here's the placeholder...

Desert Island Boy said...

Edu,

You're bringing back memories! We had a place in downtown Manama that we would go to, it was on a sidestreet somewhere near Kuwaiti Building.

In Washington, I gotta plunk down ten bucks (nearly BD4) to get some 'kubideh' or 'chenjeh' at Moby Dick's. (It's a chain of Persian Restaurants in the area). They're the only ones I know that will invest in the earth ovens you need to get the bread right.

Anonymous said...

You HAD to post again about FOOD didn't you? Knowing FULL well I have no access to tikka in the States or the food of my name either.

Think you could Fed Ex me 1BD of Tikka and 1 dozen beef shawarmas to hold me over?

ciao!
ShawarmaBoy

Chanad said...

You just brought back some great memories. My parents used to take us to Abul Tikka since as long back as I can even remember. Great stuff... yes we all love eating the bread that has absorbed all the juices, yum. And I remember the brown paper bags in which they'd give us the bagul and lemon (I don't like onions much back then). And of course, the film of fat that collects on the roog of your mouth... I would usually have to take a break half way through to scrape some of it off with my thumbnail, and then get back to eating.

I will definitely go to Abul tonight... whereabouts are the other places you've listed? By the way, another great place for tikka is Qaedi Restaurant which is on the corner of Lulu Road and Gov Ave... great stuff.

Anonymous said...

excellent..made my mouth water like crazy...where can i find the receipe...maybe i could get at least 50% of the original taste....