All posts by Kathryn Parsons

Kathryn is a writer, editor, Reiki practitioner and avid journeyer. She has lived in Chile and spent many months traversing Latin America and South East Asia, among many other wonderful places. She gets far too much joy from editing other people's work when she's not writing her novel. follow @Exp_MidEastAfr send articles to: explorationmideastafrica@hotmail.co.uk

Bastakia: Art, Heritage and Crafts in Dubai

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Emirates

A stroll through Dubai’s Bastakia Quarter is like a stroll back in time, or a walk through a movie set. If you take the chance to step away from Dubai’s bustling, shiny shopping malls or its luxury beaches for a walk through this historical neighbourhood, you will find peace, beautiful architecture, and Middle Eastern art and heritage.

A beautiful mosque stands at the edge of the Bastakia Quarter. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

Bastakia in Bur Dubai is easily reached by heading to Al Fahidi metro station and walking up Al Satwa Road towards the creek. Once you reach Bastakia, immerse yourself in the area by walking around the tiny alleys and seeing what you discover! The neighbourhood is home to the Coin Museum, the Coffee Museum, various art galleries, craft shops and cafes set in sunny courtyards. Most of my purchases during my visit to Dubai are from Bastakia — there’s a wonderful incense shop where I brought some oud crystals for burning and an art shop where a lovely man wrote my name in Arabic and framed it. There are also shops filled with Iranian pottery, handicrafts and jewellery.

Often named ‘Old Dubai’, Bastakia is also home to the remnants of Dubai’s old wall, constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral. The neighbourhood has recently undergone restoration and is now a completely pedestrianised heritage centre, so it’s a perfect, peaceful place to see traditional Middle Eastern buildings and visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Here you can also go upstairs for great views of the neighbourhood.

Shops, cafes, galleries and museums are hidden in the narrow winding allies. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

My favourite part of the Bastakia Quarter is the Arabian Tea House Restaurant and Café, and not just because the food is delicious — this courtyard café is dreamy! In my opinion, there’s no better word to sum up the atmosphere as you sit down under the white canopies amidst the trees and flowers, order a cool minty lemonade filled with ice, and enjoy your surroundings. They also boast a selection of over a hundred different kinds of tea from all over the world, and an impressive variety of dishes to keep you going throughout the day, from traditional breakfasts, to barbecue, to hearty salads and afternoon teas.

Mosaic graffiti spotted in Bastakia. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

One of the best things I found about visiting Bastakia was that it was an ideal place to visit with others or alone. I first went with a group of people, which was ideal for meandering around the lanes, checking out the art and enjoying a nice lunch — even if we did occasionally lose somebody to the next alluring alleyway or art gallery! But it was also great to visit the quarter alone. The second time I went, I was visiting my sister who worked in Dubai at the time, so I had a few days to entertain myself. Aside from being invited to lunch by two men on the metro who were on their way to their mother’s house, I spent the afternoon in uninterrupted peace walking round Bastakia. I got to spend as long as I wanted pondering the interesting graffiti, sampling the scents of each incense and, best of all, drinking coffee and writing alone in the serene courtyard café.

Featured image © Kathryn Parsons

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Finding Comfort Food in Santiago de Chile

Anybody’s first experience of living abroad is sure to be filled with a vast variety of unforgettable moments; some incredible, like discovering secret waterfalls in the mountains, others less than desirable, like stabbing pangs of homesickness. My own year spent living in Santiago was peppered with many such moments (amidst all of the wonderful ones, of course). In all of these moments, the things that often pull us through when we are thousands of miles from home are friends and food. Fortunately, in Chile’s capital city, I had plenty of both, so I have compiled a list of my favourite comforting eateries, just in case you find yourself tearful, hungry or hungover and missing an English breakfast in Santiago.

Coquinaria – for a lazy weekend brunch

I think we first discovered this ex-pat haven when my brother and his girlfriend visited and demanded an English breakfast after six months of lomo saltado (Peru’s favourite dish: strips of steak stir-fried with onions, tomatoes and chips, usually served with rice.  It’s heavy on the carbs but mouth-wateringly good). After whiling away the late morning and early afternoon stuffing ourselves with baked beans, fried potatoes, sausages, bacon, toast and eggs benedict, croissants, giant coffees and orange juice, this place became a regular haunt for us, especially following a late night. They offer a variety of cakes, fruit salad, and macaroons as well as local dulce de leche media lunas (croissants filled with ‘manjar’ — ‘food of the gods’, need I say more?) The restaurant has several chains, and also a shop boasting hard-to-find items, such as English tea. It’s a bit fancier (and pricier) than my other picks, but if you’re feeling delicate it’s a wonderful place to treat yourself and pretend for one hung-over Saturday morning that you’re Santiago’s answer to Sex and the City…

Address: Isidora Goyenechea 3000 Local S-101, Las Condes, Santiago

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Easy-Peasy (Vegan) Lebanese-y

This entry is part 23 of 23 in the series World Kitchen

I have a slight obsession with Lebanese food that was born in a Lebanese restaurant I visited on my trip to Dubai. I was so elated to finally find an abundance of vegetarian food whilst abroad, especially after days of eating nothing but plain boiled rice. This obsession has been nurtured by many evenings of rustling up my own hummus and tabouleh variations, as well as jumping on any opportunity to steer the restaurant choice towards Middle Eastern.  Let’s just say it doesn’t take much persuasion — the food is incredible, and there are plenty of options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Here are a few of my quick, go-to dishes, with recipes that will make enough food for 3-4 people to share (depending on how hungry/greedy you are, of course). I am still lamenting the fact that I can’t eat fried halloumi or feta now that I’m vegan, but these make great additions if you do eat cheese.

Hummus finished with harissa, smoked paprika and olive oil © Janine

Hummus finished with harissa, smoked paprika and olive oil © Janine

Hummus

You will need:

1 tin of chickpeas

1 tablespoon tahini paste

1 garlic clove, crushed

5 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

Optional extras: harissa paste, sundried tomatoes, chilli, roasted red pepper, anything you like!

Method:

Drain the chickpeas and add them to a blender/food processor with all of the other ingredients and blend until smooth. You may need to stop and stir a few times depending on your blender. You can be very experimental with hummus, and I usually taste mine several times before it’s done to see what else needs to be added.  A swirl of harissa paste added at the end or a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of smoked paprika make an excellent garnish and add even more Middle Eastern flavour to the dip.

 

Tabouleh

You will need:

A large bunch of fresh curly leaf parsley

A slightly smaller bunch of fresh mint

1 cup cooked bulgar wheat/cous cous/quinoa

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tomato, cubed

2 spring onions, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

½ cup cucumber, cubed

Optional extras: pomegranate seeds, feta cheese, olives, peppers

Method:

The trick to a good tabouleh is to chop the parsley and mint very finely so that all of the flavours get mixed up together.  Once you’ve chopped everything up, mix it all together in a large bowl, adding the bulgar wheat/quinoa/cous cous once it has cooled down.  An original tabouleh recipe would call for bulgar wheat, however I have found that cous cous or quinoa also make tasty alternatives.  Finally, add the lemon juice and olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste.  I sometimes make a larger bowl and add more cous cous and some extras like the pomegranate seeds, olives and more chopped tomatoes and cucumber to make a salad that is perfectly filling on its own.

 

Perfect Pitas

You will need:

6 pita breads, halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sumac spice

Method:

This is a simple way to spice up your pitas — cut them in half or into smaller pieces, depending on if you want to use them for dipping or filling.  Get the pitas on a baking tray and cover them in olive oil and ground sumac (a delicious lemony spice from the Middle East).  You might have to get your hands involved to make sure that they’re all evenly covered.  Pop them in the oven on 180°c for 7-8 minutes.

Try a cool glass of refreshing mint lemonade with your feast © Elizabeth Bawel

Try a cool glass of refreshing mint lemonade with your feast © Elizabeth Bawel

Mint Lemonade Shake

You will need:

¼ cup sugar

2 ¼ cups water

1 ½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves

Ice cubes

Method:

To make the syrup, heat the sugar with ¼ cup water in a pan until the sugar is completely dissolved, and then remove from the heat.  Once the syrup has cooled, add it to a blender with some ice cubes and add the lemon juice, 2 cups of water and the mint leaves.  Blend until the ice is crushed and serve with a garnish of mint leaves and a slice of lemon.

Grab some olives and invite some friends over to share your quick and easy Lebanese feast!

Featured image © me moi

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‘It’s the Mountains You Climb in Your Head’: Jebel Toubkal to Todra Gorge

A wise woman once said to me, ‘It’s the mountains you climb in your head that are the hardest.’ I was sitting on the edge of a bed, hyperventilating into a paper bag. It sounds like a scene from a film: bare, apricot-coloured room, Tinerhir, Morocco, 2010, 17-year-old girl has first panic attack.  But it was a reality.

The wise woman was our group counsellor, Liz. I was on my first real adventure away from my family. I’d been on girls’ holidays before, but this was different. We had already spent a week in the high Atlas Mountains south of Marrakesh, acclimatising ourselves with hikes to waterfalls followed by nights sleeping under the stars and being woken by the 4am call to prayer from the village across the valley.  The following night we didn’t sleep at all but lay on the roof of the hotel listening to the sounds of a wedding floating across the valley until 4am. After that, we had spent a day hiking to the base camp at the foot of Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa at 4,167 meters. We began our ascent before dawn the following day, and we reached the metal pyramid at the mountain’s summit just in time to be attacked by an onslaught of hailstones. This was followed by a dramatic descent, our guide having left us. It rained the entire way, and our group leader did his best to keep up the dampened spirits of the twenty teenage girls he had to lead down the mountain. Needless to say we all made it in the end, albeit tired, soggy and with little sense of humour remaining as we crossed over the little stream at the foot of the mountain and were welcomed back to base camp with hot chocolate and warm food.

We reached the metal pyramid at the mountain’s summit just in time to be attacked by an onslaught of hailstones

You might be wondering how I had survived all of this before the panic attack arrived. Truth be told, there had already been a few hairy moments but nothing like the paper bag incident.  Continue reading

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The Emirates: An Introduction

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The Emirates

On the south east border of Saudi Arabia, bordering Oman and sharing the Persian Gulf with Iran, Qatar and Bahrain, seven emirates occupy an area of 83,600 sq. km formed mainly of dune and oasis-filled desert, rocky mountains and fertile plains. This small union of states, well-known for being home to one of the most luxurious destinations in the world — Dubai — has an interesting, perhaps less well known, story.

When I first visited Dubai in 2011, I remember being astonished at how young the city seemed. When I saw the remains of the old city wall, built in 1800, I thought to myself, that isn’t old at all. I wondered how this city, certain vistas of which made it look as if it had been plucked from a sci-fi film, had sprouted up in the middle of the desert. So I’ve decided to find out more about the tax free United Arab Emirates (UAE), where an estimated 7.8 million of the 9.2 million residents are expatriates, where alcohol is only permitted in certain buildings, and where you can allegedly leave your designer handbag unattended in public and nobody will touch it. Continue reading

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