'Nine hours,' I mused.
What would you do if you had nine hours to spare?
(A) Play Grand Theft Auto until your eyes turn red from the bulging veins;
(B) Read Larousse Gastronomique (all of 1,360 pages) cover to cover;
(C) Sleep; or
(D) Have dinner at Abu Dhabi.
It was a tough decision. Really.
With minutes to spare before the plane landed at the Abu Dhabi airport where nine long transit hours awaited, we were still undecided.
As we stepped into the crowded airport and noticed the number of people sleeping on the floor in the cramped surroundings, the only obvious answer stared us in our faces. We headed for the first exit straight into the blustering heat of Abu Dhabi and hailed a cab.
Nothing prepared us for the heat. It didn't slowly creep up on us, like how it is here in Malaysia. This was more of a guerilla attack - quick and sudden. In less than five seconds, my clothes were drenched.
Nevertheless, our spontaneous attempt at adventure prevented me from dwelling too much on my wet T-shirt look as I drank in the stark scenery en-route to the city.
The breaking of fast had taken place just a few minutes earlier as we exited the airport. It was a heartwarming sight to see groups of people clad in loose robes gathering around huge plates of food. Quiet conversation. An overall atmosphere of thanksgiving as dusk fell on earth.
The handsome Tom Cruise lookalike air steward and transplanted blogger, Kat, had both recommended the Lebanese Flower Restaurant to us, so with only nine hours to spare and no Lonely Planet guide, we took their advice. I threw caution to the wind on Arabian etiquette and walked straight in to the restaurant, hoping that I wasn't breaking any laws (that is, in itself, an indication of what an ignoramus I am).
My ignorance was further amplified when I looked at the menu, having eaten middle eastern food only once before in Al-Nafourah in Le Meridien. Thankfully, there were pictures and an amazingly patient waiter who struggled to explain the various dishes to us.
We were given a plate of raw and pickled vegetables which we presumed was the equivalent of getting peanuts at a chinese restaurant prior to the meal. With a squeeze of lemon juice, it was a refreshing start to the meal.
The hummus came complimentary too with a side helping of pita bread. Essentially made of ground chickpeas, the hummus came with olive oil poured in the centre of the "well". I enjoyed swishing pieces of pita bread in the hummus - such a simple dish but oh so satisfying.
Little did I know that the next dish would also be made primarily with chickpeas. The falafel is approximately the size of a ping pong ball and is fried until it turns golden brown. The closest Malaysian dish which I think resembles a falafel is the paruppu vadai although that is made with lentils. The texture, however, is somewhat the same. The falafel was served with a tahina sauce - a smooth creamy textured sauce made of sesame seeds.
By this point, I had chickpeas coming out through my nose. So it was a relief to see our main course, a mixed grill dish, arrive. The charred smell of the meat tantalised my nose and cleared it of all the excess chickpeas. There must have been something in the marinade that made the different types of meat taste so wonderful. The good thing is that the meats didn't come masked in sauces, thus enabling us to enjoy the dish for what it was.
The final dish was a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, we had over ordered, so there was no way we could finish eating this. Secondly, the escalope cordon bleu came with a sauce that screamed commercial tomato ketchup and the thick cut fries served on the side didn't help alleviate my negative reaction.
Despite the final dish, we left the restaurant stuffed and contented. With another six hours to go before catching the connecting flight, we whiled away our time seated in the lobby of the luxurious and opulent Emirates Palace. It certainly beats being cooped up in the airport together with 1,000 other passengers. :-)
To the glorious people of Abu Dhabi, click here to view pics. :-)