For a country where drunkeness–public or otherwise–is seriously frowned on, the United Arab Emirates certainly produces one of the most mind-bending late night snacks I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard to imagine a brain on mocktails coming up with something so ingenious.
Rashed Ali Cafeteria is in a strip mall in Al Ain, the second-largest city in Abu Dhabi, which didn’t seem all that large. It’s open 24 hours. At 2am on a holiday weekend Saturday, there were still cars pulling up and doing the classic honk-and-order. Drivers in the UAE turn any business (including liquor stores where leaving your tinted windowed SUV could draw undue attention) into a car hop with a few short beeps.
The order: four San Franciscos, 5 dirham apiece or roughly $1.35. I have no idea if that’s the official name–or the price– because I didn’t see a menu and my driver who I’d met the day before, an expat sister of a Brooklyn friend, speculated that was the “white girl price” because it had been cheaper before. (There was also paranoia that the server was being rude and wouldn’t give us change from the 20 dirham note because he suspected we had been drinking.)
Four originally sounded excessive but these sandwiches that a New Yorker would call gyros are petite. What they consist of I can only guess. Presumably, the main ingredient is hot chicken, orange-ish, hinting at tandoori spices. The bread isn’t pita or khameer, an Emirati pita–there is a whole canon of Arabic breads I’d never encountered before–but chewy, pliable and buttery like a roti or what they would call paratha (which I kept hearing as “burrata” because P’s are pronounced like B’s). I’m pretty sure it’s a paratha.
What sealed it for me was the processed cheese (not burrata). Numerous brands–Borden, Kraft, and something called Puck–vie for shelf space (sometimes it’s refrigerated, sometimes not) for their plastic squeezable containers and small glass jars. Called spreadable cream cheese, it is not that. The taste and consistency is more akin to white Cheez Whiz, obviously an angelic version.
And it is the gooey, salty schmear that elevates the San Francisco to greatness. The heavy layer of un-crushed wavy potato chips doesn’t hurt either. I ate two, one on the car, one back in the apartment, conked out, and didn’t wake up until the next afternoon.
Rashed Ali Cafeteria * Slemi, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates