A Flashback of India

Guys From Hyderabad Enjoying Their Native South Indian CuisineAs I set out for my nightly cuisine excursion, the plan was to hit a Chinese place that a coworker had recommended to me.  He said,

Just hop in a cab and any driver will know where it is.”

This colleague had told me that the food there was excellent and cheap.

Although I’ve read that Riyadh’s population is made up of around 50% foreign migrant workers, I haven’t met one Chinese person yet.   Compared to the majority of places on the planet, the Chinese don’t migrate here.   Filipinos represent the mix from the far east.

I thought:  Good Chinese here?  There’s absolutely no way.  But I still wanted to give it a shot, just to see what I’d think.   I supposed that there is a small but remote chance that I could be wrong.  It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d been wrong, or surprised.

I waved down three cabbies in a row, none had heard of this Chinese restaurant.  The third driver was a cool-mannered Bangladeshi man who said:

Get in. I’ll ask around and find the place for you.”

About two weeks prior, I’d wandered off with a Pakistani friend, to a Pakistani establishment that’s a forty five minute walk from my hotel.   Upon leaving the restaurant and walking a bit before hopping in a taxi, he pointed out a Turkish restaurant, and another eating establishment that he said was Bangladeshi.

One week ago I tried to find this area on foot but got lost.

Because he was Bangladeshi, this driver reminded me of his country’s food that I’d never tried.  I told him to take me there.  By car I remembered the way.

Because the sign outside was in Arabic only, I said:

Bangladeshi food?”

No, Indian.”

North Indian?”

South Indian.”

Do you have a menu.”


Do you have a veg dish?

No, we have Chicken, fish, cow and mutton.”

I thought:  Cow?  OK, I’m not actually in India.

You mean beef.”

Because I teach English during the day, my brain automatically corrects any English that’s slightly off.

Aiwa, beef.”

Because of the few sub par fish experiences that I’ve had in my month here, the last thing I thought I’d be talking about is fish.  I’d completely given up on it.

The place was very small with only four tables.   A man was eating the fish in  a red curry sauce.  It looked like it could be an over-sized sardine.

I said to him in Arabic:

Kowais?”  which means ‘good’.  It’s the closest word to delicious that I’ve been able to dig up so far, at least in the Gulf Arabic dialect.

He said:  “Aiwa.”  which translates to ‘yeah’.

I turned back to the waiter:

Is it fresh?”


“Really. Are you serious?”

Aiwa.  Fly in from Dammam one time week.  Just fly in today.”

I was beaming.

I thought:  It’s Wednesday night.   That would make sense.  As I’ve mentioned, Thursdays and Fridays make up the weekend here.  So tonight is the equivalent of Friday night.

OK, I’ll have the fish.”

Fresh Ailababa Fish Bathing in a Spicy Curry SauceI was told that this one is called Ailababa in Hindi.  I even confirmed the spelling with three people in the restaurant.  I’m still not sure how accurate this is. I can’t find an English translation.  I can tell you that it was cooked to perfection.  It was surely fresh and is a heavily flavored fish, a little bit like a sardine, but not as strong tasting, and a fair bit bigger.  The spicy curry sauce complimented it perfectly.  There were spicy peppercorns dotted around the sauce. I was pleasantly surprised. I loved it.

Fish, Chapati, two chutneys and DalTo go along with the fish was a south Indian chapati or fresh, warm and flaky bread that practically melted in my mouth.   It was perfect for dipping in the four sauces including the curry base that the delicious fish bathed in.  From left to right the sauces represent:  a spicy coconut chutney, tomato chutney, and dal or split lentils.  It was all mouth watering, especially the coconut chutney. South Indian Masala DosaThis is a South Indian Dosa that I ate on many occasions while in India.  It’s easy to find in the north, where I spent the majority of my exploration on the subcontinent last summer and fall.  I didn’t taste this particular one.  As I was getting ready to leave, a South Indian man who was eating it gave me permission to take the photo. I’ll probably order it next time.

Super Sweet Indian ChaiEven though this chai was loaded with sugar and sweetened condensed milk, I had to have it after my meal.  It was the exact same chai that I’d drunk almost daily during my travels in India.  The ultra-sweet kick that I’d experienced while on the subcontinent caused me to taste a flashback of India.

The savory fish, chapati, chutneys, dal, a ridiculously sweet cup of authentic Indian tea and a bottled water cost a total of 9 Rial or $2.40.  This is one the best values that I’ve come across in my entire life.  I’d still rant and rave over this experience if it had cost many times more. I hope to make it back for fresh fish on Wednesday nights.

Have you had any good Indian food lately?


9 Responses to A Flashback of India

  1. Manuel Dilauro says:

    Many apricots are also cultivated in Australia, particularly South Australia, where they are commonly grown in the region known as the Riverland and in a small town called Mypolonga in the Lower Murray region of the state. In states other than South Australia, apricots are still grown, particularly in Tasmania and western Victoria and southwest New South Wales, but they are less common than in South Australia..

    Our blog

  2. Rebecca says:

    That dosa looks so good!

  3. Hi Mike, my mouth was already watering, and then you revealed the price!!! What a bargain, I think that may be cheaper than India itself? Looking forward to that amazing cusine again :)

    • Earthdrifter says:

      SARAH: It’s definitely amazing cuisine that you’ll be sampling endlessly during your 250km daily rickshaw cruising experience. It’ll be fascinating to see the cuisine change as you ride in a three wheeler from Rajisthan to Kerala.

  4. Pru says:

    Your recent posts about food are making me crave food that I cannot find here! Not too many great options up in these parts for diverse cuisine. That fish looks tasty!

    • EarthDrifter says:

      PRU: Where you are reminds me of when I visit my mom in the boondocks of FL. There is absolutely nothing but generic North American fare there, so I hit the grocery store and cook my face off. There are pros and cons to all places. Many foreigners don’t like it here. The city isn’t very attractive, and you either have to buy or rent a car, or take cabs everywhere. But if you’re a person who loves to explore gastro delights, then the potential for enjoyment is endless. I’m so happy to be taking advantage of it.

  5. Lucky for you to get there on the day the fish was delivered! I wouldn’t want to eat it on the last day ;) . The coconut chutney sounds fantastic. I recently had Indian food here in Northern California and my favorite thing was some sort of Apricot Chicken, I’m not sure how authentic it was, but it was delish!

    • Earthdrifter says:

      ANNETTE: I’ve never tried Apricot chicken. Apricot is big where you are so maybe it was a Northern Cal Indian fusion dish. Authentic, or a blended work of gastro art, all that matters is that you enjoyed it.

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