Despite living in Dubai for so many years, I had yet to experience the melt-in-your-mouth cheese and honey feteer from Al Ammor, Deira. My foodie forays had uncovered many hidden gems in Dubai in the last 19 years, especially, during Ramadan and Iftar time. A true foodie knows that if you want to really understand the real character of a city, then you have to try out its street food or the smaller restaurants and bakeries. Where the reputation is built up by word of mouth. Not exotic ads.
So one day, the famed Arva Ahmed of the Frying Pan Food Adventures (food tour guide par excellence) asked us to come to Deira. The bakers entranced me with the way they swirled and stretched the feteer, filled, folded and threw the bread into a 24/7 ready oven. A year later, after a short intensive course in filmmaking, I decided to capture the essence of the feteer process as my first short. I went back and spent some days with my Canon 60D…
The taste? Layers of flaky hot bread and melting cheese melding with the honey in your mouth. The dusting sugar leaves a sticky, powdery trail on your shirt and jeans. Who cares? Despite a choice of fillings, the cheese and honey remains my favourite..
Every story has to start with a once upon a time. Here goes. An ex-lightman with the RTA television channel in Egypt, Zayed Shouki came to Dubai to seek his fortune many years ago and started as a humble baker making feteer at the then famed Al Fanoos Khaimah near World Trade Centre. His salary? Dh 1,200 per month. It was his dream to start his own business. Circa 2001, he finally saved up money and started the first Al Ammor in Hor Al Anz (Deira). It nestles outside the left facade of a mosque. “He is a very humble person who dresses like his staff, might still clean tables and will take orders. His staff adores him because he lets them eat anything they want at work. He is also known to distribute free food to staff from neighbouring shops while Dubai Municipality sweepers can take free water or soft drinks from his bakeries,” said Mr Najja, who runs the Al Ammour in Karama. Today there are seven outlets in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman. Goodness pays.
Any secret recipe? “The dough is the usual mix of flour and water. But before I start kneading, I mix some salt and sugar in the water (but never use yeast). The dough is left to rise for 15 to 20 minutes,” said Fathy Afeefi, one of the bakers in Karama. “I learned the basics from my older brother in Egypt. But I perfected the art of making feteer after coming to Dubai and working with Mr Shouki.” He has been in the profession for 14 years.
Prices? A mouthwatering cheese and honey feteer costs around Dh 15 and can be eaten by up to three people. The meshaltet, an Egyptian family favourite is either Dh 25 or Dh 50 depending on the size. In ancient Egypt, it was known as Feteer Maltoot and offered to the gods. Can see why.