Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Last Sushi Stop in the City of Gold

On my last night in Dubai, as I bid farewell to the good and the bad (the fantasy architecture, the frenetic traffic, the beautiful resorts and their private beaches, the hardship of those looking for work in a merciless yet often innocently friendly artificial land), I decided to choose a sushi bar wisely. I had experienced overpriced resort sushi (once was enough); I had enjoyed casual, fun sushi served by the best servers yet; and then there was the elegant, pricey-but-well-worth-it sushi at Armani/Hashi with the wonderfully gracious staff and exceptional courses. Deciding to do things the old fashioned way for a change, I bought a “Time Out Dubai” magazine at a Metro station store and perused the Japanese dining section. And there it was, Moshi, described as “a quirky spot serving a fusion of sushi and Nepalese momos,” with a modest price range of Dhs 40-100. I admit the words “Open daily 11am to midnight” also offered a nice break, as most of the other restaurants on the same list stated they weren’t open until 7pm.

What were momos? And Nepalese momos, for that matter? What kind of fusion sushi did they offer? There was only one way to find out. What I discovered was a little block of a sushi shop located behind Mall of the Emirates and across from Citymax Hotel, with a color scheme of orange, silver, white and black. And splashed across the top of the shop was the single word Moshi.

Moshi, as it turns out, is a portmanteau of the words Momo and Sushi. And momos, I learned, are dumplings native to Nepal and Tibet. (Momo actually means dumplings in Nepalese.) For a little mom-and-pop store that’s only been open for about six months, I thought it was a quite clever name for this up-and-coming place; also clever were their catchphrases written on the wall: “Sip Dip Roll,” and “Once a Moshi-holic, Always a Moshi-holic.”

I was about to become a Moshi-holic: the waitress immediately suggested their most unusual and popular item: the “Cheesy Chips Oman” roll, which only cost AED$21 (about $7). Based on the name, I really didn’t know what to anticipate. What was placed before me was a six-piece sushi roll unlike any sushi roll I had ever seen. The colors were white and a light brownish-yellow, with a bit of pink peeping out (that turned out to be the pink soy paper in which it was rolled); the surface was craggy and spiky—clearly, these “Oman-style cheesy chips” had been crushed into bits and then sprinkled all over the roll until it was practically covered beneath a roof of it. And then the surprise in the center of the rolls: cream cheese!

The waitress giggled at my paroxysm of pleasure almost as soon as I stuck a piece of it in my mouth. It was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. The smoothness of the cream cheese balanced the salty-spicy crunch of the cheesy chips just right.

Moshi caters to both vegetarians and meat lovers, as their menu is divided into “VEG” and “NON VEG” items. From the “NON VEG” momo menu, I indulged in a plate of spicy “Pero Pero Chicken Momos,” served to me with a homemade spicy chili garlic sauce, as well as a tomato and sesame sauce.

One of the managers explained to me that it’s a goal of theirs to show diners that sushi is not just about raw fish—it can be vegetarian, such as the “Cheesy Chips Oman” roll, which is probably about the most creative vegetarian option I have ever seen in my life at a sushi restaurant.

“As children we all liked cheesy chips, so we brought that into the menu,” he said.

In the States, some sushi bars don’t even know what an ume shiso roll is, much less a kampyo or oshinko roll. Yamaimo is even more obscure. Imagine their surprise when I tell the tale of the “Cheesy Chips Oman” roll!

Sushi, unlike what most people realize, is actually defined as cooked vinegared rice combined with ingredients such as seafood, meat, vegetables, and even fruit. Not all sushi is raw, and not all sushi includes meat. Seaweed may or may not be used. As such, some chefs transgress metes and bounds with their creativity—I have seen grapefruit sushi; seared Kobe beef nigiri; and deep-fried dessert rolls filled with tropical fruits, chocolate chips and graham cracker bits.

And now I’m about to see what happens when Nepalese, Indian, Middle Eastern and Japanese cuisines are fused together. Rolls like the “Falafel, Hummus and Cucumber roll” blew my mind. For AED$21, or about $7, you can have chunks of crunchy falafel and cool cucumber smeared in hummus and then served in a sushi roll, with Tahini sauce on the side. Then, as a salute to Indian cuisine, I ordered the Chicken Tikka roll for AED$24. The Chicken Tikka roll came with a smear of what appeared to be spicy mayonnaise on top, but was actually a special “Tikka mayonnaise.” My mouth was on fire…not the worst it’s ever been, but this was quite spicy for a sushi place. Or perhaps it was the spiciness of the momos….

Feeling exultant that I had chosen Moshi with which to bid farewell to the “City of Gold,” I prepared to depart the United Arab Emirates, delusional dreams intact.

Al Barsha area, Dubai, UAE

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