Keys To The City
On pursuing passion, food and endurance in Dubai.
I spent 24hrs at Malpensa with great intention.
In reality, I could have made the trip back to Torino when the curly-haired woman at the Etihad desk told me that there was absolutely no way that I could get on my confirmed flight to Dubai. Or even when her sweet colleague admitted that I’d have to take another test — this time a PCR — to be allowed to check-in. I was indeed frustrated, but it was also pouring outside and the thunderstorms were only becoming louder.
The last time I spent a night in an airport was in Chicago in the winter of 2016. Due to a snowstorm, the second leg of my trip from New York City to Minneapolis was canceled, and car rental companies decided against letting people drive in terrible conditions. It was right before Thanksgiving and there wasn’t anything that I could do, so I spent the night wandering O’Hare and napping in corners of the Delta gate.
A few years before that, I was in Burundi on a press trip and unexpectedly had to spend the night on the floor of an outdoor airport, awaiting a flight to Nairobi after being escorted by military police. It was one of the scariest moments of my life.
Malpensa was a piece of cake, albeit a very long one.
I’ve been traveling to Dubai often since last November and it’s been such a refreshing experience, especially during the lockdown. It’s a privilege to be able to escape the confines of one’s own home or surroundings amid restriction, to a place where there is a small sense of freedom.
I came to Dubai to check out Expo 2020, take yoga sessions at Shimis, and explore the souk for all the necessary spices. I also wanted to visit with my sweet friend Valentina and get some time together. Passionate, creative, and full of laughter, Valentina and I quickly connected on Thanksgiving of last year. She’s an incredible mama and I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so dedicated to the education of a young child. Valentina and her husband are close friends of someone important to me, so I do feel super privileged to accept their generous offer to host me for the duration of my stay.
I’m drawn to Dubai because every time I come here, there’s never a shortage of passion, cuisine, or new people. A lot of people think that Dubai has no culture because it’s a man-made city. I, for one, believe that that is exactly what makes it so special. The fact that there were talented, curious human beings who challenged the status quo and decided to build, expand, and make space for life where there was only sand and sky.
When’s the last time that you decided to create something out of nothing?
Though Italy provides many opportunities for me to try exquisite cuisine, I do love that Dubai pushes the envelope when it comes to cultivating a culturally diverse palate. Naturally, one of my absolute favorite things to do in the United Arab Emirates is eat — and eat I have done! In Dubai, it’s almost compulsory that diversity on the table be a staple at every establishment. Whether it’s a Moroccan-inspired restaurant like Tagine, or one of the coolest South African steakhouses, The Grand Grill, Dubai always gives one a reason to come hungry.
My favorite dinner spot in the city is called Bull and the Bear and is located on the top floor of the Waldorf Astoria with wrap-around views of the city. As a New York City girl, this place takes the cake for me — the food is straightforward, the wine list robust and it just gives me a lovely sense of comfort.
When going out for dinner, I tend to focus on the overall ambiance much more than I do the food. This is just because as a home cook, I find it hard to have meals outside my home that I’m totally in love with. This has become increasingly hard for dinner dates, but every now and then, I come across someone who is game to surprise me and push my food habits.
One of the reasons I decided to come to Dubai was to visit the souk and pick up some much-needed spices for my Thanksgiving dinner. This year, I wanted to give my turkey an exceptionally new taste by infusing dried Persian limes in the sauce that I will use to baste my bird. I’ve searched high and low all over Italy and have not been able to acquire them, so the very first thing I wanted to purchase from Mohammed was the limes. He’s my very trusted spice associate and every time I return to his shop (at the entrance of the spice souk near the river), he has a ton of new things for me to try. This time (and in addition to my Persian limes), I left with lavender, sumac, and a garam masala mix made especially for BBQs.
I feel deeply grateful to have been able to have this time in Dubai. Being able to travel and see the world through someone else's eyes remains a constant need for me. As the year slowly closes and we experience a sense of nostalgia, I reflect on how much I’ve been able to accomplish since January 1st, and how even though life has changed, it has still managed to stay the same.
One of the greatest things I get each time I’m in Dubai is a reminder that we do get to choose the things we love, the people we love, and the places we love. Dubai has a sweet way of showing me just how much personal responsibility I hold, and how at the end of the day, it’s me who gets to decide what works and what doesn’t — and most importantly, what I’m willing to endure. Being stuck in an airport overnight just to get the keys to one of my favorite cities? Absolutely worth it.