Desi Back to Desh

Between airports, airplanes and transit lounges


Ever since I discovered Soy at Ibn-Batuta Mall two years ago, I try and make it a point to have at least one meal here. And every time I have a bite sitting on rattan chairs, I slip back to our long ago, but not forgotten Californian adventure.

Soy is outside the main Mall in the open surrounded by a shade of sunshine and a cluster of young bamboo trees. When you sneak a peek through the glass windows where they are not covered by jute chicks (Urdu for traditional roman blinds, not the English ones), it appears for a moment that you are sitting in an exotic bamboo resort with its own oriental fish pond. The thick stone slab floor, the aged wooden furniture and the Asian servers take you to a far far away place, certainly not in Dubai.

As you sit on the table you are greeted by four white catories (dishes) of garnish. Hot chili, sweet chili, chili in vinegar and a toxic green chili paste with yet more chilies that will nuke your sinuses, if you dare give it a try.

The menu is not that exotic at first glance but then you notice that they do Tom yam as well as hot and sour soup with a Soy /Sichuan base (finally soup not with ketchup).

Hidden deep inside the pages is also a sampling of Kung Pau chicken the way it is supposed to be done, the way we used to have it in California, first from the Chinese takeout shop on Sunflower at Denise’s apartment and then from Jamila’s kitchen at Versailles on the Lake. By the time you discover the wok menu and the crispy baby corn with dry chili, it is obvious that this is either going to be a very long lunch or you would need to come back some other day to satisfy your taste buds. A single trip to Soy can only leave you wanting for more.

I finally settle for spring rolls, the Jamila style soup, Pad Thai (finally someone is willing to serve it with chicken). I know I am not going to finish all this but I still need to order Kung Pau chicken for my post class late night dinner. By the time I am done with this note, despite a full stomach I have taken on one more serving of fried baby corn with dry chili.

More than the food, the reason why I adore Soy is the memories it invokes. The soup and the chicken take me all the way back to California and our fifteen short months by the lake; our first proper apartment with air-conditioning, real furniture, pool and a balcony we could sit on. To being taught how to drive, to following the driving instructor so that I could finally pass the driving test by cheating and learning how to cook with all the ingredients coming in a can. To Costco, Starbucks, late night movies, sunshine and rain. To the play ground and sand box in Laguna Nigel that Amin loved and the drive on Mac Arthur that we treasured just as much.

I know that you would love the food, but I think you would like the memory magic more. I never thought that a five thousand year old sauce, made of soy, could bring back so much with one bite.

To memories, friends and Chinese food made with a base of soy (not ketchup)