Ambra Meda checks out the booza ice cream at Arabesq in the Dubail Mall.
By Ambra Meda
While we are walking the gallery of the luxurious Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the Middle East, heavy tinny sounds begin to vibrate in the air, capturing our attention.
Following the trail of the notes, we find ourselves facing Arabesq, a pastry shop dedicated to oriental specialties. In front of us, a burly man, with a friendly expression, is vigorously beating a huge pestle in a large mortar copper.
Here’s the source of the melody that attracted us! The curiosity on our faces is soon satisfied. The musician sets down his utensil and dips two teaspoons into his refrigerated instrument, that resurface brimful with a whitish concoction, stippled with green. “Syriac ice cream. Do you want some?” “Sure!” we reply enthusiastic, still incredulous we can enjoy such a particular gelato.
“Natural ice cream 100%, no coloring, additives or preservatives” the man says . “It’s only made with whole milk, pistachio nuts, a little sugar and…. chewing gum.” “Chewing gum?!?” I ask, thinking I misunderstood. “Yes, to create the consistency we use the gum from the mastic tree and a little bit of ‘salep’, a flour made of ground orchid’s tubers”.
The gelato is different from anything we have ever tried. We learn it’s called Booza and that it was invented in Damascus, at the ice cream parlor “Bakdash“.
To better analyze it, though, we need a cone. As we order it, the pounding show starts again, a mating call of sorts to attract passing customers. “It’s a ritual,” the man tells us. “In Syria, people dance to the music from the drum.”
When the paste is ready, the man cuts a piece, rolls it in a bowl overflowing with pistachios crumbs, and places it in our cone.
If gelato is creamy, airy and it has a delicate egg’s aftertaste, this treat is sticky, stringy, intense. If gazed into the distance, its shape can recall a gelato; but its elastic texture and its non-melt consistency make it something totally different.
…Something like a cold, more watery marshmellow with an exotic punch… Something like… a “booza”!
It is often said that Italians don’t eat to live, but live to eat. And to Ambra, philosophizing about food is no different than discussing art. She grew up as a devoted lover of all things Italian, from pumpkin gnocchi to pistachio gelato. After moving to the United States she discovered the pleasures of a new world of food. She eats, travels and writes for Still Served Warm.