how to eat a camel burger 024
There is some debate among experts about when the animal all Dubai holidaymakers know as the camel was domesticated, i.e. taught to speak and sleep in a real bed. Before that, it is an accepted fact that all camels were mute loners that slept hanging from the branches of palm trees. But, let’s just say that between 3,000 and 2,500 BC, somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, there was probably a single humped quadruped unhappy at carrying blankets around the desert, spitting disdainfully at an unfortunate Bedouin and telling him to ‘do one’ before retiring to his Egyptian cotton sheets. Whether the Bedouin took the insult badly and spat back is also disputed. Experts, of course, love to differ. Tell an expert he’s an expert and he’ll tell you he’s anything but – some have even been known to claim they’re camels. In the mid19th century one expert even lived as a camel, allowing himself to be ridden into battle, milked and used as a beast of burden for years, until he was devoured at a wedding feast in early 1940.
other mammals that have found themselves wedged between two halves of bap and masticated to a mush before being ingested by a corpulent Homo sapien – around the same time two brothers from California opened the first McDonald’s restaurant – copying several unmemorables that went before them, and beginning the ascent of the burger. Since then, turkeys, bison, ostrich, chickens, deer and even tofu have been slain in the name of an unhealthy, but extremely speedy, meal. So, when, in January 2010, the Local House Coffee Shop & Restaurant in Dubai’s Al Bastakiya district became, according to its website, ‘the first to serve camel burger in the UAE,’ the reaction of the international and local press seemed a bit much. After all, some unhinged people eat tuna out of a tin; this was just more meat in a bun. But the lesser press does love to exaggerate.
“Dubai diners flock to eat new ‘camel burger’” declared CNN. Why the single quotes were deemed necessary is anyone’s guess. “Camel burger newest healthy option on Providentially, in terms of our Dubai menu,” added Reuters. “Camstory arc – though not if you el burgers spice up Dubai culinary are a cow, a sheep or any of the scene” patronised the Telegraph. 025
Even the local Gulf News chimed “tomorrow open”, before walking in with “Camel burger: Dubai’s straight past the restaurant and off new delicacy.” Give it a rest. into the noontime sun with his suspicious cargo. Fear spread quickly through the local camel community. A fifth The door was locked again the secof the UAE’s camel population ond time, and the third. A call was snuck onto Africa-bound dhows; made before the fourth visit, and a 150 camels were found cower- lady promised the restaurant was ing among a shipment of staplers open for lunch. And so it proved to headed for Utrecht – and prompt- be – a lovely airy courtyard with ly ground down into patties and a laminated menu boasting camel sent to Al Ain as a warning to the croquette, camel wellington (surely other camels. It was an awful time more exciting than a burger), camel – if you happened to be a camel. kebab and, thank the lord, several riffs on the camel burger. The spicy Meanwhile, no humans in Dubai camel burger with caramelised onreally cared. Everybody continued ion and cheese (Dh45) seemed manto eat their burgers at Fuddruck- ageable. And so it proved. ers, Chili’s, or even McDonald’s. The Frequently Asked Questions I grasped it firmly in two hands, section on the Local House Cof- moved it towards my mouth, slowly fee Shop & Restaurant’s website closed my jaw, chewed for 30 secremained blank. It does to this day. onds or so and swallowed. I repeated So, in the name of investigative these actions approximately seven journalism, it seemed wise to ask times, until the entire burger had a question, even if nobody really gone, wiped my mouth, settled the cared. Specifically: how does one eat bill and left. a camel burger? It can prove tricky. A first visit to the Local House Coffee Shop & Restaurant ended in abject failure. The door was locked. A man carrying an old plastic bag containing something heavy looking – perhaps a camel head, or maybe a watermelon or bowling ball – grunted, – GR 026
Originally published in We Are Here issue one.