Remind me not to pickle in a hotel apartment


There, I got it again. That whiff as I walk down the passage of our hotel apartment in downtown Dubai. A faintly sour smell, like the inside of a well-worn gym sock. Looking around me, I check if there’s someone behind me who would smell it too. Luckily not. This would be my solitary walk of shame until I reach apartment 1118.

Living away from home for a while definitely has huge pluses. You quickly learn to live and shop like a local. You see stuff in other people’s supermarket trolleys that you’ve never tried before and then go and source some for yourself. Some of these supermarket adventures have turned out to be real finds.

So it happened that I saw this huge pile (more like a mini mountain) of baby cucumbers in the Safest Way supermarket. Women (mostly clad top-to-toe in black, with just their beautifully made-up eyes showing) were piling them in their trolleys. Not only did these fat little green fingers look delicious, they also came really cheap. So I packed a giant bag full to take home.
These locally grown cucumberlings are crisp and delicious in salads, or sliced up and wrapped in Arabian bread with some soft white cheese (labneh) for a lunch box. But you can only have so many of them. Getting carried away in the supermarket is not always ideal.

What would I do back home if I had fresh stuff reaching their use-by date? Pickle them, I suppose. I’ve never made my own gherkins, but could that be so difficult? I had two glass jars that I saved after finishing the plump stuffed olives that came in them. I had garlic, small onions, a bottle of vinegar and some sugar. The spice I would use we bought at the Spice Souk (market) in our first week in Dubai. It was beautifully stacked in layers in a small Iranian shop – much like the little bottles of layered dessert sand you buy at curio shops in Namibia. Red saffron, yellow turmeric, black pepper – all the different layers of loveliness.

Everything neatly sliced and the two jars boiled for a while in our only large pot, the pickling process starts. I switch on the extractor fan over the stove to get rid of the fumes. But, o my, this extractor fan was obviously designed with the business traveller in mind who would only fry himself an egg from time to time. The vinegar and spice fumes create a haze in our matchbox kitchen. I rush to open the doors to the balcony. But there is no cross breeze because the only other door opens into the hotel passage. I dump the cucumbers into the bubbling vinegar and switch off the gas. They can now hang there until next week, for all I care. I just need to get rid of this smell.

I try to wave away the pungent pong of vinegar, garlic and spice with a towel, but it clings. I furtively open the door to the passage until I hear the ping of the lift. I don’t want an audience here. After a while I decide that all will be fine. The lid is on the pot and the gherkins are cooling in the pickling liquid.

Perhaps a swim would be the best way to get me out of my hot and bothered state. The swimming pool on floor 8 of our 50-floor hotel has been a joy and a solace right from the start. Getting back after an hour in the pool I get out on floor 11 and that’s when I smell it. Pure, unadulterated sour gym sock. And so it continues for the next few days. Every time I get out of the lift, I smell it.

The story has a happy ending, though. On the shelf there are two glass jars of pickled cucumbers that we eat with cheese and crackers or stuff into our lunchbox wraps. But, please, remind me to never ever again pickle in a hotel apartment.

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