Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 6 December 2020

'Yalla Neta’sha': Guests are left hungry in the first episode of the Middle East’s ‘Come Dine With Me’

The Arabic version of the popular UK reality show is now showing on OSN

Food blogger and stay-at-home mum Sarah is the first host on the newly released 'Yalla Neta’sha' series, the Arabic version of culinary reality show, 'Come Dine With Me'. Courtesy OSN 
Food blogger and stay-at-home mum Sarah is the first host on the newly released 'Yalla Neta’sha' series, the Arabic version of culinary reality show, 'Come Dine With Me'. Courtesy OSN 

Yalla Neta’sha, the Middle East’s version of popular UK culinary reality show Come Dine With Me is here, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Fans of the original will be familiar with the tried-and-tested format, and in pretty much every way, the Arabic version sticks to the script. While I am not an Arabic speaker, I enjoyed every moment of the episode with subtitles.

Contestants will do their best to show the best Arab hospitality ever

'Yallah Neta'sha' narrator

Four contestants take it in turns to host each other at their homes on consecutive nights. They create a three-course menu that will, in turn, be judged by their guests and the winner of each week takes home a $1,000 prize. It gets catty quickly, with comments as sharp as the knives in the participants’ kitchens. There are four episodes in a week, one per host, with a new batch of contestants each week.

“They will do their best to show the best Arab hospitality ever,” says the narrator, kicking off the very first episode, which was broadcast on Sunday night and is available to watch now on OSN Streaming. “[Tonight], we’re in Dubai, which is known for its variety of cuisines and cultures.”

The episode starts with an extensive preview of the series ahead, and from early on, it's clear that the Middle East iteration of the show is going to be full of as many bust ups and awkward moments as the UK one.

Meeting our first batch of ‘Yalla Neta’sha’ contestants

The first group of amateur chefs are Sarah, Ali, Grace and Ahmed, with Egyptian stay-at-home mum, Sarah, in the kitchen first.

As well as being mum to two children, Sarah is a food blogger with a YouTube channel where she shares easy family-friendly recipes. It is clear she is comfortable in front of the camera, but she is also adorably bumbling, dropping crockery and getting caught on her kitchen counters.

She is not here to mess around, however, as she declares from the beginning: “I want to win, no matter what.”

Her menu is read by her three competitors, who seem to be left cold by her culinary line-up. Much of the success of the show comes down to the quips delivered by the contestant directly to the camera, as we watch them be nice to their competitors' faces around the dinner table.

Expect a Ramadan special of popular reality food show 'Yalla Neta’sha'. OSN Streaming 
Sarah's guests, from left, Ali, Grace and Ahmed, complained about the long waits between courses. Courtesy OSN Streaming

Sarah's three-course menu consists of a "Chica" salad, followed by a caveman’s lollipop and a dessert called “Summer of 2020 in a Cup”. It gives away very little and confuses her guests more than it whets their appetites.

It is quickly clear that Grace, a Canadian-Lebanese banker, has cast herself as the villain of the week. She doesn’t hold back with menu feedback and her brutal honesty continues when she is served Sarah’s food.

The week's line-up is completed by Bahraini fitness enthusiast Ali, who is a very fussy eater – he won’t eat meat, mayonnaise or garlic; and Ahmed, a chef from Jordan. Yes, I thought it seemed a little unfair that we have a food blogger and a chef on a TV show for amateur cooks, too.

The food arrives to lukewarm reviews

Sarah, with cameos from her two children, gets to work on her starter – a chopped salad dressed in mayonnaise (Ali won't be happy) and spices.

The food blogger samples her own fair before stirring the dish straight after with the used spoon – more than once. Double dipping is jarring at the best of times, but in the context of Covid-19, you would expect the show’s hygiene rules to be enforced a little more strictly.

Sarah, the first contestant to take to the kitchen in 'Yalla Neta’sha' is warm, kind and confident on camera, but her food hygiene left a lot to be desired at times. OSN Streaming 
Sarah, the first contestant to take to the kitchen in 'Yalla Neta’sha' is warm, kind and confident on camera, but her food hygiene left a lot to be desired at times. Courtesy OSN Streaming

Both the starter and the main are met with a lukewarm reaction from Sarah’s guests, who are already unhappy about the long 25-minute-plus wait between courses. The most explosive reaction comes from Ali when a hunk of meat is served – the vaguely named caveman’s lollipop. The gym-buff says he is allergic to meat, which seems like something Sarah should have been given a heads-up about.

Much like other international versions of the show, hosts are encouraged to entertain their guests, which Sarah does with a racing cups game. Grace is, true to form, nonplussed by the game, while Ali brands it dull. Ahmed, by far the most polite guest, at least seems to have a good time.

The dessert – a creamy mousse served over ripe mango – goes down well. Grace maintains that she would have liked to see the presentation elevated, however, so we’re looking forward to seeing some Michelin-style plating from her later in the week.

‘Don’t be mad at my honesty’

The comments about Sarah's food seem to get to Ali at one point, as he asks his fellow contestants not to talk about him behind his back when his turn comes later in the week, the guilt clearly surfacing.

The show ends with the contestants being driven home; it is from their individual cars that they score the host.

'Yalla Neta’sha' contestants score each other from the back of a car on the way home from their meals. OSN Streaming 
'Yalla Neta’sha' contestants score each other from the back of a car on the way home from their meals. Courtesy OSN Streaming

Grace scores Sarah five out of 10, saying, “Don’t be mad at my honesty,” as she does. Ahmed is the most generous with six and Ali gives Sarah five, complaining, “I’m going home hungry,” which is fair – his fellow guests enjoyed a huge joint of meat and he was left with a double serving of broccolini.

The show is on OSN each night this week, and is available on OSN Streaming straight after. Ali is up next, and I know that I will be tuning in to see how he does.

Updated: October 19, 2020 07:02 PM

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