1001 Arabian bites: Sometimes krab, Mister Potato and other substitutes hit the spot

If you’ve ever eaten a California roll, chances are you’ve consumed and possibly enjoyed 'krab', a cheap but sustainable substitute for crabmeat. I view it as the Joan Rivers of the seafood kingdom.

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If it isn’t stamped “Advil”, ibuprofen looks, to me, as naked and futile as a Tic Tac. For better or for worse, I’m a brand loyalist; given the choice, I’ll dress my chicken salad with Hellmann’s mayo and my wounds with Johnson & Johnson gauze.

But when generic alternatives are a tried-and-true preference, I’m no less fanatical in my convictions. For example, I think the abrasive, sandpapery drugstore dental floss cleans teeth far more effectively than the satiny, kid-gloved Glide. And in my extensive experience as an allergy sufferer, the cheaper and less conspicuously labelled facial tissues make the best disposable hankies. Name-brand tissues tend to be plusher, producing more floating dust when yanked out of the box in rapid succession, thus releasing more irritants into the air, which merely exacerbate the sneezing problem. I hate that almost as much as I hated the lady at the Whole Foods store telling me that while the store will no longer be carrying Philadelphia cream cheese, the organic Neufchatel would make a “fine” substitute. She would have had better luck convincing me the Tooth Fairy exists.

Kleenex is synonymous with tissues, just as Band-Aid is to bandages. Both trademarks were rescued from the brink of becoming generic, a fate bestowed on Thermos and Zipper products, whose names were legally protected at one time along with the Bayer products Aspirin and Heroin. (The latter’s name was derived from Greek to highlight the drug’s heroic qualities as a non-addictive morphine substitute for cough suppressants in the late 19th century.)

Blatant imitations of the real thing are still commonplace in the UAE, although not like they used to be. Those who grew up in Abu Dhabi may remember Burger Queen. As kids, we hadn’t yet been exposed to Burger King and so didn’t think much of it, but when our older cousins from New York came to visit, they saw it as a hysterical display of wannabe- Americanism or foreign charm; I’m not certain which, if any.

If you’ve ever eaten a California roll, supermarket sushi, or Japanese food at a mall, chances are you’ve consumed, and possibly enjoyed, “krab”, a cheap but sustainable substitute for crabmeat. Rather than compare krab to fresh crabmeat and call it ersatz, I view it as the Joan Rivers of the seafood kingdom. Usually made of whitefish that’s been ground to a paste and formed into crab sticks (another name for the product) – krab is a warrior product that’s been through the mill, processed and refabricated. And just like Nutella isn’t actually chocolate and The Laughing Cow cheese isn’t really cheese, krab is a factory-made, Frankenstein hotchpotch that is reminiscent of crab without embodying it.

On a recent visit to a baqala in the Bateen neighbourhood, I wandered the aisles looking for a snack to flood my senses with the kind of fleeting, chocolate-coated nostalgia that can only be had for a dirham or two. Columns of Pringles crisps shouldered an impostor brand, Mister Potato crisps. For all I know, they taste even better than the real thing.

Nouf Al Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico

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