Rounding is a Zen-like activity, one that involves company and karak tea. At its most basic, it is the act of driving around with friends, drinking tea and taking life slowly. To the uninitiated, this could be confused with the aimless coasting you did as a teenager. Think of it instead as meeting friends at the coffee shop, except the scenery changes and you have the option of multiple menus from multiple venues. Rounding is important in Khaleeji culture, and the proliferation of takeaway cafeterias that specialise in Dh1 karak – the Gulf version of India's masala chai – help sustain it. Rounding has a set of unspoken rules. Here are seven steps to follow.
1. Make it multi-stop. Driving to one place, getting tea and returning home is not rounding, it's takeaway. The best rounders hit several places in one night. These might serve a variety of teas: a cafeteria with classic karak, a spot that serves karak in a glass, a joint where karak is sweetened with honey instead of sugar, and an establishment that mixes karak and hot chocolate. You can also pair your karak with other types of food and play to the speciality of the cafeteria: karak from one cafe, luqaimat dumplings from another, a Chips Oman sandwich from a third and falooda (a South Asian cold dessert featuring a mix of vermicelli, fruit and ice cream) from a fourth.
2. Rounding is for karak and other types of tea. Coffee is never drunk while rounding. Coffee belongs to the morning and tea to the night. Rounding is a nocturnal activity and, therefore, belongs to tea.
3. Hit the coast. Rounding requires the right infrastructure: long, uninterrupted seaside roads for cruising at low speeds; neighbourhoods accustomed to late-night traffic and music; and a good selection of cafeterias. Coastal cities are best, particularly those with open car parks where friends can pull up beside each other and chat, window to window. Abu Dhabi is not ideal; the Corniche has too many traffic lights and Mawaqif inspectors are a hindrance to the slow lingering that is essential to rounding. Umm Al Quwain is better. Its easy pace and seaside roads make for scenic chai consumption. Ras Al Khaimah is best on all counts: infrastructure, cafeteria selection and atmosphere. Its old town has dozens of karak cafes and an established rounding culture, so you will be in good company. In Oman, Muscat’s takeaway karak shops lack variety. Instead, head north to Barka for an excellent selection of cafeterias, or go south to Sur for its picturesque Corniche.
4. Traffic does not exist when you are rounding. If the road is jammed with others out for their karak fix, this is not traffic. It is a gathering. Traffic implies being stuck somewhere. This is impossible when rounding because once you are in the car with tea, you are already where you are meant to be and there is no urgency to be elsewhere. Should you find yourself in Ras Al Khaimah in the Corniche gridlock on a Friday afternoon, remember that the honking of other drivers is not an expression of frustration. Those beeps are beeps of salutation. It is socially acceptable to stop and have a chat with your friend on the road, as long as you don’t get out of your car.
5. Do not get out of your car. At least not while ordering. Do this, and you mark yourself out as a foreigner and novice rounder. There’s no need to honk when ordering. The car park may be filled with 20 other white Lexus SUVs, but people will remember where you are and what you ordered. Tipping is not mandatory, but is appreciated.
6. Rounding is best with the windows down and at its very best in the rain. If it rains, beep your horn in appreciation.
7. At some point, you might want to go to a beach or for a walk to burn off all that energy. There is a reason that rounding is the preserve of the young; it is recommended only to those who lead an active lifestyle and not for the faint of pancreas.