BOCA

Dubai Restaurants

Boca.. the mouth. Such different uses it can be put to. With so much unwelcome verbal diarrhea coming out of so many mouths around me, I’m keeping mine open only for devouring food this week. So here’s possibly my first rant-free review.

Boca at DIFC was such a pleasant surprise. Not cry-your-heart-out expensive like all its neighbours in the hood, no dress code either… Just good old delicious food in a nice setting with friendly service. The cuisine is a blend of Spanish, Italian and French and the menu is divided into three main sections: Deli, Original & Market. The platters are not too big and good for sharing. We loved everything.

The excellent truffle burrata is topped with thick shavings of truffle, unlike places where truffle burrata implies one with a bit of truffle oil. Here it is served with a side of surprising bruschettas made out of peas, broad beans and zucchini flower. The fresh veggies give a nice crunch that perfectly complements the creaminess of the burrata. Speaking of fresh, the salad Nicoise is so yummy, your tired Tante wanted to close her eyes and pretend she’s on a beach in Nice (though munching on a salad on the beach sounds inconvenient). I always skip the salad Nicoise at good restaurants, as it usually comes with that awful, fresh tuna. The Boca chefs serve it with good old canned tuna, but obviously the best kind. A star dish for vegetarians is the cauliflower and hazelnut salad, well seasoned in a ridiculously good black truffle dressing. We also shared a plate of grilled tiger prawns with garlic and chilli oil and Troccoli Aglio pasta. The prawns  are good, but a little too small for your tante’s taste. The freshly made pasta is quite thick (is everything starting to sound wrong now?), and goes well with the grilled artichokes. Even the ashanti chocolate dessert has a touch of nature, served with what seems to be a jam of fig and verbena orange blossom honey.

You’re getting the theme here: FRESH. Even the bathrooms are fresh as the flora decorating the walls seems to be real throughout the place, giving it a nice, lively vibe. If it isn’t, I’m not sure what the waitress was doing walking around with a watering can at some point. Your tired tante is so loca, she can’t usually shut her boca… but this time I will, as I couldn’t find much to complain about.

Sleep tight children! xxx

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Catch

Dubai Restaurants

“So there’s this new place.. like OHMAGADDD… it’s from New York! like the desserts are all over ma instagram feed” 

That’s pretty much all we had heard about Catch at the Fairmont, so we thought of trying it and booked a table for 11 people on a Friday night. Deadly mistake ya mama, well not deadly but big mistake.. Never try out a new place when you’re a party of 11.

The name Catch is behind the joint’s apparent specialty in seafood, but is made even more fitting by the staff whose attention we spent the evening continuously trying to catch. You sometimes get a feeling when you meet someone that you’re just not really going to get along. This felt that way almost as soon as we showed up. As we waited for our table to get ready, we were informed that we were not standing at the right side of the bar, as we didn’t know there was one. That’s ok, but when we sat down and were instructed to share the menus because they were running low on them, things started getting fishy. When the party became complete and we were about to order, your beloved tante asked for two menus for the couple who just joined. After eyeing a stack of menus that were lying around at the service booth, the waiter came back having decided that we didn’t quite need them and we can just share the ones we already had. Fine. Let’s not spoil the evening. We each gave our orders with naive instructions on what to share, what was meant to be an appetiser and what we wanted for a main course. A little later, orders started showing up randomly. Not the funny kind of randomness, but the annoying one. The place was loud and we couldn’t really catch up on each and every person’s order to make informed guesses on who ordered what. One of us would get someone’s Wagyu beef on a rock and start asking around to find out to whom it belonged. One corner of the table would get the other’s appetiser and start to eat it, while the rest are complaining that their order never showed up. We gently asked them at this point to kindly pay attention to giving each person his/her right order instead of aimlessly throwing everything at different sides of our big table. They didn’t seem to appreciate the request, complaining that they’re not sure who asked for what and that the table wasn’t small. Pardon us for inconveniencing your cranky, overrated establishment. Ok let’s try to enjoy what’s left of this evening. Our two orders of pasta randomly showed up as four plates. At this point, my hungry friends gave up on getting their orders right so they started devouring whatever randomly came their way. At a certain point, the Sfitch (our bride-to-be-friend who loves carbs) got a glass of wine that she hadn’t ordered.. but sure.. why not? Between the wrong orders that we sent back and those that haphazardly showed up but were consumed nonetheless, it was impossible to audit our way through the bill to check if we have been wrongfully charged. We just split it and paid 400 dirhams a head for what must have been the most overpriced, OK food that left almost everyone hungry.

Honestly some of the dishes were not bad, but I won’t be doing any favours to Catch. Instead I can treat it with the same level of randomness with which it shoved plates down our way: Lobster rolls that are too buttery, crispy shrimps a la PF Changs, Wagyu Beef that’s good, a humongous fish with a face, mushroom spaghetti that’s alright, Hit Me chocolate cake that’s good, Burj waffle and s’mores pizza. But best of all, the Zaatar w Zeit that most of us admitted to ordering once we got home.

Catch isn’t understaffed, but it doesn’t help that there isn’t a dedicated host for every few tables, just a disinterested army of waiters running around with random plates playing a game of Catch Me If You Can.

Until the next review, I leave you with a taste of that fine New York hospitality Catch has imported here.

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Coya

Dubai Restaurants

Akh ya mama, “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. We know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GONNA TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

Well I for one did get up and stormed my way into Coya for a dinner date. A very unfitting consumerist rendezvous following that angry excerpt from “Network”, but that’s what we do here ya tante… we rant, we eat and we rant about what we eat. Willi ma 3ajabo ma 7ada darabo 3a 2eedo. The web is wide wil beb bifawwit jamal.

We arrived right on time for our reservation, but our table wasn’t ready. After 20 minutes of waiting at the bar (which was really just standing in the bar area as the actual bar was crowded), we stormed back to the front desk to deliver a speech similar to how we started this review. But alas there was a table ready, one that came with a dose of tirbee7 jmeeleh, as they decided to seat us in the private members area (because the place was overbooked, mish kirmel ki7l 3yoonna). The full height doors opened to a lounge packed with suited businessmen. There was a private bar, a DJ and a violinist. While the crowd was reminiscent of “Eyes Wide Shut”, I kept my eyes open and focused on my company and the dinner menu. We shared a total of seven plates and devoured all of them without getting too bloated, as they’re all fairly small. We kicked things off with some Edamame and Salmon Tacos. The three little tacos are so darn cute and you can finish them off with a couple of bites each. Then we got the ceviche. We chose the Salmon Nikkei, which was made of raw salmon swimming in celery juice, ginger and wasabi tobiko. For our lack of expertise in Peruvian cuisine, we gazed at those empty bowls beside our plates not knowing what they were meant for, and we ate the ceviche in our regular plates. And all was just fine. Then came the Ensalada de Maiz, and I’ll buy you a drink if you can tell the difference between it and sweet corn out of the can. For mains we got a pot of Arroz Nikkei Chilean sea bass and a Salmon fillet. Both were fantastic. The pot tasted like a spicy Indian take on a confused Paella/Risotto dish. The salmon was rich in flavor with a  side of golden beetroot and cucumber. For dessert, we shared a Sundae de Maiz which tasted as funky as it looked with sweet corn ice cream and popcorn. It probably wasn’t the best choice of dessert but we kept seeing orders of it going around, so we wanted to know what the fuss was about.

The place is fun and the best drink to go with your meal is the Peruvian Pisco Sour, so skip the wine. The food is simple and tasty and the bill was surprisingly not outrageous.

See you mother fuckers. Until then I leave you with this:

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Prime68

Dubai Restaurants

As I make my comeback to the food blogging scene, I can’t help but wonder what is it exactly we food bloggers do. What higher purpose do these rants really serve? I’ve always had an appreciation for the hardworking folks who go through the hell of operating a restaurant, and a distaste for the condescending dullards who publicize their hasty judgments and ruin businesses in the process. When did I become one of the latter group? Or did I? Does it count if I objectively criticize the failings of overpriced, posh institutes? Why am I ranting about my own rants?

We hit Prime68 tonight, the steakhouse at the 68th floor of the JW Marriott Marquis; home to several neatly decorated, overpriced, great concept venues with mediocre food. If you’re an acrophobic vegetarian, this is no place for you. Prime68 offers quality steaks at a high floor with panoramic views of Dubai, which are what you’re essentially paying for. If you’re cynical about the combination of highways and flat landscapes, skip it. If you appreciate what a trip to the top of Burj Khalifa has to offer, the place is worth a visit. The chic design that spans most of the floor allows for plenty of tables right by the glass windows so you’re bound to get a view with your meal. The food is Ok but doesn’t justify the exorbitant prices. With Kawkab’s belly burning hopes in mind, we went lean on the order. We skipped starters, dessert, wine and starches, yet our bill amounted to more than 600 dirhams for two people. Be sure to ask for your 20% Emirates NBD card discount, as we didn’t get it and I only just found out about it while writing this review. Ya 3ayb el shoom! The steaks are neither the most tender, nor the most chewy; but the béarnaise sauce and sides of mashed potato, asparagus and creamy spinach complemented the fillet mignons nicely. I particularly enjoyed the roasted whole garlic presented with the plate. Garlic tastes sweet when well cooked and doesn’t really leave a bad scent in your mouth. Kilo toom ya mama ma tisti7o.

For its not so great service and immoderate prices, Prime68 didn’t make it to your tante’s list of favourite dinner spots. But it’s well worth a visit once, if you’re in the mood for feeling high.. above Sheikh Zayed road.

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Salero Tapas & Bodega

Dubai Restaurants

“3njad b2illik 3njad mish 7ilwi el ghaybe hal 2ad” I couldn’t find a more befitting song to serenade my long awaited return with. What have I been up to in these past 5 months? Well mostly falling.. learning to quickly stand up again.. then falling, then standing up again… One might think I had burnt some calories in the process. Not quite.

A couple of weeks ago, when a group picture was taken at Salero Tapas & Bodega, I noticed how my unflattering belly had become a visual center of attraction. Tonight, I went back along with my peasants in an attempt of not overeating. So I’m writing this review mostly out of recollections.

Situated at Kempinski Mall of the Emirates, Salero mish mitil Ghero.. it makes for a convenient location without feeling like it’s in the middle of an effing mall. It’s a Spanish place run by Spanish staff and the food mostly tastes authentic. It has a wider variety of tapas than its rival El Sur and the ambience is chilled and more upbeat. If you’re going on a Tuesday you may enjoy a little flamenco show by the multifunctional hostess who may also be serving you your meal. The tapas are more or less appetizing. The gazpacho is particularly well made with all the right ingredients. I would go for the spanish tortilla, the calamari, the ceviche, the fried eggplant and I would skip the useless patatas bravas and petty shrimps in that awful sauce. The stars of the meal? The Sangria pitcher with a base of red wine that is really sweet, and the free plate of bread. The bread comes with an awesome combination of olive oil, sea salt, tomatoes and garlic. You take a piece of bread and you rub it with that garlic… Rub it like you mean it tante… Then you rub it with the tomato.. keep rubbing…ooooh yeah… add the olive oil and the salt… and take a bite… screw the rest of the meal..

We also shared a not so small “small dish” of paella which four of us could not finish. Not bad, not stellar either. The paella needed a bit more seasoning and the seafood did not taste that fresh. But overall the place is nice, fun and more importantly my choice for making a blog-comeback.

I leave you and myself with Ragheb’s song that bares no Spanish theme nor any link whatsoever to Salero Tapas & Bodegas, except for a reminder of the randomness of this blog which has missed you kteer ya 3yoon el tante.

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CaliBurger

Dubai Restaurants

This is a salute to the army of cooks at Shake Shack in Dubai; to the troops of waiters at the Cheesecake Factory; to the happy, singing squad at FatBurger… When you’ve invested in bringing a franchise all the way to the desert, it only makes sense that you staff it.

We went to CaliBurger today for our Kawkable Saturday lunch with the peasants and baby Jude… and… well.. ok, let me do this the loving Tante way, starting with the positive. The burgers aren’t bad. They come close to Shake Shack and FatBurger. The buns have a good balance between savoury and sweet, the beef is juicy and the sauce is tasty. My favorite burgers remain New York’s Burger Joint (open in Dubai and in need of an upcoming review) and the West Coast’s In-N-Out. The fries tasted like potato, and I suspect they weren’t frozen. Nothing tasted weird except the awful chocolate milkshake I decided to try.

So CaliBurgers are good, but there’s a catch. Joining the Dubai burger scene late, and in the same neighbourhood as FatBurger and Elevation Burger, the minds behind CaliBurger needed a unique selling proposition. Their competitive edge is that they offer the “Slowest Fast Food in Town”, and boy do they deliver on this promise. It really is as slow as fast food can go. The first strategy they implemented was introducing two lines – “Order Here” and “Pick Up” with two cash registers for “Order Here”. Then, they wisely staffed all three with one person. The second strategy was to train this individual in Selective Attention Techniques. For some of our peasants, their order never came, because it was never processed. Others had to wait as the orders of those behind them in line were prioritised. Kawkab, on the other hand, had to wait for a few minutes to watch the cash register get reconciled before giving the order. The place was full, and there were several people complaining about their order being late, but then I heard an honest cashier explain to walk-in customers that there is a 40 minute waiting time.

40 Minutes? For a burger? No ya mama. Your burgers might taste good, but would Kawkab open a Man2oushe place next to other Mana2eesh places with a special 40 minute waiting time? What is it you said? A burger is different than a Man2oushe? You mean to insinuate that burgers are better than mana2eesh? You know you’re starting to get on my nerves now, don’t you? Oh I misheard… Ok.. I’m glad you didn’t.

6 people to run the place isn’t enough darlings, so go back to Cali… w ana rej3a 3al jali…..

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Monty’s

Dubai Restaurants

One of the peasants, known as “The Sfitch”, will be getting married this summer. She decided to employ the talents of Favorite Peasant in photography to prepare a Save-the-Date e-card. So they headed to The Address Montgomerie, figuring that the greenery would make a nicer background than Sheikh Zayed Road or the mall. As a royal spinster, you might imagine that Kawkooba would not be able to relate to the occasion. You couldn’t be more wrong. As I approach my golden fifty four, I have decided to send out my own Save-the-Date invitation soon. If the Sfitch can send one out before locking a venue, Kawkab can send one out before locking the groom (a minor detail in today’s wedding arrangement plans). Groomfully or groomlessly, you will all be invited to your Tante’s fiesta to join me in celebrating my declaration of self-love.

Meanwhile, I suppose I should mention Monty’s, the restaurant overlooking the golf course at The Address Montgomerie. The scenery gets 5 out 5 Kawkabs, because anything green (unless slimy) is always welcome in this city. The food ranges between two and a half to three and a half Kawkabs, depending on what you order. Take your loving Tante’s advice and stick to the chicken fajitas and frozen strawberry margaritas. The fajitas are rich in well prepared chicken and are not heavy on the tummy. They have more tomato sauce than your average fajita, and less onions and peppers. The margaritas are made with fresh strawberries, unlike many other places that only use syrup. The chicken burgers aren’t bad. You can have them with extra bacon, cheese and guacamole sauce. My lobster ravioli though was below average, as it tasted like a microwaveable frozen meal. It very well might have been, as it came too quickly. For dessert, the gluttonous peasants shared a chocolate fondant, which turned out very average and a bit dry.

I was running in between errands yesterday, so I have to make a disclaimer. Monty’s is great when it is not rushed, much like a wedding. The service is friendly, you can have drinks and enjoy a nice scenery. Just like Kawkab’s future wedding. Until that comes, we have the Sfitch’s. May the force be with all of us.

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Maria Bonita

Dubai Restaurants

It was 5 years ago that I met one of my closest Dubai peasant-peeps. Nostalgically, we decided that it’s been a while we haven’t dined in that place we first met, and so we organized tonight’s dinner at that restaurant – Maria Bonita. We put together a little “friendaversary” with our respective significant others, of course. Conveniently, the rest of the troupe bailed out, which meant more guacamole for Mama Kawkab.

Maria Bonita is a simple place, where you can have a very pleasant time or a horrific one. You can have a good time, if you stick to ordering the basics, which cannot fail you. Alternatively, you can have a miserable time, if you experiment too much with the menu; or if you expect beers & margaritas, as they don’t serve any alcohol. If you need a drink with your Mexican meal, head to Loca.

We sticked to two orders of guacamole and some mixed fajitas. The guacamole can’t really go wrong, unless the avocados are rotten, which they weren’t. We ordered two; one as a starter and one as a lavish side for our fajitas. Both the shrimp and chicken fajitas kind of taste the same, as they’re cooked with peppers and onions and share the same sides of beans and sour cream. They’re like background music, which you become aware of if it’s too good or too bad – they’re neither. We enjoyed our dinner at Maria Bonita, mostly because of the company and the familiarity of the setting. I heard that extras on movie sets are now referred to as “atmosphere” as it somehow sounds more dignified. The dishes at Maria Bonita played their part as atmosphere, but weren’t the stars of the show. Our random stories were, so Happy Friendaversary Ass!

Speaking of nostalgia… Maria Bonita li 2ajlikom 2a3mal… w enjoy the video ya roo7 roo7a lal tante:

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Smiling BKK

Dubai Restaurants

As wise a tante as Kawkab may be, there are still some unanswered mysteries when it comes to the Dubai social scene. Why would someone pay three times the price of regular sushi and not get full? (rhymes with Puma) Why submit your name on a list, wait in line, pay an entrance fee, then not even dance in an ‘underground’ party that plays mostly mainstream music in a crammed rooftop? (rhymes with Monotonic Ways) It doesn’t have to be hard work to have a good time in this city.

Let’s refer to one of my ultimate favorite Dubai peeps as B-Money, for the purpose of this blog entry. The thing about B-Money is that you cannot be around him and not be smiling. When the forces of the Tante and B-Money united for a tantekawkab.com dinner plan, it was bound to be an out of the ordinary outing. The B started off well with an edible bouquet, knowing that nothing in the Tante’s way goes undevoured. One can only imagine the disturbing consequences, had this truly been a real date, full of edible objects. Thankfully, we had some fantastic company join us. B-Money’s recommendation was “Smiling BKK”, so we headed towards the original one in Al-Wasl road, hidden in a small alleyway behind the petrol station.

Smiling BKK is a quirky, little Thai restaurant that would leave you perplexed as to how you have lived in the city this long and not been there yet. It’s a dimly lit place that serves tasty, authentic Thai food in a fun atmosphere, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Although we didn’t find the plastic guns and Monalisa-with-a-moustache masks, we still enjoyed a bit of a wacky setting: a long stick that you shake to ask for the waiters (a little awkward though), Bruno Mars & Taylor Swift randomly singing in the background, friendly service and a bizarre menu of items, literally listed as follows:

– Would You Like An Amazing Banana With That? (35 dhs)

– Oh Yes, I Need A Very Big Amazing Banana With That! (39 dhs)

– Never Look At A Man While Eating An Amazing Banana (43 dhs)

None of the items contained any actual bananas. Being slightly confused with the kinky menu and phallic references, we trusted the B-Money & his friend to make the order. We started of with the self-proclaimed “Amazing” Tom Yum soup, which which is a no-miss if you like spicy food. It has prawns, tomato, chilli, peanuts, green beans and a whole lot more ingredients that make it truly amazing and every bit Yummmmmm. Everything we shared was well prepared in curious sauces that made it all so flavorsome. We had “Money Bags” filled with a strange mix of chicken and shrimps, prawn cakes, coconut chilli shrimp and a Som Tum (Papaya salad). We also shared a few mains, like cashew nut chicken and beef hot plate. My favorite was the Pad Thai, the stir fried noodle dish, rich with chicken, peanut sauce and lemon wedges. The food was so good, that I forgot to stop at the moment where I have to pretend I’m just as full as everyone else. Eventually, the time did come for dessert. We shared the sticky rice with Thai Mango. It’s hard to declare it as stellar, being a devout chocolate lover, but the combination of the fresh fruit and the creamy rice is worth a try. So try it ya 3yoona lal tante, yalleh byisti7eh bitroo7 3leh.

B-Money and I promise you more reviews of upcoming outings of strange finds in this city. For now, I am adding Smiling BKK to the list of “Kawkab’s Underground Must-Go Eateries”. All it takes to stay smiling, my peasants, is a bit of good food and good company.

Keep Devouring…

Your Loving Kawkab

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Indego by Vineet

Dubai Restaurants

Dear Mr. Vineet,

Forget your two Michelin stars. Tonight you’ve been awarded a Kawkab. You’ve got literally two stars and a whole planet as of now.

After sensing a bit of heavyheartedness in Kawkab’s spirit, my favourite peasant in the world spontaneously organised an Indian dinner to let the spice make it all nice, and let that Naan make Kawkab’s blues gone. Much appreciated from someone who doesn’t eat spicy food, but knows of Kawkab’s fondness for Indian cuisine. We couldn’t have been more ready, after having watched “The Hundred-Foot Journey” the night before. The film features Helen Mirren with a fake French accent, as a restaurant owner with a cold, villainous exterior and a heart of gold. Mirren, who owns a classical French restaurant, is at first dismayed when an Indian family moves across the street to open Maison Mumbai as her competition. The film starts off with an amusing rivalry between the two sides of the street, but then develops into a predictable compilation of cliches. Surprisingly, it’s produced by Steven Spielberg, as a collaboration with the obnoxious Oprah Winfrey. There’s a video of the two of them online, giggling like amateurs who just finished their first film school project. At one point, Spielberg remarks: “I was always terrified of the phone ringing to say that somebody lost the tip of a finger”. This is from the man who brought you Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Minority Report.. to name a few. Kitchen scenes were a whole new frontier for him.

Look at your tante rant. You have to stop me when I do, peasants. This is not a review of this mildly pleasant, mediocre movie. This ought to be a review of the mouthwatering dinner at Indego by Vineet restaurant in the Grosvenor House hotel in Dubai Marina. We ordered a feast, and it was all impeccable to say the least. The Almond Tikki made a good vegetarian starter, as a combination of crisp almond crusted green pea tikki, Punjabi chickpeas, and sweetened yoghurt with tamarind chutney sorbet. The butter chicken was the best I’ve ever had. I dare you not to lick every drop of that buttery sauce, after you’re done with the pieces of chicken. If you don’t, I’ll invite you for a reviewable Kawkab dinner (if only out of curiosity to find out what’s wrong with you). We also shared the chef’s signature dish of Coastal Jhinga, which is basically chargrilled coconut-curry leaf jumbo prawns poached in lime-coconut sauce. All was delicious, especially the usuals: Black Dal, a mix of Naans and Raita. Ask for the special coconut & raisins Naans to go along with your Dal. As much as we were full, we didn’t pass on dessert. We ordered the Chocolicious Indego platter to share, and boy did my silly diet get a scare. It’s chocolate with an Indian twist, that you can only understand when it’s in your mouth. So work on getting it there.

If you’ve read some of my reviews, you know I have a hard time enjoying a meal when the food is great, but the service is not. Here, the service was just as fantastic as the food. The waiters were all very pleasant and helpful and they too get the stamp of “Kawkab”. As the great Elissa of Lebanon once said “I don’t tanks to tanks”, but tonight I must: Thank you my favourite peasant for thoughtfully organising. Thank you my birthday-hating friend for joining. Thank you Chef Vineet. Thank you India.

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