Every culture has its variation of this hollow, hallowed dessert. Indians make jalebi, Italians make zeppole, and Frenchmen make beignets. We Americans have our own fried dough known as funnel cake, a German-Dutch confection created in my new home state of Pennsylvania.

So of course, I was familiar with fried dough as a dessert when I first went to Deira Dubai, but I did not know the twist that awaited me: fried dough covered in date paste and sesame seeds.

The night of my introduction to luquimat, an Emirati colleague hosted me at Deira Dubai. Once the sun went down and the outdoors became somewhat cool for enjoying, we walked its Corniche (a French word for “ledge,” and a word adopted into Arabic to describe a walkway near water) and explored a museum displaying pre-independence-era memorabilia.

My colleague then asked if I wanted “fried dessert.” It was late by then and I was somewhat vigilant about diet at the time, but I knew that it would be rude of me in this generous, hospitality-driven culture to decline the offer.

“Okay, thank you. Would be great to try just one,” I replied.

I wound up being rude in any case - only for hogging the goods, not for rejecting them. Ten minutes later, I had popped each one of the donuts by myself.

I am not a fan of overly sweet treats, nor can my system tolerate too much grease. Somehow, these luquimat had the right amount of date paste and were just the right ratio of fluff to oil, barely staining the paper bag in which they were served. Coupled with karak chai - a black tea with milk, cinnamon and a caramel flavor introduced to UAE by Indian expats - it was the perfect dessert.

The women making luquimat at the Deira open-air market did so by gas flame over a deep black cast-iron pan. I’d see a similar portable setup months later in my Abu Dhabi employer’s parking lot, where we served our guests luquimat as part of the Eid festivities. I better restrain myself on that occasion since I was the host and not a guest.

Throughout my time in UAE, a go-to savory snack or meal was shawarma. In addition to Abu Dhabi’s famous Lebanese Flower, little corner shops around the city offered the protein-heavy wrap at cheap prices, especially as compared to the many overpriced finer dining options in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Among my favorites in that category were Friday brunches, all-you-can-eat and drink buffets usually with some kind of theme, and pool time included with your tab (such as at the Fairmont Bab al Bahr.

When I craved a taste of home, Bagel Factory, owned and operated by a Syrian-American from Philadelphia, scratched the itch with its New York-style bagels and deli sandwiches. I’d get myself a bagel and coffee before day trips to Saadiyat Beach, replicating a family tradition of getting Dunkin Donuts to enjoy at Belmar Beach in New Jersey, USA.

With several markets in walking distance to my flat, I often cooked for myself. In fact, the UAE is where I first discovered an interest in cooking and baking. Food Network was one of the few English channels available as part of my no-frills cable package, and I came to love shows like Chopped and its lessons in making something flavorful out of seemingly disparate ingredients.

Though I never skimped or deprived myself, I managed to return to the States in 2016 about 10 pounds lighter than when I left it in 2013. Even the rich food in UAE is healthier as compared to American fare, as is, of course, the more lax lifestyle.