A block away from Al Wahda Mall is the neighborhood of Tanker Mai. Peering out of a taxi cab, I see small shisha spots, ethnic restaurants and low-rise residential blocks. A man in a loose white kurta watches me, karak in hand. He is crouching in front of the cooler fans hidden between buildings, where only stray cats, smokers and lost tourists lurk. At this time, we are interlopers.
Tanker Mai spans the Delma and 15th Mohammed Bin Khalifa streets. Before the arrival of sleek-guided mazes such as Home Centre and Ikea, it was a furniture district. Some of the older shops still remain. I imagine the kurta-clad man in the alley belongs to one of them, still sipping two-dirham karak bought from tiny eateries that are resisting the push of modernization.
Tanker Mai loosely translates to water tank, a name that fits neatly with the newest addition to the area — Rain Cafe, a trendy specialty coffee spot. Open since January this year, the cafe is particularly known for its Spanish latte, which uses milk mixed with white chocolate. It costs a pretty 25 AED, hot or iced, and is confirmed to be very good. Apart from coffee, it serves only a few croissants and pastries.
Blue and yellow porcelain cups, as if to sweetly suggest rain and sun, sit atop marble counters. I sip my drink in front of a sweeping mural of clouds. Above the barista station are cloud-shaped lamps, made from cotton wool. The furniture is foreign, from the minimalist Japanese brand Muji, despite the cafe sitting in a former furniture district. Rain’s tasteful logo consists of a cloud and three artful slashes of rainfall. Indoor plants flourish around me; everything is conveniently Instagrammable.
Here, the desert is forgotten. And because of this, Rain Cafe becomes a place of nostalgia, of remembering a distant home, thinking back to rainy days in with books and music and a good hot drink. It’s impossible not to feel soothed.
Rain brings new growth. Similar to Hamdan Street, Tanker Mai has long been populated with migrants and low-income workers, but this is gradually changing. Construction sites disrupt the neighborhood’s history, bringing new shop signs, such as Rain’s, and shinier price lists. Maybe it’s too early to call out gentrification, but one certainly has time to sit, watch and ponder the future unfolding — over expensive, imported Rain coffee.
To visit Rain Cafe, take the shuttle to Al Wahda Mall. Take a cab from there and direct the driver towards the Al Ittihad newspaper or better yet, type out Rain Abu Dhabi into a GPS. On the way, you’ll spot a wooden awning on a building’s corner, with a large cloud sign in white.
Photographs by Vamika Sinha, Shivani Mishra and Cece Kim