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Food traditions in the UAE


The original leaflet.

The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage ( published some very interesting leaflets about Emirati customs and culture, so I thought it would be interesting to share them on the blog. All the data below has been taken from these pamphlets.

Much of the Arabian Peninsula, an area of more than 3 million square kilometres, has been occupied for millennia. In some areas, settlements developed into cities, and along the coast fishing villages and busy ports grew. However, the vast desert regions were populated by nomadic Bedouin herdsmen who moved between the oases scattered throughout the interior.

Although vegetables such as cucumbers, pumpkins and onions were cultivated, together with lemons, pomegranates and melons, it was the wheat and dates grown in the oases that formed the staples of Bedouin diet. Dates keep well, can be eaten fresh or dried, are easily transported and have excellent nutritional value: there are over a hundred different varieties of dates.

For thousand of years, wheat was used to make gruel or porridge, or ground into flour for bread which was baked over coals, or even directly in the intensely hot sands.
Some of the many wheat-based dishes include the harees, a mixture of ground wheat and meat, and the bathitha, a sweet made of wheat flour dates and ghee.

The harees is one of the most famous meals in the Arab world and has been cooked for centuries. It is usually served in a deep dish at weddings, during Ramadan and at the religious feasts Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha. It is also served to new and nursing mothers since it is believed to have restorative properties: ground wheat and meat are cooked together over a low heat until the texture becomes creamy.

Rice is eaten either alone, or with meat or fish, using the right hand only. Popular rice dishes include the makbous and the.mashkhoul.

The makbous recipe has been passed down through the generations and it is a very popular dish in Abu Dhabi: meat, chicken or fish is cooked with onions, dried lime and spices such as turmeric, cardamom and nutmeg. When tender, the meat is removed and rice is cooked in the remaining stock. The meat is then mixed back with the rice, the dish covered and hot coals heaped upon the lid to complete the cooking process. The meat and rice are served on a large dish or tray, garnished with nuts, raisins and fried onions.

Fish is still very popular, and a wide range is available even inland. The fish market (Suq As Samak) in Al Ain sells around thirty species such as barracuda, prawns, shark and anchovies.

Milk from camels, goats and sheep provided a healthy supplement to the diet. It could also be churned into butter, or used to make yoghurt and cheese. Honey, various salad leaves and occasionally fish eggs, truffles or mushrooms were also eaten by the Bedouins.
However, the most important element of the diet was – and still remains, meat.

Nowadays camel meat is often served, but it was a rarer commodity to the Bedouin, who prized his camel above all else. Meat usually came from goats and bull calves, as well as quails, pigeons and houbara bustards, brought down by trained falcons, or rabbit and foxes, hunted by the fast Saluki dogs.

Archaeological excavations have unearthed the remains of darts, spears and other hunting gear, and pictures on the walls of some of the Hili tombs depict many different kinds of game: large animals such as gazelles and oryx abounded, but domestic cattle, sheep and goat were all kept by the earliest inhabitants of the UAE around seven thousand years ago.

In the last few decades, the range of food available locally has increased enormously. Various expatriate communities have introduced new dishes and the Asian communities exert one of the most powerful culinary influences, as there are many variations on popular Indian dishes, such as biryani.

The traditional local values of hospitality, generosity and courtesy to guests are still upheld. Family meals at home are informal, but at large gatherings time-honoured etiquette is observed, and the social intercourse is invariably accompanied by coffee.

In the past, the coffee was frequently prepared by the host and served to those who had gathered to exchange news or tell stories.
The beans were roasted in a pan (mehmas) then cooled in a wooden tray, known as mabradah.
They were then ground in a mihbasha form of pestle and mortar, made of wood, iron or brass, and brewed in a clay pot (malkama).
The coffee was then poured into the classic beaked Arabian pot (dallah) and served in small ceramic cups (finjan), exactly as it is today.

Tradition dictates that the cup must be filled only a quarter full, and frequently refilled. When no more coffee is required, you need to rock the finjan to and from as the pourer approaches.

Click HERE to read more about ART and CULTURE or HERE to read about EXPAT info & tips.

Learn Italian at the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi


(© Sorbonne Abu Dhabi)

For those who always dreamed to speak one of the most romantic languages in the world, this is an occasion not to miss: from the 14th of April, the Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is going to be offering brand new Italian language courses in the evenings, becoming the first institution to offer this language in the UAE.

The courses are organised by the Department of Applied Foreign Languages of Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with the Italian Embassy, are taught by native speakers and offer different levels of learning, from beginner to advanced. The program will include both language and cultural insight into the world of this beautiful country.

The courses will run from the 14th of April to the 9th of July, twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays. Each class will be held from 6pm to 8pm, for a total of 13 weeks of classes, culminating in an exam: those who complete the course successfully will be awarded a certificate by the university.

For non-beginners, there will be written and oral tests on 14th of April from 4pm to 6pm, to assess the level of knowledge.

For all information please contact Omar Colombo at the LEA Department:
More information also on the Sorbonne official website.

Click HERE to read more about CULTURE or HERE to read about LEARNING NEW THINGS.

The Abu Dhabi Festival 2014 is in full swing.

(Photo: © Abu Dhabi Festival)

I know, I know. I am a bit late with this post, but better late than never, right?!?

The Abu Dhabi Festival is an unmissable appointment on the Abu Dhabi Calendar, as for all the month of March, top artists will perform at the Emirates Palace auditorium.

Tickets can be bought at the Virgin megastores around the city, or online.
Some tickets will be available at the box office on the night of the event, but of course many concerts get sold out pretty quickly, so it is always better to book in advance.

The full list of the remaining events can be found here, but my personal picks are:
– American soprano Renee Fleming on the 23rd of March – (read more)
– Russian conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy on the 24th of March – (read more)
– The Coppelia ballet by the American Ballet Theatre on 28th and 29th of March – (read more)

More information reading the official FAQ.

Click HERE to read more about MUSIC in Abu Dhabi.

Dhow race on the Corniche – tomorrow 8th March

(Photo: © Abu Dhabi Sailing and Yacht Club)

I must admit it: I could not find many information about this event, apart from the fact that it is called Arzanah Dhow Sailing Race 60FT, (some photos of a previous event are on Facebook), that it is happening from 2pm to 5pm on the Abu Dhabi Corniche tomorrow, Saturday 8th of March, and that is organised by the Abu Dhabi sailing and yacht club.
I called them on 02 658 3333 and they confirmed that the race is on, but that’s all I know!

The tradition of dhow races, as I wrote in a previous post, is still thriving: these boats originally were used as trading vessels, and as an essential part of the pearl-diving industry, but today they are employed for racing. The racing season starts in September, with 12-man teams of UAE nationals competing in a tournament spread over nine months. The final and most prestigious race of the season is from Sir Bu Na’air Island to Dubai, a distance of 54 nautical miles, over a route taken by the early pearling dhows at a time when each captain raced to be the first back to port, and perhaps get the best price for his pearls.

Dhow is not an Arabic word but was adapted by the British from the Persian word dawh, meaning sailing vessel.
The dhow is distinguished from other boats by its triangular sail, known as lateen. Teak is still the mandatory timber, though nowadays is sometimes supplemented by fibreglass and steel framework.
The wood may be varnished yet not painted, in deference to the tradition of leaving the hull above the waterline untreated and painting the part below with lime, as a deterrent to barnacles and other growth.

I guess the best thing is to turn up on the beach and see what happens there, and I look forward to it!

Click HERE to read more about SPORTS in Abu Dhabi.

Piaf/Aznavour concert – 4 March

(Photo: © UFE Abu Dhabi)

UFE Abu Dhabi is hosting a concert featuring the music of French icons Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour.
In occasion of the 50th anniversary of their passing, singers Véronique Forget and Nyno Carnino will pay a tribute  to these music giants with some of their most well known songs.

The concert will be this week, at 8pm on Tuesday 4th of March at the Lycee Louis Massignon (between Airport Road and 29th street – Tel: 02 444 80 75).

Tickets are 100 AED and can be bought at the Alliance Francaise offices (corner of 26th street and 7th street, Choitram building, block B, floor O – Tel: 02 666 6232 or email or at AATIQ on Hamdan Street (between Al Ghaith Tower and Al Hilal Bank, 4th floor, office 406, Tel: 02 627 7001).

Click HERE to read more about MUSIC in Abu Dhabi.

Win an invite to the GREAT week Fashion show

(Photo: © UK in UAE)

To celebrate the GREAT creative week UAE, the British Ambassador will host a fashion show produced by House of Fraser to showcase British fashion brands, which will be held at the Dusit Thani hotel, on the 19th of March, from 7pm to 9pm.
GREAT creative week will bring approximately 30 companies to the UAE to promote UK fashion and business.

The event is really exclusive and invite only, but invites can be won taking part in the Instagram competition promoted by the British Embassy in the UAE: the competition is already on and will last for other 3 weeks.
Two people a week can win an invite to the fashion showcase and reception in Dubai, the fashion show in Abu Dhabi, plus prizes from UK brands such as Halcyon Days, Lulu Guinness, Bremont and more.
The final winner will be announced on the 16th of March.

To take part, go to the Instagram account of the British Embassy UAE.

More info on the British Embassy UAE Facebook and Twitter, and on the GREAT weeks website.

Qasr al Hosn festival: now open!

Beautiful atmosphere!

I know, I know… I have already written a post about the Qasr al Hosn festival, however after seeing it live I had to write another one to say: it is really amazing, and totally worth going to!!

Click to enlarge map.

There is so much going on at this festival that it is hard to decide from what to start. The place is really huge, so it needs at least three or four hours to be explored. The entry to the grounds costs only 10 AED.

And if you are new to the city and don’t have anyone to go with, this internations group is planning to go to see the Cavalia show on the 28th of February.

The festival is divided in four main areas: Desert, Oasis, Marine, and Abu Dhabi island, each with their own activities, plus the fort, the Cultural Foundation building and the tent where the Cavalia show is performed.

A lake has been created in the Marina area, and a waves machine makes it look like you are walking on the ocean side: it was one of our favourite areas.

The Marina.

A real oasis among the buildings!









Souks with local crafts and foods, story-telling corners and a really wide range of workshops make this really a unique day out. We enjoyed it so much that we are planning to go back next weekend!

Colourful souks.

You can taste traditional coffee!







We learned how to weave a basket, how to make fishing nets, how to paint a mask, and even how to cook Emirati food, just to mention a few of the activities available.
The workshop calendar is really huge: henna painting, artefact handling, horse riding, paddle making, boat making, traditional handicrafts – like sadu weaving, khoos or telli, traditional clothing and accessories making – like burqa making, scents discovery, creating traditional toys and dolls, pottery making… and if you go for the oyster shucking you can even hope to find a pearl!

Basket weaving.

Fishnet making.







Boat making.

Emirati food cookery classes.








Palm climbing!

Traditional dances.









Camel + baby camel!!

Storytelling corner.






Animal lovers can also see camels, turtles, horses, falcons, saluki dogs, goats, and a bird show, and even try their hand at camel milking!!

Most importantly, for the first time in several years, the Qasr al Hosn fort itself is open to visitors.
Qasr al Hosn dates back to the 18th Century, when it was first built in coral and sea stone, both for defence and to check on coastal trades. Starting as one single watchtower, walls, towers and residential quarters have then been added in following centuries, creating the structure we see today.

Before visiting the fort, there is a very interesting video explaining its story and the story of the people that lived in it.
Guided tours of the fort are available during the festival, starting from outside the main tower from 4:15pm, approximately every 10 minutes until 10:30pm.
Every tour takes approximately 30 minutes, and is available in both English and Arabic: the works of renovation on this beautiful structure are still under way, but thanks to amazing life-sized projections on the walls, we were able to see how it looked through the centuries. It is hard to explain it, but these 3d projections really look magical, turning time back and forth at the blink of an eye. Our guide was great, really knowledgeable and passionate about the fort, and we really enjoyed our tour.

Next to the fort, another building has great historical importance: virtually untouched since the 60s, the Council Chamber houses rooms where many historical UAE decisions were taken, including talks about the union. We were able to see a video of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan talking to other diplomats, and it was really interesting.

All around the grounds, traditional sports and dances are performed, and we also had the chance to enjoy traditional music, such as the talented rababa players.

The amphitheatre houses a range of films about the UAE and a marathon of poetry readings.
The timetable for these events is the following:
Every day, from the 21st Feb to 1st March:
4pm – Documentary (57min) – Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation.
5pm – Documentary (28min) – Abu Dhabi 1962-64
5:30pm – Animated film (7min) – Ostora.
5:40pm – Documentary (53min) – Farewell Arabia.
7:30 – 9:30 pm – Poetry performances.
10pm – Documentary (57min) – Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation.

The Cultural Foundation also houses a library, which showcases rare books and a reading area, and an exhibition and interactive area about Gahwa, traditional Emirati coffee.

Cirque du Soleil co-founder Normand Latourelle especially adapted his show Cavalia to be performed at the festival.
It is an equestrian stage show, perfect for those who love horses and acrobats: the stage also gets filled with water at some point, making for a lot of splashes and beautiful visuals.
50 highly-trained horses and over 30 crew members, including acrobats and a live band playing music throughout the show, make for a really unique show, performed here for the first time in the UAE.

See below for some snapshots from the show:

Beautiful horses!

With their trainer/performer.

In the desert.








Drinking water!

Lovely horses.

The cast taking a bow.







The Cavalia show is not included in the entry fee: the show’s tickets are going fast and are almost sold out, so it is better to hurry up if interested. (Available on Ticketmaster).

Five talks will also take place, revealing interesting facts about Qasr al Hosn, the famous visitors it hosted, and its structural changes overtime. Each talk will last one hour and will always be from 7pm to 8pm. Here is the complete schedule:
Saturday 22 Feb: Qasr al Hosn: the oldest political symbol.
Monday 24 Feb: Qasr al Hosn: guests throughout history.
Tuesday 25 Feb: Qasr al Hosn: Its current and future socio-political significance.
Wednesday 26 Feb: Qasr al Hosn: construction and development stages.
Friday 28 Feb: Qasr al Hosn: core of building Abu Dhabi.

Conservation workshops will also take place Monday 24 Feb and Wednesday 26 Feb, from 2:30 pm to 4pm.

We loved this festival and we can’t wait to go back next weekend to see all what we did not manage to see this time!!


Lebanese star Ragheb Alama in concert – 28th February

(Photo: © Alldetails)

One of the best parts of being an Expat is having the chance to experience a lot of new things: I don’t know much about Arab music, but this seems a great chance to try something new and spend a fun night out!

Ragheb Alama is a Lebanese superstar and one of the judges on the Arab Idol panel.
He sings in Arabic, and he is set to perform at the newest venue in town, the recently opened FGB Arena at Zayed Sport City on the 28th of February.

According to the internet, Alama is one of the most popular singers in the Arab world, and his upbeat hits include “Ser Hobbi“, “Ya bint El Sultan“, “Albi Aeshkha“, “Yighib“, and “Allamteeni“, as well as his debut single “Bukra Byebrom Dulabak” which launched his career back in the 1980s.

This will be the first concert in a series called ‘Arabian Sensations’, which will feature popular Arabic artists invited to perform in Abu Dhabi.

Tickets for this concert starts at 295 AED and can be bought on Ticketmaster.

Click HERE to read more about MUSIC in Abu Dhabi.

Art exhibition: Women/Creators

(photo © Etihad Modern Art Gallery)

From the 29th of January to the 25th of February, four established female artists living and working in the UAE will showcase their work at the Etihad Modern Art Gallery, in the Al Bateen area, in the exhibition called Women/Creators.

The exhibition features works from Emirati painter Dr Najat Makki, Emirati artist Khulood Al Jabri, Italian-born artist Giovanna Magugliani and French-born artist Isabelle Riou-Teisseire.

More information on the official website, the facebook page or facebook page event.

Etihad Modern Art Gallery address:
Street 4, Villa No 4/2
(opposite Al Bateen Mall)
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Opening times:
Saturday –Thursday:
10am – 1.30pm,
5pm – 10.30pm
Closed on Fridays


Mathematics of the Bats – 29th January

(photo © Sorbonne university )

An interesting lecture is going to take place at the Sorbonne university tomorrow night, 29th January.
Award-winning French mathematician Cedric Villani will talk about maths and all the places you can find it – even the ones you would not expect.
The venue is the Auditorium of the Sorbonne University (directions here), it is free and starts at 7:30.


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