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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.

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.

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!!


Dress 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. Most of the data below has been taken from these pamphlets.

Emirati dress reflects the climate of the country as well as the Arab and Islamic customs.

Women’s clothing are adaptable, loose-fitting and often decorated with bright colours. The garments worn beneath the black abaya are simple and often embroidered with the craft locally known as telli, using coloured threads, mainly in gold and silver. Demand for this type of embroidery usually increases on special occasions, such as before feasts or during the wedding season.

Traditional garments for women include:
– The kandoura, or shift, finely embroidered around the sleeves and neck.
– The thawb, a long tunic which goes over the kandoura.
– The abaya, a loose-fitting outer garment which is worn outside the house.
– The sheila, a large piece of black fabric up to 2 metres long, which covers the woman’s head and part of her face in public.
– The burga’, one of the oldest traditional dress items, is a mask which was once worn by girls when they came of age, but today is mostly worn by the older generation. The interior is rubbed smooth using oyster shell or stone, and painted with indigo dye, believed to have a beautifying and whitening effect on the skin. The usual colours of the burga’ are red and gold.

Every day dress for Emirati men is a long-sleeved, ankle-lenght shirt, known as a kandoura or thawb. White is the most popular colour, but in winter, when the temperatures are cooler, other colours can be seen (for instance brown, or blue). Different colours often indicate different materials.

Men’s headgear includes:
– The takiya or gahfiya, a small, knitted cap that covers the hair and keeps the ghitra in place.
– The ghitra is a square piece of cotton, folded into a triangle and used to cover the head, usually matching the kandoura. The type of ghitra changes according to personal preference, occasion or season.
– The shal is a ghitra made of woolen cashmere and is produced in different patterns and colours.
– The shimagh is the same size as the ghitra, but mostly it is produced in white and red coloured patterns.
– The iqal is a circular rope of twisted wool, and holds the headgear in place. It is usually black or white.

Ni’al, or sandals, are the most common footgear worn in the UAE.

Other traditional garments for men include:
– The besht, a long robe worn over the kandoura, unique to the UAE and the Arabian Gulf countries. The besht denotes status and authority, and it is usually worn at religious feasts, weddings or formal public celebrations.
– A light shirt called a muqassar is often worn beneath the outer garments.
– Lastly, the tarboushah, or farroukha as it is known in the UAE, is a decorative tassel that hangs from the collar of the kandoura.

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

Qasr Al Hosn Festival – 20 Feb / 1 March

(photo © Qasr Al Hosn Festival )

Qasr Al Hosn, which is said to be the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, is a fort dating back to the 18th century, located not far from the Corniche.
Currently undergoing extensive refurbishments, this beautiful landmark will be open for visits in occasion of the Qasr Al Hosn Festival, which will run from the 20th of February to the 1st of March 2014. (But on the 21st of February is open only to women and children).

The 2014 festival will be divided in four areas related to different aspects of the history and culture of Abu Dhabi: Desert, Oasis, Marine and Abu Dhabi Island. Interactive shows, workshops, traditional performances, guided tours, children activities and celebrations will showcase Emirati heritage and traditions.
More info on the official facebook page, or the official website.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival will be the show Cavalia at Qasr Al Hosn, an equestrian stage show created by the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Normand Latourelle. (Official website; Tickets available here). The show, presented for the first time in a specially adapted version to be staged at the fort, will feature more than 40 highly trained horses, performing alongside dancers and musicians.

This year’s festival will celebrate more than 250 years of UAE history and it is the first opportunity in several years to visit this landmark and see the results of the undergoing works of conservation: visitors will be able to access the interior foyer of the fort, as well as the historic National Consultative Council Chamber, which is located next to the fort’s walls, and the Cultural Foundation building, which will host live performances, poetry recitals and a series of films produced by emerging UAE artists, as well as a space dedicated to Arabic coffee, called Gahwa: in this space visitors will learn about the local coffee rituals and history and will be able to taste or buy various types of traditional Gahwa.



Zayed Center


The Zayed Center in Al Bateen

The Zayed center is a museum dedicated to the life of HH the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

A new museum is set to be built on Saadiyat Island in the coming years, designed by one of my favourite architects, Lord Norman Foster and partners, but for the time being, this museum in Al Bateen is a great place where to go to learn more about this visionary leader.


Where it is : Al Bateen: coming from the Corniche, pass the Intercontinental Hotel, and after the Central Bank of the UAE it is the second road on the right. On Google maps it appears to be just in front of something called Belevari Marinas and next to something called the House of Poetry Abu Dhabi.
How much: FREE Entry.
Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday: From 8am to 3pm. Friday/Saturday: Closed.
Guided tours in English and Arabic are available, however you need to book at least one week in advance.
+971 2 665 9555

zayed location

Click to enlarge map.

We had been passing by this centre countless times, when going out in Al Bateen, but never managed to go and visit. Finally we succeeded during this Christmas break, and we are very glad we did!

The museum, which is in a beautiful traditional building, houses a photographic collection narrating the life of HH Sheikh Zayed, from personal family moments to his many encounters with heads of state from all around the world.



At the entrance of the museum.


The museum houses a large photographic collection.


One of my favourites among the photos exhibited.








The building has beautiful stained glass windows.


HH Sheikh Zayed with HH Queen Elizabeth II.


Photographic book with private and public photos.








In a huge room at the heart of the building are also collected personal objects, such as his hunting rifles, precious vehicles he owned, and gifts sent to him from many different countries, including a majestic stuffed lion.


The main hall of the museum.


Exhibited are also luxury cars…


… and a lion!








Car exhibition outside the museum.

Outside are also parked some of his off-road cars, and from the back of the museum there is also a spectacular view on Abu Dhabi and the water, offering many photo opportunities.

This museum is a great place where to learn more about HH Sheikh Zayed and a beautiful place for a day out. We will definitely make sure to visit again!





The beautiful water of Abu Dhabi.


Gorgeous view on the city from the Zayed Center.


Great view on the water.


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