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Desert Chill – ice cream vans in Abu Dhabi.

The van that came to meet us!

There is something really joyous in the sound of the ice cream trucks coming to your neighbourhood during the hot summer months.
Imagine my excitement when I realised that they have ice cream trucks in Abu Dhabi too, thanks to a company called Desert Chill (also on Facebook).

They are slightly different from the ice cream vans in the UK, as they don’t serve soft cones but they sell Algida ice creams (which is known as Wall’s in the UK). Think cornetto, magnum and so on. Yum.

The ice creams available.

It took me a little while to work out how it all goes down, but they answered all my questions with incredible patience!

So, basically: the Desert Chill company has a fleet of vans roaming around Abu Dhabi. If we fancy an ice cream, we email/call them and say: “Can one of your vans come to (example: my street) at (11am?) on (Saturday?). This is my name and phone number.”

And they will tell you: “YES, we will have a van coming to see you at your preferred time and place!”

Now, this is going to cost an arm and a leg, right? Having a van coming to your house, just because you fancy an ice cream!?
Well, this is the best part: it does not. If you call the van and then just want to buy one single ice cream, that’s fine. There is no minimum spending limit, and you literally just get what you want and then bid goodbye!
We bought a cornetto and a twister (19 AED in total) and we were not charged a penny more!

The reason for this is that they have a lot of vans going around the city anyway, so to make a slight detour it does not change their routine much, hence they don’t have to charge you extra and you don’t have to go around looking for them! Is this not great?

Of course, if you have a party and you want the van to hang around for a while, then you have to spend at least 150 AED.

They have a general schedule with areas/routes (see image below) and some kind-of fixed appointments (such as on Thursdays lunch time next to the TwoFour54 building) but mostly they are happy to come to you if you call them.

desert chill

We tried to call a van this morning, and the driver was bang on time, very polite and friendly and we left happy and with a yummy ice cream in our hand!
With the hot months coming, this definitely won’t be the last time we call them in!

ice cream

Le Meridien Village Festival – 28th of March

(Photo: © Le Meridien Hotel)

Le Méridien hotel in Abu Dhabi is organising a ‘Village festival’ on the 28th of March, starting at 1pm. The theme of the festival is Africa: its diverse culture, traditions and cuisine. (Directions here).

For those who are new to the city and might not know many people as yet, this Internations group is planning on going, and new faces are always welcome.

African delicacies will be on sale at the many food stalls, with particular focus on Ethiopian, Moroccan and South African cuisine: couscous and bastilla, Injera bread, Azifa, Alecha, Malva pudding, as well as a barbecue and a specially brewed coffee.

There will be live music, by the band Dubai Drums, the in-house South African band Trio del Sol, and DJ Badu (also on facebook).
Various activities will include children’s face painting and a bouncy castle, and the chance for all to get a makeover thanks to expert hairstylists ready to create beautiful braids.
There will also be a raffle, and the winning ticket will win two return flights to Nairobi, in Kenya.

The entrance is FREE for women and children, and AED 50 for men, inclusive of one drink.

More info calling 02 644 6666, on the hotel’s Facebook page, or on the website of Le Méridien Abu Dhabi.

FWNAB: Durian


The durian: it looks like a hedgehog!

W knew of a tropical fruit whose smell was so bad that in some hotels they would put a sign in the lobby, forbidding people from eating it in the room. He could not remember, however, which fruit was it.

First we thought it might be the dragon fruit, but once trying it we realised it was delicious, and not smelly at all! After a bit of research, we found it: it is the durian!

Known as the king of tropical fruit (whilst the queen is the mangosteen), this fruit is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, but is mainly exported by Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and you can easily find it in the supermarkets of Abu Dhabi.

Known for its large size, strong scent, and striking thorn-covered husk, it can grow as large as 30 centimetres long and 15 centimetres in diameter, and it typically weighs one to three kilograms. Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species.

It is apparently a cousin of the hibiscus and the okra, and it is rich in minerals like manganese, copper, iron and magnesium, it is free from saturated fats, rich in dietary fiber, a good source of antioxidant vitamin C, and an excellent source of health B-complex groups of vitamins (a rare feature among fruits). (source)


Apparently we opened it all wrong…

Wikipedia confirms that its strong odour had this fruit banned from certain hotels and even public transport.
It even says that ‘the smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine and raw sewage.’

Now, this is a bit rough.
To be completely honest, we were expecting something in between zombie’s breath and a pile of rubbish abandoned in the sun, but you know what? It was not so bad.
Yes, it stinks. But not more than some French cheeses that you can easily buy at London’s Borough Market (and I am talking from experience).

The taste reminded me of almonds and apples, and maybe a bit of cheese, but online it has also been described as similar to custard, cream-cheese, onion-sauce and sherry-wine. (source)
It is quite a delicate flavour in any case, and apparently a lot of people brave the smell to be able to taste this tropical delicacy.

Useful links for those who would like to know more include this step-by-step guide (with photos) on how to eat a durian (which shows how we completely did it wrong) and several tasty recipes, such as durian tiramisu, ice cream, crepes, egg tarts, yoghurt cake, cream and custard, and all sort of sweet and savoury dishes inspired by Thai, Filipino and Vietnamese cuisine.

I will have to try and buy another one, to see if this time the smell lives up to the hype, and maybe try one of these inviting recipes!


FWNAB: Granadilla

Packed granadillas.

The granadilla is the fruit of a plant called Passiflora Ligularis and it is a close relative of the passion fruit.

It is native to the Andes mountains between Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia, but it grows as far South as Argentina and as far North as Mexico. It is also cultivated in Africa, Australia and Papua New Guinea.

How did it find its way to our local supermarket is one of the wonders of the modern world!

This was a surprising fruit to try: as softness goes, just by its appearance we thought it would be like an apple, or an orange at the most, but actually the hard outer shell cracks incredibly easily, to reveal a gooey middle that would be perfect as zombie brain lookalike for the upcoming Halloween festivities.


The seeds, which are hard and black, are surrounded by a gelatinous transparent pulp, which is the edible part of the fruit and contains vitamins A, C, and K, phosphorus, iron, and calcium. (source)

I must be honest: I did not eat much of it, as I was not really sure about the texture, but it tasted very delicate, sweet and aromatic, and I think it would be perfect to flavour ice creams or jelly.

I found a few recipes using it for a yummy sorbet, a fridge tart, lovely curd tarts, a mousse, another mousse, a cake, a sponge cake, yet another cake, or cream cheese icing.
Looks like it’s a real favourite for dessert-lovers, so I must try one of these soon!


FWNAB: Carambola (or Star Fruit)

Such a lovely shape!

The Carambola – also known as ‘star fruit’ because of its almost perfect cross-section shape – is native to South East Asia, and popular all over the Asian continent.

There are two slightly different varieties of this fruit: a sweet one and a sour one.
Indian Carambola is generally a little bit more sour, and bright yellow when ripe.
The sweeter Carambola comes mostly from China and is normally bright green even when ripe. (Source)
I guess the one we bought was from the second group! (At least I hope so!)

This fruit is completely edible, skin included, but it is advised to trim the ribs to remove the darker green edge, which can be quite bitter.
This fruit has many health benefits as it contains Potassium, antioxidants, fibers, and Vitamin C. Despite being a tropical fruit, it is also very low in calories.
People with kidney problems, however, or people taking certain medicines, should avoid eating it, as it contains Oxalic acid, which could be harmful in particular situations. (Source)

The specimens we found at our local supermarket.

Some people seem to think that the qualities of this fruit are mostly decorative, because it does not taste of much.
The one we ate had a very delicate flavour indeed, somehow similar to apples, however the overall taste was lovely.
Thanks to its fresh notes, this fruit is also used in the preparation of many perfumes and beauty products.

There are really plenty of recipes featuring this versatile fruit, and not only for its pretty shape: Carambola Chicken Salad, Carambola sauce for Salmon, Scallops and Steak, an Upside down cake, Crepes, Bread, a Mango-Orange-Star Fruit Sauce, a Thai Rose Petal Salad, a Crab salad, a Shrimp salad, a Caprese, obviously Jam but also chutney, and several Tropical Smoothies.

I can’t wait to prepare my own lovely meal with the help of this beautiful fruit!


FWNAB: Kiwano

I know it is about to attack me!

The Kiwano, (scientific name: Cucumis Metuliferus) is part of the melon and cucumber family, and let’s admit it: it looks pretty amazing! It was even featured on one episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine as an alien “Golana melon”! (source)

Thanks to its spikes, it is also known as ‘horned melon’, ‘blowfish fruit’, ‘hedged gourd’, and half a dozen other names.

Despite being now cultivated in several parts of the world, from Australia to South America, this interesting looking fruit is originally native of Africa: in the Kalahari desert, during the dry season, the Kiwano is actually the only available source of water. (source: Wikipedia).

With good levels of vitamin C, iron, potassium and antioxidants, plus beta-carotene and vitamin A, this fruit is very healthy, helping, amongst other benefits, to give a boost to the immune system. (source)

Kiwano still in one piece.

According to the internet, it should taste like a cucumber, however the one I tried tasted more like a lemon, with a tangy, fresh and citrusy aftertaste.  On other websites, I found people comparing it to kiwis and even bananas, so I guess it all depends from how much you let it ripen before devouring it.

Aside from its decorative qualities, this fruit well adapts to both sweet and savoury recipes, such as the ones I found: tropical sorbet, salsa and frozen mousse, vinaigrette, gazpacho, and flounder with kiwano salsa.


FWNAB: Mangosteen

Opening a Mangosteen.

The Mangosteen is a tropical fruit native of Indonesia. It now grows all around South East Asia and even South America. According to Wikipedia, its nutritional value does not amount to much, but the lovely flavour more than makes up for it.

I had never seen this fruit before, as apparently is not easily available in Europe.

Its ‘rarity’ on the Western markets fueled a series of folkloric tales about it, my favourite being the one about Queen Victoria offering a large sum of money to anyone who could bring her this fruit. Of course this most probably never happened, but certainly goes to demonstrate how this tropical delicacy always captured the imagination of those who ate it, to the point that this fruit is still known by many as ‘the queen of tropical fruits’.
(Source: this very interesting website).

Packaged mangosteen.

Once opened, the Mangosteen somehow reminded me of a clementine, with its half moon shaped slices, even though the white parts are apparently more similar to giant pomegranate seeds than citrus segments. Some of these sections contain seeds that should not be eaten, so it is always a good idea to read about how to properly clean this fruit.

Its taste is very light and sweet, almost ‘buttery’, and I can easily imagine how it would adapt to a number of recipes, both sweet and savoury.
So far, I found four desserts ideas, a Thai cake, ice lollies, pannacotta, and even a beef and mangosteen soup.

Now that I know how lucky we are to have easy access to this gorgeous fruit, I will make sure to use it in my recipes as much as possible!


FWNAB: Custard Apples

Opening a custard apple: not what I expected!

After a quick search on Wikipedia, I realised that the term “custard apple” can apply to at least six different fruits. So, what exactly did we buy?

Well, I hope not to be mistaken, as I could not find any photos looking quite like the specimen I have, but I think this otherworldly-looking fruit is known as Annona Squamosa, a name that does not do much to dispel its aura of alien predator spawn, just landed on the planet to enslave us all with its deliciousness.

Despite being called custard apples, or sugar apples, these fruits are not really related to apples. Yes, they grow on trees and have seeds, but the similarities pretty much end there.
First of all, unlike apples, they are very soft and almost gooey: you can open them with ease, no need for knifes or anything else.
Second, they taste definitely very tropical, similar to guava, very sweet and sugary.

Custard apples in their container.

This fruit is widely cultivated all over the world, especially in hot and dry climates, and the ones we bought were from India.
As many tropical fruits, custard apples are high in calories and excellent sources of many vitamins (especially vitamin C), potassium, fibers and manganese.

This Australian website has plenty of serving suggestions and information about it, and I also found recipes to make tons of different desserts, such as spiced teacakes, tropical trifle, ice cream, milkshakes and cream.


FWNAB: Pomelo

Pomelo in his net and decorative leaf.

The Pomelo is a citrus fruit native of South East Asia. According to its label, the one that we bought here in our local supermarket was cultivated in China.
Apparently it is the largest citrus fruit in the world, with a diameter of 15–25 cm (5.9–9.8 inches). (Source: Wikipedia).


I had no idea about it when I bought it, and I was expecting a melon-like fruit: imagine my surprise upon slicing it!
It tastes a bit like grapefruit, tangy but pleasant.

It was pretty easy to open, but apparently there is a precise technique to follow to get it out of its skin perfectly intact. Something that everyone seem to agree upon is that the pit and white membrane must be completely removed before eating.

This fruit is very rich in Vitamin C, Potassium and fiber. It is cultivated all over the world, and can be eaten raw, in salads or as part of many different desserts.

Online there are plenty of recipes featuring this versatile fruit, catering for all tastes. From an exotic fruit salad to a savoury salad, from smoothies to marmalade and citrus bars, it is even used to complement scallops and chicken, so I look forward to invent my own recipe soon!


FWNAB: Pitaya (or Dragon Fruit)


Looks almost like a flower!

It is impossible not to be drawn towards this beautiful fruit. With its striking colours and lovely shape, it looks almost like a fairy-tale plant and it is really an eye-catcher in the fruit section of any supermarket here!

Colloquially known as ‘Dragon Fruit’, the Pitaya is the fruit of a cactus and exists in three different varieties: the one we tried, the most common, is called Pitaya blanca or White-fleshed Pitaya (source: Wikipedia).


Pitaya opened.

Despite looking a bit like a pineapple, this fruit, once opened, is soft and easy to eat with just a simple spoon.

To me its taste reminded a bit of figs (which I love), but the general opinion is that it tastes sweet with a nutty taste, and many liken it to kiwis or lychees.

The Pitaya is not only delicious but apparently it is also very healthy.
Full of several nutrients, it is also very low in calories despite having a very rich and sweet taste. More in depth nutritional information can be found on this dedicated website.

grape-dragon fruit-strawberries fruit salad

A perfect fit!

This fruit is easy to add to many different recipes, mostly for sweet dishes, but I don’t see why it could not be used for a sweet and sour sauce or to make chutney! I will have to try!

So far I just added it to an impromptu fruit salad, together with grapes and strawberries and it just tasted great, but BBC Food has more ideas about yummy desserts where to use it.
I am also planning on trying this granita recipe and smoothie recipe, and of course also this muffins recipe!

The possibilities to turn this gorgeous fruit into awesome treats seem endless, and I can wait to try more of them.


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