Archive for the ‘Favorites’ Category

Favorite Things about the United Arab Emirates

June 18th, 2011 7 comments

A few of my favorite things about the United Arab Emirates:

Favorite Book from the UAE

Whenever a fellow expat complains to me about the UAE, I say to them, “There’s a book you should read.”

I tell them about From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim. The subtitle is A Story of Abu Dhabi but because Abu Dhabi is the capital, the book reads like the story of the UAE.

First published in 1995, the book is part history and part memoir. Al-Fahim recounts his childhood, the hardships his family endured and his experiences in the UAE from the 1950s onward. This is all woven with the history of the UAE and its dramatic transformation from a tribal society to a modern nation.

The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about life in the UAE before the discovery of oil. Al-Fahim explains that as a child, the kandura had no pockets because they had nothing to put in them. He recounts traveling by camel from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi and describes the treacherous job of pearl diving. He gives insights into why Sheikh Zayed is so revered by his people. Interestingly, Al-Fahim discusses how the British exploited the UAE and why he has forgiven them.

The book was ghostwritten by Susan Macaulay. She visited my book club about six years ago and told us how she conducted a series of interviews with Mr. Al-Fahim, recorded his words and turned them into a cohesive story.

The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Favorite Food from the UAE

Dates! I didn’t appreciate them until I moved to Dubai. Now we eat them almost every day; we serve them to guests and give them as gifts when we travel. Dates are abundant in the UAE and are part of the traditional diet.

When an Emirati friend gives me a big box of dates—as they sometimes do, as many Emiratis have family date farms—I save them to make ma’amoul, date-filled pastries for Eid. Recently, on the day of the Royal Wedding, I made Date Scones.

The time of the year when dates are most important is Ramadan. For thirty days we break our fast by eating dates. Many people claim that dates have extraordinary nutritional value. I don’t know about that, but I like to think it’s true since I eat dates like candy.

Favorite Feature of Emirati Culture

To anyone who says “Emirati culture is dying,” I direct them to the UAE national dress, worn by virtually all Emirati nationals. To me, it’s evidence of strong national pride and no desire whatsoever to assimilate to the dress of the expats filling their country.

And why should they when they have a superb local dress of their own?

The women wear the abaya, a light and flowing cloak—always black, but often with a colorful or sparkly trim—loose-fitting, worn over their clothing, sometimes partially open, sometimes not. This is typically topped with the shayla, a long black scarf. The ways to wrap and pin it are endless and depend upon the personal style and modesty of the woman. Several ways to wear the shayla are here and here, and how to create those amazing head bumps.

The men wear the kandura (dishdash in other dialects)—usually white but sometimes beige, sand or even dark blue. The head cloth is called a gutra, and the black cord to secure it, an agal. The men also have choices on how to wear their gutra, depending on season and preference.

When I’m in the mall, and a group of Emirati women glides past me, their heels clicking, abayas fluttering, heads wrapped artistically in the shayla—honestly, it’s hard not to stare; they look so striking. The same can be said of the men in their luminous white kanduras and carefully folded gutra.

Tell me your favorite thing about the UAE.

Friday Favorites: Guest Blogger Amanda Mouttaki Shares her Zeal for Morocco!

June 17th, 2011 11 comments

Amanda Mouttaki is owner of the blog MarocMama where she discusses Moroccan cooking, culture, and global food topics. It’s my hands-down favorite Arabic food blog for her stories and cultural discussions. Today Amanda shares some of her favorites from Morocco.

Amanda’s Favorite Book:

Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir

Seven years ago through a very strange twist of fate, destiny or divine intervention I met my Moroccan husband. Recently I wrote about how I found my way to Morocco. I owe a whole lot of credit to Moroccan author Malika Oufkir. Her book Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail was my first encounter with Morocco and to this day, it remains my favorite book about the country. If you’ve read it you might find this statement odd, but to a history nerd like me it was utterly intriguing. If you have never read this book, I’ll warn you, it’s not the romanticized version of Morocco. It’s the down and dirty version. Every country has its secrets and Malikas’ book shows the unsavory side of Morocco’s past. That being said, it is the story of a family and the story of many Moroccan families who have never spoken up about the injustices that occurred during the reign of Hassan II. I was drawn in within a few pages and could not put it down.    


Amanda’s Favorite Dish:

Moroccan Stuffed & Spiced Chicken

Aside from my husband, my next Moroccan love is the food. My very favorite dish is a whole roasted, spiced chicken stuffed with vermicelli noodles. It is so good.  The first time I ate this was at a small engagement party for my husband and me. I really wish I had a recipe to share with you but this dish is a specialty of my sister-in-law, and I’ve never been able to master it.  If you follow my blog I will be posting something similar soon. I don’t think I’ll ever get it exactly right, and it’s one of those recipes I’m not sure I want to replicate as it might take away from my enjoyment when I do get to eat it.  

Amanda’s Third Favorite…

Once you’ve got the man and the food, what’s left to love? Why the clothing, of course! The traditional Moroccan garments for women are caftans and takchitas. I’ve got half a dozen hanging in my closet. I should point out a caftan in Morocco is a single garment, that can be either long or short sleeved, though sometimes heavier winter caftans have two layers. A takchita is a more elaborate dress, almost always double layered with a belt around the waist. I really can’t have too many of these even though I rarely have a function fancy enough to wear one. I love the newer styles that are cut wider in the front to reveal a gorgeous under-layer. In Morocco, these dresses can be bought off the rack, custom made, or rented for special occasions, making them accessible to almost everyone. 

What is your favorite thing about Morocco?