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Posts Tagged ‘Arab Culture’

Al Bustan Palace ~ Muscat, Oman

February 6th, 2013 7 comments

Al Bustan Palace Hotel

In my last post I wrote about our trip to Muscat, Oman. What I didn’t mention was where we stayed—Al Bustan Palace.

We had stayed in this hotel once before, exactly nine years ago. Since then, the hotel was closed for several years for renovation and refurbishment. Now managed by the Ritz-Carlton, the hotel was sure to be classy. I looked forward to seeing the changes, as well as experiencing a bit of extravagance and amenity.

Al Bustan Palace was originally built as a venue for the GCC (the Gulf Cooperation Council) to hold their 1985 summit. More palace than hotel, Al Bustan has won its share of awards as the best hotel in the Middle East. Also, the fort-like hotel exemplifies Muscat’s architectural requirements of Arabesque patterns, arches, and domes.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat

If you visit Muscat, it’s worth staying at Al Bustan Palace—or at least coming for dinner to view the grand and stunning domed lobby, seven stories high.

Al Bustan Hotel ~ Lobby

When we stayed here before, the interior design was pretty, but its Arabian theme was overly colorful and ornate by today’s standards. Now the room design is subdued with neutral colors and understated patterns.

Al Bustan Hotel ~ Room

It’s also worth strolling the grounds—all newly updated and improved, along with the infinity pool and beach area.

Al Bustan Hotel ~ Garden

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat

The hotel is located on a private cove with a wide open beach offering snorkeling and dolphin-watching boat rides. Yes, dolphins.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat

This Omani coffee man offered me dates and Arabic coffee every day (as was his job). Each time I had coffee with him, he asked me more about myself.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat

The coffee man asked me where I was from, where my husband was from, how many children we had, etc. When he found out I lived in Dubai, he asked which was better—Dubai or Muscat. I gave a vague answer about each city being unique. He insisted I choose the best city. Finally, I told him Muscat was better because of its traditional and natural beauty. At last, he was satisfied.

The next day, I tried to pick up our conversation where we left off. Instead, he started from the beginning: where I was from and which I like better, Dubai or Muscat… I wondered, perhaps all us Western women look the same to him?

At any rate, the coffee and dates were fitting, and the hotel was lovely, a perfect anniversary getaway.

Al Bustan Palace Hotel Muscat

Question: Have you been to Al Bustan Palace?

Book Review ~ From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim

August 21st, 2012 6 comments

The one book that all residents of the UAE should read is 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 some 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.

In short, this book provides illuminating insights into the history and culture of the United Arab Emirates. The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Question: Have you read from Rags to Riches? What are your thoughts on the book?

What I’m Serving this Eid

August 17th, 2012 14 comments

Tomorrow I will begin preparing my date-filled ma’amoul. I make these pastries every Eid and only at Eid time, something I have been doing for many years. Mine are made with an all-flour dough (no semolina), which is not so different from American pie dough… aside from the rose water. I load them with high-quality dates and stamp them out with a mold.

For some Eids, I have made more than a hundred of these little babies. You can find my step-by-step recipe for date-filled ma’amoul here.

Meanwhile, last year for the first time I stepped out of my rut tradition and made nut-filled ma’amoul—which I love just as much, especially the pistachio-filled pastries (below).

Then again, the walnut-filled ma’amoul (below) are pretty swell, too. You can find my illustrated recipe for nut-filled ma’amoul here.

This year I plan to make loads of ma’amoul to put in tins and give to neighbors and the men who run the dukan (little grocery store) by my house. I will also serve them to guests who come to my home over the Eid holiday— friends and my husband’s family. But what to serve the ma’amoul with?

Arabic coffee, of course!

I’m not talking about dark Turkish coffee, but the pale coffee served in tiny handle-less cups, made from greenish coffee beans and scented with cardamom, rose water and saffron. This is the standard welcoming beverage served in Dubai and the Arabian Gulf (with some regional variations). It’s the classic Eid beverage, elegantly served in an Arabian-style thermal flask. You can find my recipe for Arabic coffee here.

In addition to nuts, fruit and fatayer, I’m going to serve something new: rose lemonade—just to have something different up my sleeve. Find the easy recipe for rose lemonade here.

I also plan to prepare and serve date truffles (below) as an Eid sweet for the first time this year. After I stuff myself with ma’amoul, I can switch to this (somewhat) healthier option. Find the date truffle recipe is here.

So far, I’ve only mentioned food served to guests. We also have a tradition for breakfast on the first morning of Eid. For me, the high point is American coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls. I prep the cinnamon rolls the night before (typically around midnight) and put them in the oven Eid morning. You can find the recipe I use for Overnight Cinnamon Rolls from Williams and Sonoma.

Yes, I admit, my Eid is very heavy on the sweets and desserts. What about the main course, you might be wondering… Well, that we eat in a restaurant!

Question: What are you preparing/serving/eating/drinking this Eid?