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Visit to the Baklava Factory ~ Al Samadi Sweets

June 1st, 2013 23 comments

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava_

Who can resist baklava?

Not me. Nor could I resist this “Baklava Factory Tour” put on by Arva Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures and the American Women’s Association of Dubai.

We visited Al Samadi Sweets, a bakery from Lebanon which dates back to 1872. Their Dubai factory (located in Qusais) didn’t actually feel like a factory. All the individual pastries are made by hand (with a little industrial help as you shall see).

Al Samadi Sweets

These pastries supply Dubai’s hotels and restaurants. So, if you live in Dubai, you may have eaten pastries from Al Samadi.

The Baklava Room

The Baklava Room is the heart of Al Samadi factory.

In case you have yet to experience this Middle Eastern/Mediterranean pastry, baklava is a delicate pastry made from layers of filo dough, a filling of nuts, lots of clarified butter and a generous dousing of scented simple syrup. It’s a flaky, nutty, lick-your-fingers type of sweet.  

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava

The pastry has a long, complicated history. Long story, short (and some will disagree): the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is credited for creating the original baklava, handmade with its distinctive countless layers.

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava_

The Baklava at Al Samadi is baked in enormous trays. This should give you an idea of the size of the trays and the size of the operation.

Al Samadi Sweets trays

In case you’re wondering, the baklava at Al Samadi is baked with 18 layers of filo dough. This machine flattens the filo pastry dough into very thin layers, and it rolls many layers at once.

Filo Dough

Al Samadi Sweets  Filo dough machine_

When the baklava comes out of the oven, it’s drenched with scented simple syrup from this enormous watering can.

Al Samadi Sweets  Simple Syrup can_

The Ma’amoul Room

Ma’amoul is a festive little pastry stuffed with either dates or nuts and served on Easter and Eid throughout the Middle East. In the Ma’amoul Room, men were busy stuffing and shaping little pastries with dates.

Al Samadi Sweets  Ma'amoul makers

These tiny ma’amoul were formed by hand. Here they are after after baking.

Al Samadi Sweets Mini Ma'amoul

Naturally, we got to sample these pastries along the way.

Al Samadi Sweets  Ma'amoul samples_

However, usually ma’amoul is made with various wooden molds. The type of filling—either walnuts, pistachios, or dates—will determine the shape of the mold. These ma’amoul are ready to go in the oven.

Al Samadi Sweets Tray of Ma'amoul_

The ma’amoul makers at Al Samadi use the same type of hand-carved wooden molds that I use at home.

Ma'amoul Molds_

The Kunafe Room

Truth be told, my favorite room was the kunafe room. This is because Kunafe Nabulsia is my favorite of Arab sweets. I can’t resist the gooey sweet cheese between the shredded soft-yet-crispy pastry, all saturated in scented simple syrup. Here’s a photo of my own homemade Kunafe Nabulsia.

A slice of kunafe nablusia

We got to see the kunafe pastry being made in very long very thin threads. First, the batter is poured down a funnel.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough funnel_

Then the batter comes out in threads and cooked on a large hot surface.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough machine_

Then it’s gathered and folded and ready for assembly into various kunafe pastries.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough wheel_Al Samadi Sweets  Kunafe dough maker_

Al Samadi Sweets  Kunafe dough making_

There are little “bird nests” filled with pistachios and made with kunafe pastry.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe birdnests_

We watched as one of the kunafe chefs assembled kunafe with the crumbled akkawi cheese, the sweet cheese used in many Arab sweets.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe assembly_

Lebanese Breakfast

As a final touch, Salim, the factory manager, offered us a special Lebanese breakfast—something I’ve never had before. It was a slab of kunafe pastry shoved into an Arab bread and doused with simple syrup. What a way to start your day!

Al Samadi Sweets Lebanese breakfast_

Last Stop: Al Samadi Sweet Shop

Our final stop on our tour was the actual Al Samadi Sweet Shop, located on Muraqqabat Street, where all the pastries are beautifully arranged and presented.

Al Samadi Sweets shop_

Al Samadi Sweets Yum_

Bake it yourself!

Rest assured, it is possible to bake these sweets in your own home kitchen. Please check out my step-by-step recipes for some of the pastries presented here.

Recipe: Kunafe Nabulsia ~ The Queen of Arab Sweets

Recipe: Ma’amoul ~ Date-filled Eid Pastries

Recipe: Nut-filled Ma’amoul ~ Easier than you think

Take a Tour

If you live in Dubai or are visiting, consider taking your own food tour with Frying Pan Adventures. I can’t say enough good things about Arva’s “food walks” featuring foods from the Middle East, North Africa and India. She is planning evening iftar tours in Dubai during the month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, read about my last tour with Frying Pan Adventures: Dubai Food Tour ~ North African Food Safari!

Questions: What is your favorite Arab Pastry? Have you taken a Frying Pan Tour?

Sheikh Zayed Mosque ~ Floral & Exquisite

April 18th, 2013 13 comments

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I finally made it to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque—the most exquisite mosque I’ve ever visited. I had not expected to be dazzled, but I was.

What impressed me first was the striking white of the mosque and its grand scale. Next, it was the gorgeous floral motifs and overwhelmingly feminine style. Meanwhile, the various architectural accents—domes, columns and archways—were amazing, too.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The mosque, which opened in 2007 in Abu Dhabi, was the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the founding father and first ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The tomb of Sheikh Zayed is located nearby the mosque.

The Design

The mosque is one of the largest in the world and accommodates over 40,000 worshippers. Stunning white with gold accents, the mosque is surrounding by reflective pools and features 1000 columns and 82 domes.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

A fusion of Arab, Moorish, and Mughal elements, the design of the mosque was directly influenced by mosques in Morocco and Pakistan, as well as the Taj Mahal in India. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

More than 3,000 people took part in the building of the mosque, which included artisans and materials from many countries, including Italy, Morocco, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, Greece, UK, Germany, New Zealand, and the UAE.

The archways are quintessentially Moorish.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Courtyard

The courtyard is massive and the floral design in the marble floor is not only spectacular, but also the largest example of a marble mosaic in the world.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The four minarets, placed in the four corners of the courtyard, are classically Arab in design.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Garden Foyer

Before entering the prayer area, one passes through the garden foyer, which echoes the flower motifs of the courtyard.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Main Prayer Hall

The Main Prayer Hall, which can accommodate 7,000 worshippers, is the heart of the mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Qibla Wall (direction wall) features the 99 names of God written in Kufic calligraphy and designed by an Emirati calligrapher.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abi Dhabi

The prayer niche is made of gold leaf. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Carpet

Inside the hall is the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. Made of wool, the carpet is Iranian designed and made. It was crafted by 1,200 women and took two years to complete. The lines marked in the carpet tell the worshippers where to line up.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Women’s Prayer Hall

Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful women’s prayer area I’ve ever seen. Built to accommodate 1,500 women, the area is spacious and bright.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The ceiling, which was designed in Morocco, is made to match the carpet, which was designed in Malaysia. The two patterns mirror each other.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhbai

The mosque also houses a library with classic books on Islamic subjects relating to science, calligraphy, art, and civilization. The collection features a broad range of languages and includes rare and historic publications. Click here to find out more about the Sheikh Zayed Mosque Library.

Visiting the mosque

Opening hours and tour times vary slightly throughout the year. Currently, the mosque is open to visitors daily from 9:00am to 10:00pm and Fridays from 4:30pm to 10pm. I advise morning or evening visits during the hot months.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I highly recommend the guided tours. Our tour guide Khadija was very knowledgeable and well-spoken. Free tours are currently given daily at 10:00am, 11:00am and 5:00pm. Additional tours on Saturday are 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Friday tours are 5:00pm and 7:00pm. See website for up-to-date visiting hours and tour schedule.

What to wear

Of course, women must cover their hair. The mosque offers unique abayas for female visitors. The abaya comes with an attached hood with a tie. You can select either a long abaya (floor length) or short (shin-length), depending on what you are wearing underneath.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Alternatively, you can wear your own modest clothing: a loose-fitting tunic over a long skirt or wide-leg trousers (what I wore).

Sheikh Zayed Mosque - What to wear

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Men must be modest, too—long trousers and shirt with sleeves. See the website sidebar for more information on mosque manners.

Did you know?

In Abu Dhabi, there is only one muatheen—that is, the man who calls the worshipers to prayer five times per day.  Yes, just one. His athan (call to prayer) is not recorded, but is projected live from all mosques in Abu Dhabi.

Question: Have you been to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque? What were your impressions?

Happy New Year from Dubai!

January 1st, 2013 4 comments

Happy New Year to all my friends, family and blog followers.

Wishing you a fabulous new year filled with peace, joy, inspiration, health and laughter.