Dubai: “I honestly think our love for Thanksgiving is just an excuse to make turkey and all its trimmings. The pleasure is not just in making the food but in having others eat and enjoy your labour of love,” Emirati foodie and football fanatic Fatima Al Shamsi is quoted as saying in Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi, a cultural and culinary book released in the capital recently.
She may well be echoing the sentiments of many others on Thanksgiving this week. Back in the UAE from New York, Fatima and her sister Alyazyah represent, among others, the present-day voices (the 2010s) in the book, which dares to tells the tale of the capital’s phenomenal growth through its people’s experiences with food over the decades.
Hanan Sayed Worrell, a long-time resident of Abu Dhabi who has written the book, begins her journey in the 1960s with a chapter titled Start to Savour, a metaphor almost for how things began to “simmer” with the discovery of oil.
She said: “The local diet at the time included dates from the oases, goat milk yogurt and fish. Imported food was mostly canned. Bully beef — minced corned beef in gelatine and a main field ration of the British Army — was served fried with onions and spices. The British Club, with its curry Friday lunches prepared by expatriate wives and the Al Ain Palace Hotel, with its two F&B outlets, provided social activities for expat families.”
As Hanan sees it, “things came to a boil” in the 1970s with an influx of foreigners into the newly formed UAE. In a delightful throwback, she shares the recollections of residents Mary and Martin Corrado about how grocery shopping in the seventies was always a surprise.
According to Mary, “planning for dinner parties was impossible. I would go armed with five different recipes and end up improvising with what I could find”.
For Martin, who is of Italian American origin, sourcing Pecorino cheese was a concern, since it was a vital ingredient for Italian dishes.
But Hanan said: “After much searching, Martin found a small shop Greenhouse in the then Tourist Club area. It was run by a Cypriot contractor who would bring Mediterranean products like feta cheese and Kalamata olives for his workforce. Martin would a buy an entire wheel of Pecorino cheese from him and store it in his refrigerator.”
The eighties (Low and Slow), nineties (Lift the Lid) and the 2000s (A New Course) are also flush with anecdotes. The tales are as rich and diverse as the foods and cultures which the capital was getting exposed to. Along with the narrations, Hanan has also collected recipes, whether it is from Fatima and Alyazyah’s kitchen where pecan pie, Mac & cheese and snickerdoodle cookies are as favoured as the Emirati eggs and tomato favourites or the Corrado’s Polpette Con Salsa Di Pomodoro or the authentically Italian meatballs in tomato sauce.
Hanan said: “Abu Dhabi is where I realised the power of food to nurture a family and create a community. The Arab world has long cherished hospitality as a central value of its culture.”
The 376-page book, which is available at different outlets, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi souvenir shop, is priced at Dh320.