Dear Ali: What is Arabic coffee and how is it different from other coffees? FA, Western Region
Dear FA: The way in which Arabic coffee is made is different from other coffees around the world. Sri Lankan coffee beans are the most used type of beans in the UAE and other Gulf countries, and cardamom and sometimes other spices are added. The coffee is boiled, not filtered or percolated, so all you need is a copper pot. People normally splurge on good-quality coffee flasks, in which the boiled coffee is poured for serving. We call them dallahs.
When someone invites you for coffee it could mean going to Starbucks for a latte, to a shisha cafe or to a traditional coffee shop. The practice is similar to being invited to a pub in the West, and is usually kept between men. (Many of today's women are shifting from Arabic coffee to "karak", or tea.) There are many western types of coffee bars where people get their caffeine fix and just hang out, as they would do in the West.
Here are a few pointers if you're having Arabic coffee (gahwa) at a majlis or at an Emirati's house:
- To indicate that you're finished with your coffee, slightly shake the cup from side to side. If you just give your cup back to the server, it means: "Pour me more".
- The server will hand you coffee with his right hand, and you should accept it with your right hand.
- Dates make a great accompaniment to coffee.
- Sometimes you may be given a glass of water with your coffee. That's for when you're done, and want to clear your palate.
- Unless you specify which type of coffee you want, you will be given Arabic coffee.
And before I forget, you know what makes a good souvenir? A dallah. You can get some with lovely intricate designs, both for use and as an ornament, from the souqs and the superstores. Shop around for one you like.
Dear Ali: I am looking for furniture for my apartment. I want to get the low cushion couches that we Americans think of as traditionally Arab, but I have been unable to find a place to buy them. Do you have any ideas where I should look for them in Abu Dhabi? SG, Abu Dhabi
Dear SG: I find it endearing that an American (or any non-Arab) wants to invest in some Arabic furniture. These typical majlis sets - as we call these mattresses with matching cushions and armrests - make for an interesting place to gather friends, and you will find that the setting will serve as a good conversation starter, and therefore will break the ice.
You will find majlis sets mainly in rural-area furniture shops and in traditional markets. In Abu Dhabi I would suggest you pay a visit to the Meena Market. When driving towards the main gate of the port, you will find what is known as the carpet market on your right. There, you will see plenty of shops selling majlis sets. You can even choose a fabric and the size of the cushions and get the set done for you within a few days.
If you bargain well, you should spend about Dh350 for a simple two-metre sofa with three cushions and two armrests.
And, yes, it's a place where men will wave at you to beckon you to their store while you're behind the wheel of your car. But in the end they will feel happy if you visit any shop because they all represent one tribe. OK, just kidding, but be sure to wave back.
Arabic: Kam aakher se'er?
English: What's your last price?
This phrase is common when bargaining with a salesman. It is typical souq jargon and is used when you don't want to waste time bargaining. You jump to asking "Kam aakher?", or "Kam aakher se'er?", which means "What's your last price?", as you indicate you are about to leave the store.