From Pakistani to Portuguese, Afghani to American, Italian to Indonesian and much more, in the UAE there is no shortage of restaurants serving food from all over the world. Yet, if there is one cuisine that is under-represented, it’s Emirati food.
Abdulaziz Al Jaziri, Fatma Al Khoori, Mohammad Al Hawi and Noora Al Qassim are four young Emiratis on a mission to change that.
“Emirati food has not been publicised well. Look at Chinese, Japanese, Italian food – they’re very well-known cuisines and easy to get a hold of,” says Al Khoori. “But Emirati food is hard to find and people don’t know what it is. It’s not on the radar at the moment and we thought it was about time it was put out there.”
She explains that the four friends are very passionate about preserving their national identity and all love food, so it made sense to combine these two entities. The result is Barzh, an initiative dedicated to not only teaching people about Emirati food, but also telling them where to find it and how to get in touch with private cooks who specialise in Emirati cooking.
“Barzh is an Emirati word for a seating area or an informal majlis – it can be a living room in a house, but is also used to describe people sitting together. It’s about bringing people together in a very Emirati way – a warm, casual gathering,” Al Khoori says.
The Barzh website is divided into sections, with one of them dedicated to home-based female cooks who cater for large gatherings or weddings and are known among Emirati families in the region, but unknown outside of these circles. The website lists their contact information, the languages they speak and the dishes they specialise in, making it easy for non-locals to order from them. It also allows users to post comments and rate or recommend cooks.
“These women make delicious food and yet only the local community knows about them. So many expatriates want to try proper, home-made Emirati food, so it makes sense to put these different groups in contact,” Al Khoori says. “At the moment, this list is quite small, so we want other Emiratis to help us add to it and give the cooks the exposure they deserve.”
The site also provides a comprehensive and very attractively photographed guide to Emirati dishes – all of them cooked in the home – complete with descriptions and detailed information. It’s a sort of mini food encyclopaedia, a helpful starting point for the uninitiated.
Instead of just focusing on its own project, the Barzh team also wants to provide a directory listing all the restaurants, kitchens and cafes serving Emirati food in the region to make it as accessible as possible.
“Our mission is bigger than just the website,” says Al Jaziri. “We want to put Emirati food on the map and to make it a global cuisine. In the future, we hope that people will know what Emirati food is, consume it more and cook it at home. Whatever we do, we try to have the essence of preserving Emirati identity at the base of it.”
To this end, the group is active on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, maintains a Barzh blog and is currently planning to open an Emirati cuisine cafe, which they hope will be up and running in the next few months.
“Traditionally Emiratis eat in their homes, which is why there aren’t many Emirati restaurants, but recently things have started to change. People are looking to go out and try different things, so this is a good time to do something like this. Plus we want to educate the expatriates who are interested in learning about our food,” says Al Hawi.
For more information about Barzh, visit www.barzh.ae