Delicious differences in popular dishes, how to experience the real desert and handling the heat.
Ask Ali: On the Emirati dish Machboos
Dear Ali: I was told recently that machboos is one of the most popular Emirati dishes and that it is the UAE version of an Indian dish called pulao. What are the differences between the two, if any? SB, Canada
Dear SB: Yes, you are right. Machboos is the Emirati version of pulao, and I could easily have both dishes right now!
Although they are both cooked in the same way - sautéeing some vegetables and spices and then adding broth and rice until it is all cooked through - they don't taste quite the same.
The ratio of spices that we use in our mix is slightly different than that in the Indian version, which we feel is the more pungent dish.
Also, we use a lot of turmeric and loomi (dried limes), and the combination of those two gives it the Emirati twist.
Ours may not be as spicy as the Indian version, but we do serve a chilli sauce or green chillies on the side, and also complement the dish with fresh rocket leaves, sliced onions and a cup of plain yogurt.
Dear Ali: Where can I find a real desert in Abu Dhabi, a place with no electricity lines and no pipelines, a large area with only sand and no buildings and marks of civilisation? RR, Abu Dhabi
Dear RR: In the Western Region of Abu Dhabi there are lots of vast areas that are far away from cables, electricity, lights, pipelines and so on.
Check Liwa, Ghayathi and Hameem, which will probably seem like heaven on earth to you considering how devoid they are of any traces of technology. But you will have to go farther into the desert, away from the highway or roads, to be surrounded by nothing but dunes.
My favourite spot is by the Qasr Al Sarab resort in Hameem. It has the best examples of the large golden dunes of Arabia.
Now that the weather is getting better and such excursions become more practical, I must warn you that it does get extremely cold at night in such areas, so do go prepared with blankets and warm sweaters. Even better, I suggest you think about having a bonfire.
It's thoroughly enjoyable if you make such outings with a group of friends because you all get into a storytelling mode - which, by the way, is an old activity that Arabs practised to perfection.
Dear Ali: How hot does it get in the UAE? GF, UK
Dear GF: It gets pretty hot in our region, up to 45°C.
But it's manageable as pretty much everywhere is air-conditioned. So you would hardly experience the heat too badly unless you work under the sun, and even labourers are given a midday break from work during the summer months so they don't get hit by the sun at its peak.
Most of the real estate in our country is built with weather conditions in mind, which is why our malls offer such comprehensive attractions. You will find shops, play areas for the kids, cinemas, family entertainment, dining options and more.
Go to my portal, ask-ali.com, and register to learn more about the weather under the weather section.
If you want to praise your mother's cooking to your friends, in Emirati Arabic you would say "Tubaakh elwaldah ajeeb mashallah", which means "My mother's cooking is awesome".