Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 March 2018

A taste of Emirati cuisine at Abu Dhabi Food Festival

This weekend, the capital got a taste of its first ever Emirati Kitchen.

Chef Khulood Atiq leads a cooking class at the Emirati Kitchen, part of the Abu Dhabi Food Festival at the Corniche. Christopher Pike / The National
Chef Khulood Atiq leads a cooking class at the Emirati Kitchen, part of the Abu Dhabi Food Festival at the Corniche. Christopher Pike / The National

The region’s first Emirati Kitchen served up some tasty local treats at the Abu Dhabi Food Festival on the Corniche over the weekend.

Festivalgoers had plenty of dishes to choose from to get a taste of authentic local ­cuisine and ­culture.

The country’s first female Emirati celebrity chef Khulood Atiq was one of the main attractions at the event.

“When I started in the first year with Gourmet Abu Dhabi, nobody knew about Emirati cuisine,” she says. “But it’s much better than before. People are starting to understand now.”

That is, in large part, thanks to her. Atiq has spent the past year behind the scenes, teaching chefs in the capital’s four- and five-star hotels how to make ­authentic Emirati food.

She leads the chefs through several sessions that focus on Emirati breads, Ramadan dishes, spices, rice dishes and desserts. Her effort is the key reason we are seeing more Emirati dishes on restaurant menus and at buffet spreads across the city. But she is not doing it for publicity or ­recognition.

“I’m an Emirati lady,” says Atiq. “I could work in an office and, at the end of the day, come back to my family. But I have a message when I make Emirati cuisine. As a chef, I have a responsibility to send this message – to teach the people how to cook Emirati ­cuisine.”

That passion was clearly on display over the weekend, as she taught five hands-on cookery classes and hosted two one-hour cookery demonstrations on the chef’s stage.

Emirati chef Ali Ebdowa from Mezlai at Emirates Palace was also on hand to cook up signature dishes.

Other local chefs who specialise in Emirati cuisine also ­hosted cookery classes and demonstrations throughout the weekend.

Those who weren’t lucky enough to score a seat at one of the classes still had plenty of opportunity to taste Emirati food. Al Fanar, Seven Spices and Meylas were just a few of the restaurants feeding the masses at the ­festival.

Dishes included camel- ­burger sliders, harees, ­balaleet (a breakfast dish of sweet ­vermicelli and eggs – see Atiq’s ­recipe), khabees (a sweet dish made with roasted flour, sugar and spices) and lgeimat (sweet, fried balls of dough).

Guests also learnt practical tips at the festival such as how to make and store bezar (Emirati spice mix); the history of – and how to prepare – harees, a ground wheat and meat dish served at Emirati weddings and special occasions; and Arabic coffee etiquette.

Coffee is served starting with people on the right side of the sitting room (the majlis). After drinking the coffee, guests shake their cups to signal they’ve had enough. And guests should hold their cups in their hands until the host serving the coffee comes to take the cup away.

Shaikha Al Kaabi, the woman behind Meylas, the country’s first Emirati food truck, says this kind of event is just what the capital needs.

“Most people who live here haven’t tried Emirati food,” Al ­Kaabi says: “I asked someone who had been living here for 12 years to name one Emirati dish and she said hummus. Hummus is not Emirati.

“It’s important to promote our food. I believe that it has potential and I’m sure one day it will go international. It’s a really good opportunity for everyone to come and try Emirati food in one space. I’m really proud.”

• The Abu Dhabi Food Festival continues with the start of Gourmet Abu Dhabi on Wednesday and the Street Feast in Al Ain this weekend. The final Street Feast will be held at the Corniche from February 19 to 21. For a complete schedule of events, visit www.abudhabifoodfest.ae

• Check out our exclusive video coverage of the event at www.thenational.ae/arts-lifestyle