'I also wanted to give something back to a city that has been home for 25 years, and show a different face of Abu Dhabi, one the world doesn’t often see,' says author Hanan Sayed Worrell
Why 'Table Tales’ is just as much an anecdotal history of Abu Dhabi as it is a cookbook
In 1994, soon after Hanan Sayed Worrell had moved from New York to Abu Dhabi with her husband and their two young children, she decided to throw a dinner party. There was plenty of laughter and the evening seemed to be going well until the guests sat down to eat, cut into the veal, and discovered that it was raw. “The gas had run out,” says Worrell. “The oven was on but nothing was cooking. It was so embarrassing.” She pauses. “Those people are some of my closest friends now.”
This is a story most of us, no doubt, can relate to. But it illustrates something else, too. Hospitality is not just about the food we put on the table. It is about generosity, warmth and the bonds formed when you open your door and welcome others into your home.
Food and friendship – these are the things that inspired Worrell, who still lives in Abu Dhabi more than 25 years on, to write Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi. It is ostensibly a cookbook, featuring recipes from more than 40 people of all nationalities who still live in the capital. “I think this is the only place where there isn’t really a dominant culture,” says Worrell.
And so, as you flick through the pages of Table Tales, you will discover a rich and exciting array of dishes from around the world, including India, Lebanon, Japan, Spain and, of course, the UAE. Scallop ceviche with mango; Brussels sprouts with mint yoghurt sauce; pecan pie; marbled cheesecake brownies – what other cookbook would include such a diverse range of recipes?
Table Tales, which took Worrell more than two years to compile, is more than just a cookbook, though. It is a celebration of the people behind these recipes as well as the homes in which they entertain their friends. Some of them put roots down in Abu Dhabi many decades ago; others have only recently arrived. But all of them – or rather, all of us – are a part of the fabric of this ever-changing community. As Worrell, who grew up in Kuwait, writes in the introduction, “Cooking can be a language, a form of narrative that marks our culture. It allows us to weave elaborate culinary stories with which to shape and consolidate our social worlds.”
The book is split up into decades. It begins with recipes provided by people who arrived in the 1960s and goes right through to the present day. As such, Table Tales is also an anecdotal history of Abu Dhabi. “The rapid sense of change really comes through,” says Worrell. “For those who have been here a long time, street names and neighbourhoods have changed. A lot of people commented on that with a sense of nostalgia.”
Equally, this pace of change is what makes Abu Dhabi so exhilarating. Table Tales is full of young people whose turn it is to make their own impression in the city. Not just people from abroad, but Emiratis as well. “There is a new generation of Emiratis, who are in their thirties and are taking ownership of their cuisine and their culture,” says Worrell.
Above all else, though, Worrell, who is the senior representative for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, hopes Table Tales will help to change perceptions of Abu Dhabi. “Highways and glittering towers: that’s not all Abu Dhabi has to offer,” she says. “I wanted to show another side.”
The side of Abu Dhabi we discover in Table Tales is as colourful a patchwork of life as you could hope for. “We don’t know where the merry-go-round of life will deliver us or if home is a real place,” Worrell writes in the introduction. “So, I began dreaming of a book, with its weight and its solidness, that could capture a moment in time. A book that would say, ‘We were here, and this is what we ate, and this is who we became.’
“I also wanted to give something back to a city that has been home for 25 years, and show a different face of Abu Dhabi, one the world doesn’t often see.”
Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi is out on October 23, published by Rizzoli. An open-invitation launch will take place on October 23 at Warehouse 421, Abu Dhabi. Visit www.tabletales.me