ABU DHABI // After 11 days of Emirati culture and heritage within the walls of the capital’s majestic palace-fort, it was last night time to close the gates to the Qasr Al Hosn Festival for this year.
But none of the volunteers, young and old, were yesterday resting on their well-earned laurels. They guided Emiratis, residents and tourists around the displays to learn and enjoy.
Emirati executive chief Musabbeh Al Kaabi led an enthusiastic group of students in a traditional cooking class, surrounded by the sweet, buttery smell of caramelised ghee.
The class was learning to make sago pudding, slowing mixing the gelatinous tapioca-like pearls with rosewater, saffron and cardamom as a curious audience looked on.
“Slowly, slowly,” Mr Al Kaabi advised the students as they stirred their wooden spoons inside their pots. “Don’t be in a hurry, guys. It will happen, be patient.”
He has been promoting his country’s national cuisine even since he became a professional chef 17 years ago. Since then, more Emiratis have pursued a career in the culinary arts, but their numbers “you can count on your fingers”, Mr Al Kaabi said.
The traditional Emirati cooking classes have become increasingly popular at the festival since Mr Al Kaabi came on as a consultant in 2014. Visitors could sign up for one of four classes each night.
“It’s been fully booked,” said Mr Al Kaabi, noting that most of the students are Europeans. “This is our heritage. We teach the people not only how to cook, we also tell them the history behind the dish.”
Just around the corner from the cooking workshop, smoke rose from charcoal burners carrying the musky aroma of dukhoun and oud as volunteer Meera Al Zaabi explained to visitors the significance of these fragrances.
“For us ladies, we put it on our clothes, on our hair, we put it in the room and that’s why it’s really important, because you know it refreshes the air,” said Ms Al Zaabi.
“Our ancestors used it for a long time and we still use it until today. It’s important when you greet your guests, to give them dukhoun. It’s polite.
“It’s very unique, it’s special, it resembles my culture and when I smell it, I feel like the perfume or the incense is different. It shows me, it gives me the image of Emiratis.”
Ms Al Zaabi said many people stopped by to purchase the traditional perfumes – one of countless items for sale at the festival’s souq area. At a nearby storefront, crowds of mostly expatriate women were gathering around baskets of Emirati burqas.
“You can wear them, you can take a picture if you want,” Salama Al Romaithi told the visitors, who posed for photos wearing the black and gold burqas.
Pointing to a nearly empty basket, Ms Al Romaithi said the burqas had been selling very well.
“It was full – now see, mashallah,” she said. “It’s popular because, you know, it’s one of the things that makes the UAE female special. As you know, Muslim ladies wear sheilas so this is something unique, something special for the woman to wear.”
Mazoon Al Zaabi, a 20-year-old volunteer who has been visiting the festival every year since it opened, said the annual celebration of the emirate’s symbolic birthplace is a significant event.
“In my opinion, it means a lot because it’s the only way to bring back the old memories of our nationality and traditions and also, we teach people about our culture,” said Ms Al Zaabi.
Arwa Al Qhtani, a 25-year-old volunteer at the festival, said she was proud to share her culture and explain her traditions with the visitors.
“When you explain it to other people, it feels amazing,” said Ms Al Qhtani. “They’re really interested in our tradition and culture.”
And doubtless, they will be back next year.
Source: uae news