Last Friday, fine dining restaurant Ziya, at The Oberoi Hotel, boasted a live cooking station where Emirati celebrity chef Khulood Atiq held court. During a cooking demonstration, Chef Khulood captured the attention of Abu Dhabi representatives, media and the city’s most renowned food enthusiasts as she whipped up Emirati delicacies.
Chef Khulood is Abu Dhabi’s first female chef and has been cooking since she was a child. Today, she works with the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority in promoting Emirati food and helping people better understand the intricacies of Emirati cuisine.
As a part of this mission, Chef Khulood was in Mumbai for India’s first Abu Dhabi Food Festival, which was aimed at raising awareness of and celebrating Emirati cuisine.
Parallels With Indian Flavors
Chef Khulood began her culinary demonstration by highlighting the similarities between Emirati and Asian cuisines. “Emirati cuisine is not an old cuisine,” she said. “Most of the ingredients have come from Asian countries like India, Japan and Iran.”
As the Chef elaborated on the parallels between the Indian and Emirati cuisine, an appetizer of chami was served. Chami, Chef Khulood explained is a yogurt based dish with a crumbly, cottage cheese like texture. Served with a side of dates, the dish was strong and bold and whetted our appetites for what was next to come.
Indeed, dates are one of the staples of Emirati cuisine, particularly in appetizers. Another integral part of the Emirati cuisine (which can perhaps be traced back to Indian roots) is the use of limes and lemons. They’re used either as a vinegar, dried lemons or as a pickle to give dishes the zesty, punchy flavor we associated with lemons.
Other elements of Emirati food include a combination of spices like cinnamon, saffron, turmeric and nutmeg, dried fruits and a range of meats. Popular Emirati mains are rice-based dishes – another trait which can perhaps be traced back to India.
Tasting The Talk
After watching Chef Khulood’s demonstration and enjoying the appetizer, we took our seats at the restaurant’s tables, many of which offer an enticing view of Marine Drive. We were then served a light salad of arugula, prawns and mango – a tongue-tingling start to our meal.
We then enjoyed a serving of different meat preparations; our favorite was harees, a smooth, porridge like dish which is made by mixing boiled down meat with wheat. The dish had an earthy flavor and a thick, satisfying texture.
For our main dish, we had Chicken Machboos, which Chef Khulood had made in front of us. The chicken machboos is akin to an Indian biryani; made with long grained rice and spices, its highly aromatic. It can also be made with prawns and fish.
Finally, we wrapped up our meal with a platter of desserts – a pumpkin porridge, a pearly white cup of kheer and luqaimat. While the kheer was deliciously silky and the pumpkin porridge – thickened with roux – rich and velvety, the luqaimat is what stole our sweet tooth. Luqaimat is a sweet dumpling which resembles gulab jamuns in appearance, but tastes flour-rich and bready. They were the perfect way to finish off a heavily indulgent, flavor- packed meal.
Through the meal, we understood Chef Khulood’s comparision to the Indian cuisine; the flavours of Emirati food are new and unique, yet retain enough similarity to Indian fare that they sit comfortably on an Indian’s palate.
While speaking to India’s country Manager, Mr Bejan Dinshaw, he said “We have now created a niche in the India market for Emirati cuisine. Hence, by bringing this food festival to India people here savoured the taste of Indian-Emirati fusion food. We are extremely delighted to have our celebrity chef Khulood, who made this event all the more successful thereby creating a trademark of the authentic food.”
Perhaps in the coming days, therefore, we’ll see more of Emirati food making its appearance at restaurants and food festivals across the country. Having tasted it first hand, we can foresee that Indian food lovers will welcome such appearances whole- heartedly.