Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dates in the Desert

No no no, not THOSE dates (although Arab men are quite tall, dark and handsome), I'm talking about Desert Dates for Dessert. :) (And yes, it actually did take me a while to come up with that, but of course, I've got nothing but time on my hands until I find a job.)

Dates are a big deal in the Arab world and UAE, among other Arab countries, are quite proud of the ones they produce. If you've never had a date, it's a little like a very large raisin (in that it's a dried fruit) but is richer in flavor and softer in texture (at least that's my best description of them). Simply put, they are delicious! Especially here where they are abundant and extremely fresh.

My first date was day 3 or 4 of our Abu Dhabi Adventure. We had gone out to visit properties with our real estate agent and were waiting in the lobby of the Park Rotana hotel for the Manager to show us around. Many of the nice hotels, banks and other businesses serve Arabic coffee with dates to their customers while they wait and that was the case with the Park Rotana. As I've mentioned before, the coffee is a super strong brew of very dark coffee with cardamon in it that's served in beautiful small cups and often served with a date or two on the side. They have seeds in them so the proper way to eat them is to pop the whole thing in your mouth, eat around the seed and then spit the seed out into your hand (and then discreetly put it in your napkin or on your plate). And they are fantastic and the perfect accompaniment to the strong, bitter coffee.

Since that first taste, I've had them off an on, sometimes at events or while waiting for someone at a business or as part of a buffet. I hadn't gotten brave enough to buy any for home, though, as I just didn't know enough about them. And, they aren't all that attractive, so it's hard to tell if you're buying good quality (at least to my untrained eye). I finally got up the nerve just before our trip to Lebanon as I decided to take some dates as a thank you gift to our hosts.

The city buses had been wrapped with the ads for a Date store called Zadina, so I found the shop and decided to make a purchase. It's a beautiful store and they sell all kinds of dates as well as other treats that are all sweetened by dates (no cane sugar in anything) including jams, ice cream, truffles. I wanted to stick with dates and even then had quite a lot to choose from. First they carry 6 different kinds of dates from different parts of UAE. My guide pointed out which ones were sweet, which were more oily (his words, I think he meant moist) and which were not as sweet (so good for diabetics :) To be honest, I couldn't tell enough of a difference, but maybe after a few more years I'll be able to call myself a connoisseur. In addition to plain dates, they have stuffed dates, which are spilt open, seed removed and then stuffed with other dried fruit, thick jam or nuts - everything from dried apricot to pistachios. Mmmm, even better than the plain ones. But that wasn't all, the real gems were stuffed AND covered in chocolate (I know, could I have found anything better?) White chocolate, milk, dark, all kinds of stuffing ... heaven. They even have little chocolate or candy coated date pieces (for the kids I was told) which are a bit like chocolate covered raisins, but oh so much better. I didn't even think about buying those as I'd be too tempted to shovel handfuls into my mouth throughout the day! (I have the same problem with M&Ms)

So, I picked out a nice box for our hosts and headed out - mission accomplished. And the best part is that when Libby (our host) saw them, she was thrilled. She loves dates and thinks the UAE dates are better than what she's been able to find in Lebanon. A few weeks later, I went back and got a smaller box for Brian and I, which I then took a picture of so you could get a look. I'm pretty sure these will be on my list of "gifts to bring home when visiting the US" so stay in touch and you too might be able to have a Desert Date for Dessert. (okay, yeah, I'm done now. ;)

Ooops, looks like there's a chocolate one missing on
the end there - couldn't even wait until after the photo!

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful blog entry! Josh and I went to Shields Dates when we were in Southern CA and had a great time in their huge date store. I've never seen anything like you pictured above! So many exciting things to discover away from home.