Yesterday morning, I’ve taken the road less travelled by most Filipinos, perhaps one of the most un-touristy things ever: take part in a cultural breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
Whenever we have guests coming over (I’ve had a couple of ex-colleagues from the Happy Bee and a dear kabarkada of mine over) the top of mind Dubai activities include the dune desert safari: dashing through the dunes on a 4×4 with a buffet dinner inside a desert camp, picture taking with the Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world, and the Burj Al Arab, the famous 7-star hotel, and, of course, shopping…where else but in the malls. Somehow cultural activities never come to mind and are, sadly, of no interest or not a priority to most Filipinos based here….at least the ones I know.
I’ve always been hankering to join one of Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding’s activities ever since I got here last year, but, as expected, no one (not even The Husband) has ever wanted to join me. So plans of learning more about the culture from the experts were shelved, until I got another fortuitous message from my resident eating partner, Arva. She was bringing along a guest of hers to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding’s cultural breakfast.
At first, I resisted the invitation, but then I realized how much I wanted to learn more about the Emirati culture from Emiratis themselves. And so I woke up bright and early with barely 4 hours of sleep to FINALLY immerse myself in Emirati culture and, of course, food
As expected, I was the only Filipino in the cultural breakfast hall because 99% of the guests were caucasian. Arva and I were the only Asians. I just have to say it again: SADLY, we were the only Asians there.
It was supposed to be an open discussion with the centre’s motto being “Open Doors, Open Minds”, but even the presumably more outspoken caucasians were more silent than usual. Perhaps we were hesitant to ask questions because of the preconceived notion that we could get in trouble for hitting controversial notes. (I quickly recalled what happened to Carlos Celdran in Art Dubai over the weekend.) Or we were just a really shy, quiet bunch.
Luckily, Mr. Nasif, the charming and witty Emirati host, was quick to put everyone at ease. His talk was the right mix of ancient world history and current events (Yemen of yore and the Abu Dhabi & Dubai “competition”), cultural (preservation of Old Dubai), religious (How all religions are interrelated) and political (The reasons behind the differences between the attire of GCC Arabs) trivia as well as practical desert life pointers. He sure wasn’t shy about poking fun about his own kind and other races, which really helped relax everyone some more and prompted us, including the stereotypically shy Filipino, to ask more questions.
Good thing I had ONE unanswered question I put forward. Could you guess what question I asked? I thought it was so random and superficial! Mwahahaha! I was sure prepared to eat, but I didn’t come prepared with any other questions.
Oh, of course, let’s talk about the food. God, after considering more mindful eating as a lifestyle, that thought was immediately left outside the doors of Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. As explained by Mr. Nasif, the desert life is harsh, so people needed:
- easy to transport food
- food with extra long shelf life – though I’m sure the Bedouins didn’t have shelves
- to stock up on as much energy needed to survive.
Hence, the breakfast food was packed with none other than carbohydrates and sugar! We had dango (chickpeas in brine), balaleet (spiced scrambled eggs and vermicelli noodles), lgeimat (Emirati doughnuts drenched in date syrup), and khameer (Emirati pancakes with cream cheese and date syrup). It wasn’t particularly good as I’ve had much better lgeimats at Global Village and tasty khameer at Klayya bakery, but I love the fact that I now have a better understanding why their cuisine is such.
This Emirati cultural experience actually makes me want to just burrow my head in more food history books some more. I don’t even mind returning to Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for another round of cultural breakfast. Next time, I will make sure that I have more than one question in my food culture bag. Anyone care to join the Emirati cultural breakfast club soon? I really encourage more Filipinos to join such cultural activities! Tara!
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Al Musallah Road, Bastakiya, Bur Dubai
Pre-booking is required for cultural breakfasts held every Mondays and Wednesdays.
Delirious about delicious,