The sun shone on Lavender Hill as I tramped up it towards my third Food Blogger Connect. This year I was ‘Chief of Tweets’ so spent a great deal of it glued to my iphone or computer, so enjoyed the conference in a slightly different way. As I’ve written before about what made me go in the first place and why anyone would want to go to a food blogger conference, here’s a bit about all the key ingredients that made up #FBC5 (the fifth anniversary).
David Lebovitz was as amusing offline as on it (see his from London here). Who else would write this answer for a prize draw trip to Canada ‘I want to visit Canada because….I can’t imagine life without maple syrup.’! His advice to stay true to who you are and blog about the quirky bits e.g. your mistakes as well as your successes really struck a chord. He is also a phenomenal grafter, despite his air of insouciance and told me he works all the time. He admitted to spending two hours to edit a post and testing recipes 17-18 times. Wowzah!. He also advocates making commenting on your blog as easy as possible – no captcha codes. Hear, hear.
Penny de los Santos was all about finding the story behind the food. She has been to some pretty terrifying places in order to do this. We were all entranced by her account.
I’ve always found that Niamh Shields comes across as, er…a bit formidable online. Being a complete whimp, I was rather nervous about meeting her. In reality she captivated me and everyone else with her warmth and Irish charm. Her talks about the blogging side of life were informative but when she took the floor to describe her visits to Canada she came alive and there were glimpses of the lengths she goes to really understand the food culture (delving into kitchens, tasting everything – flipper pie anyone?). At the end of it EVERYONE wanted to visit Canada!
The room was a bit hot and stuffy and after an excellent but technical session about editing recipes by Alison Bolus we were all flagging. Then Kerstin Rogers aka Ms Marmite Lover took that dreaded mid afternoon noon slot and it was like someone had just flicked the switch on Blackpool illuminations. Her stirring talk ranged from how she learned to cook (partly by sleeping with French men and then standing at the stove with their Mums; and she urged us to do the same), how every woman should have an independent income, to catering at dodgy festivals (no one on Ecstasy wants to eat anything until the morning when it wears off and they are desperate for a fry up). She set up the first supper club in the UK and kick started a whole movement. Confessing how ‘Ms Marmite Lover’ was used as a pseudonym at the beginning as she was terrified that she was breaking the law. She’s dealt with council regulations, planning, alcohol laws, even the London Underground who thought there might be confusion that her flat was a station (no kidding) and Warner Brothers who suggested she call her ‘Harry Potter’ themed evening ‘some other generic wizard’ dinner….which she did! Levity aside, she’s has my admiration for her impeccable, searingly honest writing and lyrical vocabulary, encyclopaedic food knowledge which she translates into very practical advice and the creativity of a true artist. And it wasn’t just me she inspired:
Some sound bites from some of the other compelling speakers:
For the many food bloggers who would like to take their content into print Ren Behan and Karen Burns-Booth detailed how to deal with magazine publishers. They recommended that digital magazines are not to be sneered at as many have greater readership figures than through traditional publishing.
Regula Ysewijn of Miss Foodwise is a walking embodiment of her brand, and, as a graphic designer, dissected all the key branding elements on and offline. An important question to ask yourself is exactly why it is you are blogging. And remember – a brand is not just a logo. In her passionate delivery I think she was the first person to use the F word during a presentation at FBC!
“Do something that scares you every day – it becomes addictive” – great advice from Dana Elemara, who left a high flying corporate career to found Arganic, a small food company that only sells 100% pure organic argan oil directly from trusted sources in Morocco.
One of the aims of Aine Morris of the Sustainable Food Trust is to bring about increased collaboration amongst all those working for better food. She quoted some impressive figures about how influential bloggers are as the reason we should all take our role as opinion formers very seriously. Our voices combined can have an impact on the way food systems and our world is shaped.
Many wise words of wisdom dropped from the lips of Aoife Cox of The Daily Spud but really (to borrow a phrase from Frank Carson) it was “the way I tell ‘em”. She spoke about creating a niche blog “I just love spuds” and humour in blogging where she recommended visiting some very funny blogs including this one.
Emily Jonzen styled the food for Penny’s workshop and also The Jewelled Kitchen. She gave a myriad of tips on how to make food in photographs look good and also gave an insight about what goes on behind the scenes for the stylised shots you see in adverts. When you next see a steaming turkey in an ad remember that it probably has boiling hot wet tampons stuffed inside it and boot polish on its skin! She prefers a much more natural look with her own projects. There was a point where she asked if she should answer questions or show more pics. “Show more pics” was the plaintive reply as over 100 bloggers slightly grabbed a tissue to mop their moistening mouths.
If anyone is thinking about writing about food in the UK, the Visit Britain talk was packed full of ideas of great content (visit the media page for some highlights). From the gin craze in London to the Ludlow food festival and everything in between, Britain is a very exciting place for food right now.
There were many more things to be learned – quite a few of the presentations are here.
Battersea Arts Centre is like Miss Havisham – a faded beauty. I’ll bet its 120 year old walls could tell some stories. Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst held suffragette meetings there when it was Battersea Town Hall. I wonder if there were cheering Ms Marmite Lover on from above? Edwardian baroque meets Arts and Crafts, there is a theme of bees running through the building most notably on the mosaic tiled floors. The rooms are elegant and labyrinthine and sunshine streamed in through the tall windows. The café, with deep red brocade walls, held all of us for brunch hosted by Chobani (with lovely recipes from Iris). The wireless connection could have been better but 150 food bloggers tweeting, instagramming and live blogging is quite an unusual strain on the system!
The theme of this year’s Food Blogger Connect was community and while I am perfectly happy to connect online it is meeting up offline is a real joy. I could spend the whole weekend nattering and eating. If I try to mention everyone they’ll just be a huge list and I’ll leave someone out. As bloggers travelled from all over Europe and North America it was fantastic to finally connect in real life with some old friends made virtually. Because of being glued to my tweets I didn’t meet as many new people as usual but loved finding new faces and putting many new blogs on my reader including:
Adventures in Fussy Eating – the best looking site I have come across in a long time
Chilli and Mint - foodie thoughts and recipes to make you smile
Hearty Food – beautiful food styling
Top with Cinnamon – young, talented blogger
Merlin Jobst – who came to FBC as a representative of Jamie Oliver but also has a music, photography and food blog of his own.
The street food wasn’t as varied or as abundant as last year; I believe this was due to a huge street food event on the same weekend. However, there were some treasures. Loved Dorshi – sushi made with local ingredients from Dorset (apart from the nori – they experimented with nettles and spinach but it didn’t work!). Yasmin from Lovedesh curry is either brave or mad. She lit a fire and cooked a Bangladeshi curry in a hanging pot (worth waiting for). I learned an awful lot about pepper from Peppermongers and will be replicating their pepper laced shortbread soon. Totally in love with the Funky Chicken van and who could resist a couple of tarts (especially when made with rhubarb from their garden)?
Not only did I hang round after the Lidgates excellent butchery demo to nibble
one two a few of their superlative lamb chops but ate the photography workshop steak as well (I have no shame). I was thrilled to meet Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie again and made a serious dent in her cheese display especially the truffle brie – so ripe it was running off down Lavender Hill (infused with slices of truffle not that horrid old truffle oil).
Bethany gathered family members from Lebanon to help prepare a Middle Eastern feast and she buried herself in the kitchens for two whole days. Her husband was barbecuing aubergines for about the same length of time! The little pastry nests topped with venison meatballs and sour cherries caused many moans of pleasure! A great way to sample the recipes from The Jewelled Kitchen.
Ren not only spoke but did a pop up Polish Kitchen stall too and the food was divine especially the bigos. The honey and cherry vodkas in tiny ornate glasses went down well too (although it was the large measures of rum from the Appleton Estate stall that caused some merriment). Smacznego and Na Zdrowie.
The Chobani brunch was lovely – who knew that putting yoghurt in everything (including the scrambled egg) was such a good idea.
PS Tyrrells mustard pork crackling – oh yes.
If I didn’t meet you at FBC5 please say hello here – love to hear what you thought of it all. Have you been to any other blogger gatherings? Any you’d recommend? If not a blogger do you think we are all mad?
P.S. Only a few places left for the Food Styling and Photography workshop with Meeta K Wolf here in Dubai this October.
Stepping in through the doors of Kinokunya (my favourite book shop in Dubai) a couple of months ago, I was greeted with a huge display of books about Middle Eastern cooking. Whether this is a trend fuelled by the darling of the food world in the UK, Ottolenghi, or a a gradual discovery by authors of a niche not yet fully exploited, I cannot say. The titles ranged from locally based authors Ariana Bundy with her Persian cook book Pomegranates and Roses and Suzanne Husseini with her book of modern Lebanese recipes, to Veggiestan by Sally Butcher, to a vast tome The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos.
My own groaning shelves hold relatively few books from the region. Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food is battered and stained as my ultimate bible of recipes and culinary documentary. Two books by Anissa Helou are stylish volumes and exhaustive guides to Lebanese mezze and savoury baking of the The Med. Close to home is Sarareed by Chef Khulood Atiq, we then travel to Iran via Ariana, Turkey with Leanne Kitchen and the Eastern Mediterranean with Paula Wolfert. And not forgetting a trio from Ottolenghi.
The Jewelled Kitchen by Bethany Kehdy joins this clutch of cookbooks as she sent a copy to Dubai so I could be part of a ‘virtual launch’. Fresh out of the parcel, the cover of the book instantly made an impact; beautiful photography of a citrus salad set against a turquoise background, Arabic-style typography raised and tactile. The photography is by lovely Šárka Babická and the food styling by Emily Jonzen (who was at Food Blogger Connect – do check out her stunning work here). However there are gorgeous cookbooks aplenty – I was ready to road test.
Dirty Kitchen Secrets, Bethany’s blog, is packed full of recipes from Lebanon (her home country) but the book derives inspiration from across the Middle East and North Africa. The recipes are rooted in tradition often with a modern twist. Authenticity is retained through using painstaking cooking processes that have been passed on through generations and these are documented meticulously.
Bethany’s life was shaped by constant change, her family split by divorce and war; her culinary roots range from eating from the land on a farm in the remote countryside of Lebanon with her Grandparents to fast food with her glamorous Mother in the US. Bethany herself is ultra-glamorous, a former Miss Lebanon, but with a ready chuckle she’s usually laughing or making an ironic observation. Her casual manner belies a serious knowledge of the cuisine and ingredients of her home nation. Despite looking like a city girl, she’s at home in the countryside and now lives with her husband in rural Devon. Taste Lebanon is another of her ventures tempting tourists to explore the country via their tastebuds with food tours that change people’s negative preconceptions.
With my annual two month stay in the UK imminent, I was pressed for time but knew I had to cook and photograph for this entry before I left. I chose this lamb dish because I thought KP and non-veggie teen would love it (vegetarian teen was in Mongolia but that’s another story) and they did. It requires some time in the kitchen as there are many stages – these could be spilt up over a couple of days though. With a lengthy pending ‘to do’ list, I wondered why I hadn’t chosen to make the simple citrus salad and then the aroma of the tomato sauce filled the kitchen and there was no turning back. The sauce would be excellent served over rice or pasta but the additional stages and marriage with rice and potatoes take it to another level. You could easily double this and serve it for a party. Life has been so hectic of late, it was a joy to spend a couple of hours peacefully pottering. As Bethany says in the introduction:
Cooking and eating are among life’s greatest pleasures and as my uncle always says to me, “Kelé w nsee hammeek’ – ‘Eat and you shall forget your worries.’
Lamb rice with crispy potato base by Bethany Kehdy
“This is my take on a layered rice recipe known as Istambooli Polow. At first glance it does sound like a carb-on-carb sin, with its combination of potato and rice, but don’t judge it until you have tried it. Turkey also works well instead of lamb.”
Serves 4 – Preparation time: 30 minutes plus making the advieh and rice – Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
125ml sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped, plus 1 onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g boneless lamb (preferably leg), fat trimmed off and cut into 1cm cubes
2 tsp Advieh 1
a pinch of ground cinnamon
5 tbsp tomato purée
500g waxy potatoes, peeled, one half cut into 1cm cubes, the other half sliced lengthways into long thin ovals about 3mm thick
1 recipe quantity parboiled rice
chopped mint leaves, to sprinkle
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Greek yoghurt or kashk to serve
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat, add the chopped onion and saute for 4-5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, lamb, spices, tomato purée and tomatoes, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 115ml water, or enough to cover the other ingredient, then increase the heat to high and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer gently for 1 hour or until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the potato cubes.
- Place a 2 litre non-stick saucepan with 20cm base over a medium heat, and pour in 5 tablespoons of the oil. Once the oil is sizzling, arrange the potato slices across the base (they can overlap slightly), then sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of the lamb and tomato mixture, followed by a layer of rice. Continue alternating layers of lamb and rice, building it up into a dome shape. The last layer should be rice.
- Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make three holes in the rice all the way to the bottom, being careful not to puncture the potatoes.
- Wrap the saucepan lid in a clean kitchen towel and tie it into a tight knot at the handle, then use it to cover the pan as tightly as you can so that steam doesn’t escape. (The kitchen towel will prevent the moisture from dripping into the rice, making it soggy.) Cook the rice over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the rice is steaming (you will see puffs of steam escaping at the edges of the lid), then reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-25 minutes, with the lid on all the time.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat, and fry the sliced onion until crispy and golden.
- Serve the rice and tahdeeg as follows: When the rice is cooked, place the saucepan in 5cm cold water in the kitchen sink and leave for 1-2 minutes. This helps to shock the rice and loosen the tahdeeg (“base of the pot”). Gently spoon the rice out (making sure not to disturb the tahdeeg), and sprinkle it lightly onto a dish, shaping it into a dome. Alternatively, gently tip the pan out onto the dish, allowing the rice to spill out into a mound. Remove the tahdeeg by inverting the saucepan onto a plate, unsing a spatula to loosen it if necessary. Serve the tahdeeg separately on a plate or on top of the rice.
Sprinkle with mint and serve with yoghurt and the fried onion rings.
Serves 4 – Preparation time: 5 minutes plus soaking the rice – Cooking time: 5 minutes
400g basmati rice
3 tbsp sea salt
- Pick over the rice to remove and dirt or discoloured grains. Wash the rice thoroughly in five or six changes of water, until it runs clear, which signals that all the loose starch has been removed.
- Pour 1 litre warm water into a large bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Add the rice and leave to soak for no more than 30 minutes, running your fingers through it every so often to help loosen the grains. Strain the rice and rinse under warm water.
- Pour 1.25 litres water into a large saucepan and add the remaining salt. Bring to the boil over a high heat and stir in the well-strained rice, then bring back to the boil and cook, uncovered, for 3 minutes over a high heat, until the grains are soft on the outside but still firm in the centre. Do not stir the rice again, as this could break the grains.
- Drain the parboiled rice in a sieve and rinse with tepid water, tossing the rice gently to remove the excess moisture and to separate the grains. At this point you can set the rice aside until you are ready to cook your chosen recipe, if you like. This means that you can parboil the rice the day before you want it, then continue with the recipe the following day. (Once it has cooled, it needs to be stored in the fridge, where it can be kept safely for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature before using.)
Makes: 1 tbsp – Preparation time: 2 minutes – Cooking time: 2 minutes
seeds from 4 cardamom pods
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric seeds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Toast the cardamom, cumin and turmeric seeds in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes until fragrant, shaking the pan often.
- Grind the spices and caraway seeds using a pestle and mortar. Combine with the cinnamon. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.
Note: I used very fresh, pungent, ground tumeric from Down to Earth as I didn’t have seeds. I also used brown basmati and soaked and cooked it for a little longer – it was still a bit crunchy in places so I’d use white next time.
Recipe extracted with permission from The Jewelled Kitchen ©Bethany Kehdy 2013 published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London
So many other dishes caught my eye in this book including spiced naked mini sausages, kafta snugged scotch eggs, chicken basteeya, caramelised onions stuffed with lamb, many lovely fish recipes, tahini and chocolate brioche, ginger and molasses semolina marble cake and many salads. But sorry Bethany even you can’t get me to try Jew’s mallow aka mloukhieh (of the kings) with cardamom chicken or oxtail with oozing okra as they are in the hated slimey veg category.
Fast forward to July 2013 in London at Food Blogger Connect. With other members of her family helping out, Bethany buried herself in the kitchen at the Battersea Arts Centre for two days and produced a Lebanese feast for the official launch party of the book. Stencilled lanterns, brass trays, coloured glasses and a barbecue full of aubergines set the mood. The deliciousness of this feast – including some exquisite little shredded pastry nests filled with venison meatballs and a sour cherry – helped the book sell out at the launch (still available on Amazon).
Other recipes from The Jewelled Kitchen in the virtual cook book launch
Prawn, Spinach and Bread Crumble (dirtykitchensecrets.com)
- Eggs Poached in a Tomato and Pepper Stew (cookyourdream.com)
- Red hot roasties with burnt tomato and chilli jam (thedailyspud.com)
- Whipped hummus with lamb (renbehan.com)
- Carrot Salad with Cumin & Preserved Lemon (yumandmore.com)
- Stuffed caramelized onions with tamarind and allspice (Foodbridge at sarahmelamed.com)
- Slow braised squid (emikodavies.com)
- Venison and sour cherry nests (tasteofbeirut.com)
- Chargrilled sweet pepper and walnut dip (ziziadventures.com)
Is there room for another book on Middle Eastern cooking? Do you have a favourite Middle Eastern cookbook or recipe?
It all started with a tweet from Phil “We’re at the Foodies Festival this weekend in Bristol if you’re in the area.” So three days later and two decades after I worked for Lloyds Bank in Bristol at the ‘doughnut’ building I was standing outside it, in brilliant summer sunshine, cramming a bun laden with roast pork, stuffing, apple sauce and crackling into my mouth. It was surprising I felt hungry at all because there were tasting opportunities galore and, having been there from the minute it opened, I’d been taking full advantage. From cheese to fudge, chutneys to hot sauce, fruit cordials to cakes, there was a fantastic array of foodstuffs from over 60 stalls and pop-ups. As I wandered round talking to the stall holders, certain phrases kept cropping up – ‘produce sourced locally’ ‘made by hand’ ‘organic’ – so many food stories, people selling products they made and cared about – it was music to my ears.
And who is Phil? I’d heard about Pelagonia Foods ever since they started to supply Spinneys supermarket in Dubai (via Twitter of course) but hadn’t actually got round to trying anything. Phil and his partner settled in Macedonia as they were so impressed by the local food and fresh ingredients. They work in partnership with a cooperative of 650 families to produce a range of traditional Macedonian mezze and are keen to reach a wider audience. As Phil says “There was a time when no one had heard of hummus”! Could the next big thing be Aivar made of roasted sweet red peppers and aubergine which can be used as a dip or partnered with cheeses? Or Luteniza, a spicier blend of roasted peppers (my favourite). It’s completely mad that I had to taste these in Bristol to realise how good they are, but that’s the thing about meeting food producers. You get an understanding of why things are special. Then Phil mentioned food and wine tours (Googling flights to Macedonia was the first thing I did when I got home).
There were at least three demonstrations going on at any one time at the Foodies Festival which were free on registration. I went to a sherry tasting with Charles Metcalfe, Beaujolais tasting with Susy Atkins, I caught some of Masterchef finalist Bini Ludlow‘s cooking session and booked for Xanthe Clay but I was too busy talking with Phil so I missed her.
Some of my favourites of the day were (in no particular order):
Ginger Bakers – I can’t remember when I’ve seen such fantastic looking cakes and they tasted equally good. The chocolate brownies with damsons were darkly gooey and the pecan and caramel shortbread should be rechristened Gazillionaires shortbread. A-ma-zing. I took home a beautiful ginger and lemongrass cake.
The Bath Soft Cheese Co makes four cheeses on their organic dairy farm with milk from their 300 cows. Bath Blue has the sharpness of Stilton with a softer creamier texture – deservedly award winning. Also love the simple packaging.
A & J Confectionery is crumbly all butter fudge handmade in Bristol.
The ladies on the Bath Food Company stall were super friendly and described the mango and fruit chutney as “an Indian meal in a jar”; which it was – bursting with spicy, fruity flavours. Who knows how I resisted one of their scotch eggs. Returning to the stall to buy some aforementioned chutney I discovered that it was inspired by the owner Lisa-Marie Smith’s time living in Dubai. Spooky.
Dig in a local greengrocer with the prettiest display at the festival, lots of local produce and this card:
The Pieminister stall made me think of Tudor times; their pies make you want to grab them in both hands and sink your teeth into the pastry. Moo pie is their most popular with British beef steak, cracked black pepper and real ale.
Two not very slender men talked me through the Fat Man Chilli range of chilli sauces assuring me that only one would seriously rip my head off as they go for layers of flavour not just heat. Hot Lemon was my fave but I bought a bottle of Scorchio (the head-ripper) for KP.
Only fruit and sugar go into Blossoms Syrups which are equally good diluted as a drink or poured over a pavlova. Aude Dupont Dudley and friend were the best dressed at the festival in chic black and pearls ….in 23C heat.
Cotswold Gold is the best rapeseed oil I have tasted and is made from the rapeseed harvested in their own fields around the farm in Broadway. The herb infused oils had a purity of flavour I have never come across before, the rosemary variety and the basil were exceptional.
I didn’t get to taste any Sciolti Botanical Chocolates as they had been replaced by ice cream due to the heat but I did meet Mr Sciolti who has amazing facial hair!
Why don’t we have Bonne Maman cherry compote in Dubai? I don’t think I can live without it.
Thinking I couldn’t manage another morsel after my pork-fest I then found The Glorious Oyster.
The clever Ginger Grouse people supplied samples as we queued to register and gave out free hats when you bought some.
The nice man at Bordeaux Undiscovered gave me some 2007 Chateau Teyssier and met the Strawberry Hill Vineyard people who grow Cabernet Sauvignon just outside Gloucester! ‘How?’ I hear you ask. In greenhouses. Must visit.
Don’t be put off by the awful website. The Foodies Festival is a great showcase of British artisan food producers and street food. Don’t be lured by the handful of ‘sleb’ chefs – the real stars are the makers and growers. How the Bristol food scene has changed in twenty years.
Put your cursor over the image below to navigate the slideshow
Today marks the start of The Holy Month of Ramadan; it means many conflicting things to me, as a long-term resident in the Middle East and a non-Muslim. Writing this on holiday in the UK, it will have very little impact this year, but it’s become part of my life during my eighteen years in the region.
My early experience in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia tainted my view. Travelling anywhere in the evenings meant facing huge traffic jams. Advertising and promotion of food and gifts went overboard. It seemed that the whole city was bent of a month of massive consumption, a bit like Christmas in the West but for longer. As we lived a life apart in compounds and didn’t visit the homes of ordinary Saudis; this is only one outsider view, but combined with anecdotes from the workplace of their colleagues sleeping during the day, doing no work and grumbling about how weak they were from lack of food it wasn’t an edifying introduction.
It took a move to Dubai to bring me closer to understanding this Holy Month. A good friend described the ritual of prayer and breaking her fast every evening with a date and some water. I passed mosques providing evening meals where rows of men sat together eating together from large plates of rice and meat. The prayers ringing out across the city which are a backdrop to our lives here sounded more poignant. I started to learn about the differences between Iftar and Suhoor (including this wonderful account by Holly) and importance of being with family to share them. For many people this is an intense period of contemplation bringing them closer to God. I’ve felt the palpable excitement around the sighting of the moon and firing of the canon in Safa Park to announce the beginning of Ramadan and the joyous feeling of celebration at the end of the month. There’s still a feeling of apartness – Emiratis make up less than 20 per cent of the population – but Dubai winds down for a month evocative of its past as a sleepy trading post on the creek instead of the frenetic city it has become. The closest I’ve got to breaking the fast with locals is via this excellent article by Anissa Helou.
There are contradictions here in Dubai too. KP doesn’t eat while he’s out of the house as a matter of respect to those who are fasting and I try to do the same. One time I cleared some freight through a large company staffed completely by Asian Christians and was amazed to see everyone eating and drinking with abandon, while a tea trolley did the rounds of the offices; it was like stepping into another, rather jolly, world. Coffee shops shut down during the day or special curtains are erected to screen them from accidental view giving the feeling of entering a speak-easy during prohibition. I’ve noticed that as tourism has grown over the years, people are less aware or sympathetic to local sensitivities and see many picnics on my local beach during the day.
Choices for where to eat Iftar, or the traditional evening meal, are myriad in a city with well over 5000 restaurants. Many places feature Ramadan tents where diners can relax outside on cushions, often smoking sheesha. Before Ramadan this year, I was invited to a preview of the Iftar spread at the legendary Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped hotel which has become a visual icon of Dubai. The clean lines outside belie a riot of Arabian colour inside where the Al Iwan restaurant is central. Cooling fresh fruit juices were served on arrival, a group of Arabic musicians played traditional music and the central area was lined with little bowls or gleaming copper chafing dishes. A display of dates, fruit, dessert and Arabic sweets formed a jewelled centrepiece.
The buffet included all the things you might expect including creamy hummous, mutabal and muhammara, lemon-sharp fattoush, taboulleh and vine leaves plus Western style appetisers such as piles of prawns, oysters on ice. The chafing dishes revealed stews and tagines including a traditional Emirati dish called chicken harees – made with wheat and porridge-like in texture. A chef proudly displayed an enormous fish, called hallwya, with charmoula (a thick herb paste) cooked over hot coals while another carved a whole baby lamb (ouzi) which flaked from the bone served with saffron rice. Hot desserts included my favourite milk pudding Um Ali (mother of Ali) and from the dessert display tiny maamoul heavily scented with orange blossom. I took my time, taking small tastes and going back to try more, sipping laban and mint lemonade. Coffee spiced with cardamon served in tiny cups ended this Arabian experience and I stepped out into the warm night air to the best view of the Jumeirah coastline, lights glittering, the hotel’s shooting display of water and flame punctuating the calm evening.
How will you be spending Ramadan? What are your impressions of the Holy Month? Do you have any favourite dishes, rituals or family traditions? And what happens to all that food (I’d love to hear from anyone in Dubai who knows)?
Where to go for Iftar in Dubai during Ramadan 2013
My inbox has been inundated with emails about the hundreds of offers available so here are just a handful. Do check out The Hedonista for more recommendations and a guide to eating and drinking etiquette too.
Top end and extensive:
The Burj Al Arab’s Iftar buffet menu is available throughout the Holy Month at Al Iwan and Bab Al Yam restaurants for AED 290 per person including non-alcoholic beverages. A private Dining team is available serve Suhoor and Iftar to in-house guests in the comfort of their own suites (different rates). Special room rates are available for UAE residents until 30th September 2013. Email: BAArestauranys@jumeirah.com Tel: +971 4 301 7600
Atlantis, The Palm Dubai offers Suhour and Iftar options at Levantine, Kaleidoscope and in their Iftar tent Asateer which overlooks the sea, accommodates up to 830 guests, has eight Majlis and private prayer rooms, complimentary wi-fi and valet parking. The sunset buffet is AED 185, including Ramadan juices, children aged 3 to 12 years AED 85, under 3 free of charge. Live entertainment and shisha during Suhour from 9:30pm every evening (21+ only) Email firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +971 4 426 0800
At Rare, Per Aquum, Desert Palm, enjoy Iftar with views across the polo fields and the Dubai city skyline. Choose from a variety of freshly prepared Arabic delicacies served from live cooking stations, from rich lamb soup and homemade mezze, to live lobster, grilled to order and Arabic desserts and sweets. AED145 per adult, children 4 – 14 years receive 50 percent discount, under 4s free. Email email@example.com Tel: 04 323 8888
Affordable and relaxed:
From Iftar until 9.00pm daily Wok It will offer a buffet of Ramadan Far Eastern favourites at AED85 per person. Dishes will be prepared in small quantities and replenished frequently to maintain the integrity and flavour of the region. A la carte available from 9.00pm – 1.00 am which are also available to take home for Suhour later. Tel: +971 4 388 5711
Zaroob, the traditional Arabic street food specialist has an Iftar buffet for a reasonable 69 AED and includes 3 cold and 3 hot starters, 3 Plat Du Jour, 3 Ramadan drinks and 3 deserts all served with elements of the Levant region. Open from 7pm to sunset every day during Ramadan (located on Sheikh Zayed Road, Jumeirah Tower Building) Tel: +971 4 327606 Also worth a look at Mezza House.
Daily Iftar buffet from the 8 kitchens of Lafayette Gourmet (Dubai Mall) plus a dessert and pastry selection, including a sugar-free selection plus a range of takeaway and delivery options. Buffet AED145 per adult, AED65 for children aged 6-11 years old, under 6 years old free, served after sunset for 2 hours. Tel: +971 4 339 9933
During the holy month of Ramadan, MusicHall (at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray) will be transformed into an innovative Majlis style setting. Masrah Ramadan will include a line-up of live performances by renowned artists coming from different parts of the Arab world to present the different refined musical genres in harmony with the spirit of the holy month. Traditional Arabic Mezze and main courses a la Carte from 9.00pm until 2.00am at a minimum-spend of AED 115 per person (not inclusive of Shisha) Tel: +971 56 270 86 70 or +971 4 4476646
Also worth a mention is the buffet experience at the H Hotel created by Silvena Rowe (‘a feast fit for an Ottoman king’) on Lime and Tonic: an ‘Iftar treasure chest’ home delivery on the site too.
- A recipe every day of Ramadan (dimasharif.com)
- UAE hotels roll out Ramadan packages (gulfnews.com)
- Ramadan food wastage (kippreport.com)
- Iftar in a different world called ‘Naif.’ (iliveinafryingpan.com)
- An Iftar preview at The Address Marina (ishitaunblogged.com)
- Ramadan and iftar – what it means for the food traveller (thehedonista.com)
Would really love your feedback on this. A reminder….How will you be spending Ramadan? What are your impressions of the Holy Month? Do you have any favourite dishes, rituals or family traditions? And what happens to all that food (I’d love to hear from anyone in Dubai who knows)? Ramadan Kareem to all who are observing the Holy Month.
Unpacking my suitcase after travelling back from the UK involves delving into the middle of all the clothes for a big plastic bag full of knobbly packages. Two week’s worth of English cheeses softens the sadness of leaving friends, family and rolling green hills behind. It’s my essential going home present to myself. Getting good cheese in Dubai is no longer a difficulty but I want favourites that are unobtainable like Westcombe unpasteurised Cheddar, and several friends now anticipate my haul and come round to share the spoils.
I understand, therefore, why Patricia Michelson packed a wheel of Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage into her suitcase when she was on a skiing holiday, lugged it back from the French Alps and urged everyone to taste it. This was the start of a business that has grown, over 20 years, from a shed in her garden, via a market stall, to include two shops, one in Highbury and one off Marylebone High Street, London. And this Queen of cheese was here in Dubai to help launch the new Jones The Grocer Cheese Club. Forget all the stuff that Groucho Marx said about not caring “to belong to any club that will have me as a member” – as soon as the email announcing it landed I hit the return button. There was a cheese tasting event or a cheese and wine tasting event. No prizes for guessing that I arrived, albeit slightly out of breath and without a camera, at the offices of A+E for the latter, keen to taste under the guidance of the cheese maestro (or should it be mistress?).
And right from the off the cheeses (wine and beer) came thick and fast. There were almost too many to savour and contemplate, although I’m not complaining.
Some delicate little sablés biscuits made with Comté went very nicely with some chilled rosé from a small producer in Provence (Chateau L’Aumerade, Henri Fabre). Comté is a hard, unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese made in the Franche-Comté region of France. It is made in the summer months when milk is abundant, whereas Vacherin Mont D’Or is traditionally made in the same region during the winter months when there is not enough milk to make Comté. We entered the tasting room and sat at long tables while Patricia took centre stage and guided us through this little lot:
- Port-Salut – a cow’s milk cheese from Normandy, this is a semi-soft, creamy yellow cheese with a washed rind of violent orange. My tasting note just says ‘gorgeous’.
- Camembert Royal (also cow’s milk from Normandy)
- Mimolette (a beautiful orange coloured cheese from Holland) – fruity
Paired with: Leffe Blond beer from Belgium which was very hoppy and fruity (best with Mimolette).
- Rovethym (a goats cheese from Provence) The high acidity of this cheese with the wine was a great match
- Tetilla (made in Galicia, Spain from cow’s milk)
- Mahon (a cow’s milk cheese made in the Balearic Islands) – this was fantastic; salty, with a lactose sweetness but deeply savoury
Paired with: Alberino, Pazo Senorans, Rias Baixus, Spain – unoaked to give pure expression of the fruit which was crisp green apple and unripe peach.
- Beaufort (the cheese that started it all, made of cow’s milk in the Savoie region of France) – a pure, sweet, floral slightly nutty flavour. Patricia had washed the rind with some white wine before serving.
- Epoisses (cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy). My tasting notes read; stinky taste, clotted cream. This is a good thing.
Paired with: A well-made Pouilly-Fuisse, Louis Latour 2011 also from the Maconnais, Burgundy, France.
- Brie de Meaux (soft cow’s milk cheese from Ile de France) – this was really ripe and delicious
- Ossau Iraty (ewe’s milk from Pyrenees)
Paired with: Chateau Teyssier 2010, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru, Bordeaux, France – dark plum and chocolate, marvellous.
- Pecorino Romano (ewe’s milk hard cheese from Southern Italy)
- Botticella Di Cacio Faenum (ewe’s milk cheese from Emilia Romagna, Italy) – a perfect match with the wine
- Gorgonzola Piccante (cow’s milk blue cheese from Lombardy, Italy)
Paired with: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso, Mastroberardino Campania, Italy – brambles and earth.
- Perl Las (cow’s milk West Wales)
- Bleu des causses (cow’s milk, Aveyron, France)
Paired with: Domaine de Coyeaux, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise – sweet, dessert wines go well with salty, blue cheeses
- Gorgonzola Dolce Creme (cow Lombardy, Italy)
- Cabrales (cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese, Asturias, Spain) – this cheese divided the room. It tasted like it was a living thing, which given the intensity of the flavour, it probably was. Only a PX could have stood up to this. I loved it. The Gorgonzola was creamily divine too.
Paired with: 1985 Bodegas Toro Albala Don PX Gran Reserva, Montilla-Moriles, Spain
Early on in the tasting there were some sharing plates of Burrata en Foglia (cow’s milk, Puglia, Italy) with roasted red peppers and grilled eggplant and some beef bresaola with Pecorino Romano (a ewe’s milk cheese from Southern Italy) with rocket – paired with Gabbiano Pinot Grigio. Sadly the rocket was dressing contained the abomination ‘truffle’ oil which I am growing to detest and should be banned from all wine tastings in my opinion. It doesn’t contain real truffle but a laboratory made essence which tastes and smells like truffle. It confuses the senses, overpowers everything and, if it touches something else, it lingers FOR EVER. Giorgio Locatelli is not a fan and neither am I (you might have guessed).
This was a small blip however. For a cheese and wine lover it really was the most spectacular event. The cheese choices were a revelation and matching cheese and wines from the same region demonstrated how perfectly many of them go together.
I met Patricia but was very preoccupied and didn’t talk for long (my iphone battery ran out of juice. I was trying to find my Smart Drive pick up and get in touch with a house guest who was somewhere in Dubai without my address!). She was delighted that Jones was embracing the seasonality of cheese. I bought her book on Cheese later at Jones – and what a beautiful cheesy tome it is too. I received an email with printable cheese notes to put into my little Cheese Club folder this month too. Very well done indeed.
As for bringing wine in a suitcase, it’s less easy these days. Before the liquid ban on planes I’d tuck a couple of bottles into a back pack, but now I’m most likely to order from Le Clos and have them deliver it to me before I reach passport control. A very good tip if you are travelling into Dubai.
Jones the Grocer Cheese Club UAE membership benefits and fee:
- fromager’s choice of monthly cheese hampers with detailed tasting notes prepared and priced exclusively for cheese club members
- 10% discount on all cheese, cheese accessories and accompaniments
- 50% discount on 2 cheese events per year
- on joining receive an African + Eastern voucher to the value of AED 200; restricted to licensed cheese club
- yearly membership fee of AED200
To join the Jones Cheese Club visit the cheese room at any Jones the Grocer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 800JONES (56637). There’s a Facebook page with more info too.
All of the images shown here were taken on my iphone 4S or supplied by my kind friend Seza.
NB: Some of the wines were from different producers than mentioned in our folder – if you were there and wondering why they don’t match.
Disclosure: I replied to the email to join the Cheese Club and event and then they invited me along as a guest. I’m confident I’d have written the same without such treatment and am more than happy to renew my membership in a year. In fact I was the first person to use my Cheese Club membership card in the Umm Suqeim shop.
Would you join a cheese club? Wine club? Any kind of food club?
- Tips for pairing wine and cheese plus where to taste in Dubai (mycustardpie.com)
- Your Cheesemonger: Washed Rind Cheeses (arlnow.com)
“Oooh…you’ve got an Enomatic machine.” I was as excited as man having a mid-life crisis contemplating the polished red metal of a brand new Ferrari. Why was I excited? Yuwraj Seetamonee, sommelier of The Whistler, at the new Ocean View Hotel, The Walk (JBR, Dubai) had just led me into the wine room and pointed it out with a sweep of his arm. This sophisticated piece of technology is a wine vending machine (very expensive bit of kit too – there are only three in Dubai); the main advantage is that it keeps an opened bottle of wine in pristine condition for 21 days. This means that all sorts of interesting wines can be dispensed by the glass (rather than the usual limited range). You load up your card with credit, insert it in the relevant slot (a credit card for wine, oh yes) choose to taste, sip or glug (size wise) and your chosen wine flows into your glass.
Wine nerdiness aside, there are a handful of things that get my pulse really racing these days. A room full of interesting cheese is one of them, and lo and behold, The Whistler had one of these as well. Cheese and wine. Now that’s a match made in heaven. Not all cheese and wine go together like Brad and Angelina….some matches are more Brad and Jen i.e. OK at first but then something is not quite right and it leaves a strange taste in your mouth.
There are a few general rules about cheese and wine matching (see below) but the best part is to try which combinations work best for you; here at the Whistler we (me and fellow cheese fanatic Francine aka Mrs Life in the Food Lane) marched in and started bombarding the chef with questions about sheep’s milk or goats, ripeness, washed rinds etc. (poor man). There was some interesting stuff in there including a cheese made around a single piece of straw and one matured in a fig leaf (should be called Adam?). Sadly the server had limited English and an even more limited knowledge of the cheese. However we were happy with our choices on the whole, although a bit lacking in blue.
Yuwraj confessed to not liking cheese very much, but he did a good job of guiding us through the wines and we nibbled our way through. Araldica de La Luciana Gavi was very neutral, La Chablisienne Petit Chablis 2010 had some lemon peel notes which went really well with the Comte. Les Eglantines, Touraine, Sauvion, 2011 – a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, was fresh and green with pea pods on the nose ripe gooseberries on the palate; it was excellent with Brie. I’m a big fan of many wines made of Torrentes which has become the white grape of Argentina, however the Colomé Torrentes 2011 lacked freshness. Hmmm… we should have suspected something then.
We started the reds with Punto Niño Carmenère from Chile. When we got to the Enrique Foster Malbec I was confused. “Umm, tastes a bit oxidised to me,” I muttered tentatively. Yuwraj looked shocked, tasted the wine and opened a fresh bottle immediately. The machine had been disconnected recently and clearly some error was made in getting it back up and running. The subsequent Chateau Cantemerle 2007 was also lacking freshness and replaced.
Returning a couple of weeks later with Sarah and Dima, a different sommelier, Anastasia, guided us through the cheese and wine education process. On the plus side she was really enthusiastic and chose the wines specially for us, with care. She came up with some wine and cheese matches which surprised us like Gran Tesoro Viura 2009 with a creamy Brillat Savarin, and a Pouligny-Saint-Pierre with Rosé d’Anjou ‘Chemin des Sables, Domaine Sauvion. On the downside, a couple she chose from the Enomatic machine were oxidised again (clearly not a temporary blip) and the bar was empty except for a steady stream of people who came in just to look at the view from the terrace and walk out again. There was no way we could use all the credit on our Enomatic cards in addition to the wines tasted (and still walk out in a straight line).
It took me a few weeks to write this up and since then The Whistler has changed its concept. The cheese room has been transformed to a sushi room. Wine by the glass from a wide selection remains, but there will be ‘shooters’ and sake. It’s a shame as the one-to-one wine and cheese pairing was unique – albeit unsustainable if the bar got busy. Wine and sushi matching? Who knows.
Here’s a few things to consider when choosing cheese and wine to go together:
The Whistler – Ocean View Hotel, Dubai
The 99 till 9 promotion still runs which means a bottle of wine (from a selected list) for AED 99 until 9pm every day.
For the Enomatic cards you just buy a pre-paid card and help yourself. The list of sushi and more details here.
Tel: +971 4 814 5599 Website
Where to go for cheese and wine in Dubai
Despite the vanishing cheese room at The Whistler, there are still plenty of options:
Oeno – The Westin Dubai, Mina Seyahi
Every Wednesday you can choose from 50 wines and a selection of cheese from their impressive cheese room for 195 AED. This is no sedate tasting however as there is a live band. Every other night you can taste a wine flight with choices such as the “Sauvignon Challenge” or “Clash of Titans”starting at AED 99. Their cheese selections of 3, 5 and 7 cheeses start at AED 68.
Tel: +971 4 399 4141 Website
Plantation – Sofitel Dubai, Jumeirah Beach
Every Wednesday, from 7:00pm to 10:00pm, there is a buffet of over 20 French cheeses including Bleu d’Auvergne, Morbier and Galet de la Loire matched with French and international wines for AED 180. You can upgrade (by paying 250 AED) and receive 50% off the best French or Millésime wine. A really entertaining jazz duo played there last time I went.
Tel: +971 4 4484848 Website
Ossiano – Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai
Ossiano offers cheese from Hervé Mons, plus the sommelier’s selection of wine. Daily 7pm-11.30pm.
AED 150 for plate of 6 cheeses, AED 75 for plate of 3 cheeses.
Tel: +971 4 426 0760 Website
Rivington Grill, Dubai
Offers a range of very good quality English cheeses as part of the cheese board on their menu including a delicious Wenslydale. The Souk Madinat branch will hold a cheese and wine event for you and your friends if you ask them. Want to come?
Rivington Grill, Souk al Bahar Tel: +971 4 423 0903 Rivington Bar & Grill, Souk Madinat Jumeirah Tel: +971 4 366 6464 Website
No dedicated cheese and wine experience but they do stock cheeses from Ireland including divine Cashel Blue in the ‘Cheese Laboratory’
Tel: +971 5 660 38846, Toll Free: 800 McGS(6247) Website
Vintage – Wafi Pyramids, Dubai
The longest standing provider of cheese and wine in Dubai has a special night every Wednesday. There’s a cheese buffet showcasing farmhouse cheeses from around the world, artisan breads, homemade chutney and cold cuts. AED 185 per person including wine.
Also unlimited cheese fondue and wines 7pm onwards every evening at AED 145 per person. 20% off with a Wafi card if ordering cheese and wine from the a la carte menu.
Tel: +971 4 324 4100 Website
Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai
For cheese and wine with a view, there’s a ‘Grape & Cheese’ night at Uptown Bar every Wednesday from 6.00pm to 12.00am. AED 450 for a cheese platter with a selected bottle of red or white wine.
Tel: +971 4 406 8999 Website
The H Hotel, Dubai
There’s a ‘Cheese and Vino Fête’ available via Lime & Tonic which includes ‘a stupendous banquet of the world’s finest cheeses, which our members can now enjoy with free-flowing vino and sparkling vino.’ Available on Thursdays from 7pm to 10pm. Reservations required 24 hours in advance for a maximum of 12 people. Price per person AED 130
Tel: +971 4 501 8888 For more info and to book the event visit the Lime and Tonic website.
Jones the Grocer Cheese Club, Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Selling a great range of cheeses from their cheese room, the new Cheese Club will hold events throughout the year. The first one I went to was with wine pairing by A+E. Hoping they’ll be more like it. Annual membership fee of AED 200 – see details here. Tel: 800JONES (56637)
So are you a cheese and wine fiend like me? Any cheese and wine matches to recommend? Where would you recommend to go for great cheese and wine tasting (in and out of Dubai)?
Disclosure: I was a guest for my first visit to The Whistler but returned under my own steam. All opinions my own.
As a Brit I am genetically programmed to talk about the weather. This makes living in a place where it’s warm, hot or hotter, a little challenging, but believe me, where two or more British people are gathered together it’s 10 to 1 odds that the climatic variations of the day open the conversation. So bear with me when I say that the weather in Dubai this year has been the best I’ve ever remembered. From about mid-October it’s been like a beautiful summer’s day in England (remember those?) every day; we’ve had some rain (always exciting), a freshness in the air, and week after week of balmy days and evenings perfect for sitting out in the garden. All good things come to an end eventually and the rise in temperature always comes as a blow; I scurry out with the dogs at 6am and I’m glad to reach the air-conditioned sanctuary of my house an hour later. My summer planning assumes a focus and urgency when previously it limped along.
I’m dreaming of walking in the Cotswolds and on Dartmoor. We’re revisiting Switzerland and tickets for the Paleo festival are booked (for music not caveman’s food), another trip to the beautiful vineyards in Lavaux is in my mind and perhaps another jaunt to the Jura. Back in the Gloucestershire, there is the Stroud Farmers’ Market to browse, Hobbs House Bakery in Nailsworth to drop in on and a summer’s evening (or Sunday lunch) at The Horse and Groom at Bourton on the Hill a ‘must-do’. We’ll picnic on the green at Frampton on Severn before going to Giffords Circus.
While Dubai supermarket shelves are lined with most ingredients, my first meal on English soil will include Jersey Royal potatoes and English watercress. I’ll be seeking out really good sausages (like the ones made of Gloucester Old Spot grilled in the open air and stuffed hot into a roll at Stroud Farmers’ Market), perusing cheese shops (The Fine Cheese Co in Bath) and relishing British strawberries and raspberries.
The Tavistock Real Cheese Fair is at the hub of our South-West foodie plans (read why here and here). Another visit to Riverford is on the cards, I’ll be seeking out the best crab sandwich I can find (the crab hut in Cadgwith remains unbeaten) and KP will continue his search for the perfect pasty. Lunch at the River Cottage Canteen overlooking the estuary in The Royal William Yard in Plymouth is a must, the River Exe cafe is begging to be explored and there’s a voucher for Manna from Devon Cooking School to be redeemed.
Our National Trust membership card will be flexed, for the tea rooms and restaurants which use local produce as much as the stately homes and landscapes. There is nothing nicer than a cream tea with proper clotted cream after a long walk in the countryside. A long term dream is to walk the entire South-West coast path (in stages of course as it is 630 miles long). The stretch between Polzeath and Rock is one I already know well, made more attractive by lunch at No 1 Rock Road.
The vineyards of England and Wales are top of my ‘to drink at’ lists (Sharpham was a joy), with half a pint of locally brewed ale sipped at a country pub close second. Camel Valley and Three Choirs are two places I’d like to explore. On my shopping/tasting list are wines from Portugal including, hopefully, a couple from the top 50 as selected by Julia Harding, and gin (keen to taste Sipsmith, The Botanist and revisit Bathtub).
And of course, there’s the joy of seeing family and friends who we miss so much for most of the year.
So I’ve dragged my bag from the under-the-stairs cupboard and started getting things ready to take with me. For summer in the UK this includes rain coats, walking boots, thick socks and a fleece. Fingers crossed I’ll need my sun hat too.
What are you looking forward to this summer? Any recommendations for places we should visit (especially in Devon, Cornwall, Gloucestershire or near Geneva)?
All pictures were taken during our summer break in 2012. This lovely site has many ‘to visit’ ideas in UK – This is Your Kingdom