Indian food spices up bond with Emiratis
Most of the traditional food of the UAE has a lot of spices that marks the Indian cuisine.
The UAE and India have enjoyed historic and cultural ties for over 350 years. As both nations share centuries-old ties of commerce, culture and kinship, the UAE has derived a number of cultural elements from India. Most significant was the food.
If there's no Indian meal in the modern Emirati house - which rarely happens - there's Emirati food influenced from India. Chicken machboos, for example, is similar to the Indian chicken biryani, which is widely popular among Emiratis.
Most of the traditional food of the UAE has a lot of spices that marks the Indian cuisine. Salon, for example, is a traditional Emirati dish that originally came from India.
Dishes like Chicken tikka masala, chicken biryani, curry and paratha are widely popular in the country. Rasmalai seemed to be the favourite Indian dessert among Emiratis.
According to Rashid Al Tamimi, senior presenter at Shaikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, pakora and samosa are also among the favorite snacks for Emiratis, especially at iftar during Ramadan. "These influences come naturally. The UAE used to trade pearl and dates for spice from India by the sea," Al Tamimi said, noting that trade in Deira, which used to be the business hub of the Gulf due to its creek, is still marked by its spice souk and Naif souk of old Dubai.
He added that both nations need each other. As the Indian community today reached over 2.6 million, they were a major part of the UAE's vibrant society and its economic success. Many Emirati families have worked alongside Indians for over 30 years. Al Tamimi's family, for example, has had an Indian driver for over 40 years, who has now picked up the bedouin accent and customs. Al Tamimi noted, "We learned from them and they learned from us. We are providing jobs for many across their nation, while they fill a manpower and expertise role which by the numbers alone the Emirati population could never fulfill to develop as we have."
And although both cultures vary in many ways, Al Tamimi said there are few similarities other than family being important and an understanding of having a relaxed nature. "Many of our Indian guests share Islam with us as their faith," he said.
Asma Al Bahri, a student at Zayed University, said she grew up eating Indian food. "Since childhood, we get used to the smell of their food and spices and it has become a part of our culture ... The Indian community has lived with us for so many years now."
Her favourite dishes include tikka masala, biryani, paratha and ras malai for dessert. "We cook Indian food at home on a weekly basis," she said.
Emirati Ahmed bin Al Shaikh said he loves the curry and biryani, as well as the vegetarian food. At home, the family serves biryani, spicy curry, paratha and keema among other dishes at least once a week. He noted that Indian family values are similar to that of Emiratis.
For Nada Al Falasi, "there's nothing better than Indian food". While she likes biryani and salona, the curry is a special favourite. "I can eat it all day, everyday," she laughed. Her favorite Indian sweets include kalakand and gulab jamun.
She added that the influence is big as the Indian community is marked by its big families that come to UAE to reside.
"If we looked at the work they do, we would find their mark in all the sectors. They have a huge indispensable role in the development of the country as they worked by our side for years," said Al Falasi.
Meanwhile, Al Tamimi said the Emirati soldiers are joining the parade in New Delhi "to show solidarity". "As they have come and helped us so much, our presence in the military parade says we too will be there for you in the best way we can should India ever need."
'My cook is the reason I love Indian food'
Among many Emirati families, Tariq Al Kazim, 23, has had an Indian cook for more than 10 years.
"He's one reason why I like Indian food," said Tariq as he smiled before he picked up his phone and made a phone call in Urdu.
He told his cook Abbas on the phone to make butter chicken for dinner. "He doesn't know English, so my family and I speak to him in Urdu."
Al Kazim is among many Emiratis of his generation who learned to speak Urdu and Hindi. Majority of families from the older generation picked up the language due to the trade and exchange of goods and closer connection with Indian labour as developments began after the UAE union.
When asked what he loves most about Indian culture, Al Kazim did not hesitate before exclaiming "food!"
"It's mainly how diverse the food is. There's spicy to normal of various dishes like butter chicken, pani puri, chicken tikka. Their bread naan is unique, too." he said.
He added that Abbas often cooks for the family all kinds of Indian dishes or Emirati food with an Indian touch. "It's something new every time, be it the noodles, grilled chicken or pasta."
Al Kazim's family also have an Indian driver who has recently retired due to old age after serving his grandparents for more than 20 years. His nephew is now working closely for Al Kazim. "You can say it's a generation thing," he noted.