Emirati, expat chefs whip up 1,000-yr-old dishes for Arab feast

The iconic Fujairah fort turned into a magnificent dining hall


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Wed 27 Dec 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 27 Dec 2023, 11:14 PM

Converging history and culinary art, Emirati and expat chefs from Fujairah turned the iconic Fujairah fort into a magnificent dining hall. Working together, these four chefs cooked medieval cuisine, dating back over a thousand years.

To create this unique dining experience, the chefs utilised the knowledge of Dr Daniel Newman, an award-winning writer, scholar, and translator of Arabic literature. His expertise in translation, cultural exchanges between Europe and the Arab world in ancient times, and food history played a crucial role in crafting a medieval Arab feast.

“The chef prepared dishes that were crafted between the 8th and 15th centuries. The dishes were cooked in a vast geographical area, from Baghdad in the east and all the way to Qurtuba, Al Andalus (Spain). This vast region had the richest culinary tradition in the world,” said Dr Newman.

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“This Arabic dish has been largely overlooked. The Arabic culinary is absent in today's world, despite the fact that the tradition had a massive number of recipes — between 4,500 to 5,000 recipes that have been carefully documented in culinary books,” added Dr Newman.

Dr Daniel Newman.
Dr Daniel Newman.

The grand feast was organised by Fujairah Culture and Media Authority. The event started with lighting up bakhoor and washing hands with Ghasool which was used in the 10th century, but isn’t being used now.

Dr Newman said that back in the medieval age, the dinner feast started with cold dishes and the bread consumed back then was millet bread, which was very popular and is unusual now.

“The Arabian feast started with lentils, honey curd- which was very popular, pickle turnips, dates and tamarind drink- which opens the appetite and strengthens the stomach, and murri, made with rotten barley which takes three months to prepare,” said Dr Newman.

The four local chefs Umm Khamees, Masu'd Al Kindi, Abeer Allouz, and Ahmad Azzam prepared the medieval age dishes and showcased their culinary talents skilfully incorporating ingredients and spices that were used centuries ago.

Animal stuffed inside an animal

Australian chef Paul Wilson prepared Al Kamil, which translates to complete and was prepared only for the royal and the wealthy.

Imagine a giant feast where they cooked chickens stuffed inside the lamb, and then the lamb is stuffed inside a whole camel! “This incredible dish was cooked for more than 26 hours in a special oven,” said Al Kindi.

Back in medieval times, this kind of feast was a big deal, and only the really rich folks, like kings, could have it. It must have been a super special and fancy meal for those who got to enjoy it.

“This was not a regular feast but only during special occasions. In the Arab culture, food was not allowed to waste and only sufficient quantity was placed on the dining table. The remaining food was distributed to the poor. There would be a huge crowd outside the palaces and people would collect the food that was kept separately for poor,” said Dr Newman adding that such dishes are found in European cookery books.

Introduced by Arabs

Dr Newman said that Arabs had a lot of influence in European cuisines and they had introduced spices, rose water vegetables like asparagus, fruits like oranges, and even sugar, which Arab merchants brought to the West.

This extraordinary collaboration not only transformed the historic Fujairah fort into a grand dining space but also allowed guests to savor the flavours of ancient times brought to life with a modern touch. The melding of traditional recipes and Dr. Newman's expertise resulted in a one-of-a-kind experience that bridged the gap between the past and the present.

One fish prepared in 3 ways

Emirati chef, heritage enthusiast, and expert in herbs and spices, Umm Khamees, prepared a unique fish dish in three ways simultaneously.

“The front section of the fish was left uncovered and roasted. The centre was wrapped in cloth soaked in oil, resulting in a perfectly fried texture. The bottom part of the fish was wrapped in a damp cloth, creating a steam-cooked masterpiece,” said Umm Khamees. The result is a trio of fish preparations with a distinct taste and texture.

“In the 15-century French cookery book, this recipe of a fish being cooked in three ways is mentioned,”

Deserts during the medieval age

Dinner in the medieval age ended with a sweet treat like dates and carrot pudding topped with walnuts, apricots stuffed with almonds, and Mamunia, a rice pudding made with the rich fat from a sheep's tail. “It's a special dish that, although not commonly made today,” said Dr Newman.

Apricot was served, it reveals another aspect of medieval cuisine, which is the suspense. “The chef always tried to surprise the royals,”

Pomegranate juice mixed with honey and vinegar was consumed at the end to strengthen the stomach, digest food, and for its medicinal properties. “This is known as Shikanjabeen, it’s a Persian word (mixture of vinegar and honey),” said Dr Newman.


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