Category Archives: Abu Dhabi Diary

A trip to Bahrain – Dilmun Civilisation and the First Oil Well in the Gulf Region!

Everyone loves to travel. The choice of things to explore is enormous, but, it is the traveller who selects the best preferred way of exploration. When I travel, first, I like to explore historical places. Since I am amazed by the unique cultures of different countries, next, I hunt for places where the culture of the place of travel is displayed. Then, I like to know about the culinary specialities of that place.

So, these are the main aspects that I concentrate while I plan…

  • travel extensively
  • explore thoroughly
  • know the history of the place
  • understand their culture
  • learn about the cuisine

Well, I tried to squeeze my above mentioned priorities in the best possible pattern, in our recent trip to Bahrain.

While we were getting ready for the journey, I started exploring Bahrain through the eyes of google.

When we landed in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, and came out of the airport towards our place of stay, it was past sunset time. The city seemed like a relaxed holiday spot. Why did it seem so? Manama was noticeably calm. No heavy traffic, there were no vehicles trying to breeze past each other on roads. The air was pleasant and cool, since it was November. There were high rise buildings, but with enough breathing space between the sky scrapers. This was the initial feeling, travelling to the Hotel. But, this didn’t change much, even after the busy scheduled stay. Bahrain is a relaxed city.

We set out to explore Bahrain’s ancient, medieval and modern history, within the short stay, through these places…

1. The first Oil Well of the Middle East

The first trace of oil in the Gulf region, was discovered in Bahrain. The area, below Jebel Dukhan, is about 40kms from the capital Manama. There is a well and a stone pillar, where the detail is carved. The carving says, Oil first spurted from the well on 16 October 1931, and started striking oil from June 1, 1932.The Oil museum, which is a building close to the well, was closed. So, had to give it a miss.

2. Ancient Burial Mounds

The Dilmun Burial Mounds, were built between 2200 and 1750 BCE. The burial mounds are evidence of the Early Dilmun civilization, around the 2nd millennium BCE, during which Bahrain became a trade hub whose prosperity enabled the inhabitants to develop an elaborate burial tradition applicable to the entire population. These tombs illustrate globally unique characteristics, not only in terms of their number, density and scale, but also in terms of details such as burial chambers equipped with alcoves. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1542/

3. Barbar Temple

4. Bahrain National Museum

National Museum of Bahrain in capital Manama, is a store house that exhibits the country’s ancient, medieval and modern history. A normal tourist would be awe struck by the exhibits that open doors to the very ancient Dilmun Civilisation. Dilmun Civilisation dates back to 3rd millennium BC.

Here are a pictures of a few exhibits, from the national museum, Bahrain…

Dilmun Seals

5. Al Khamis Mosque

6. Bahrain Fort/Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (fort). The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1192/

These were the few places that we visited, among the numerous venues of historic interest in Bahrain. Our next journey would be a cultural trip to the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, with a varied display of rich artistic heritage. I can’t wait to share the Pottery Demonstration!

‘SIGNATURE’ by Sanjeev Kapoor – The Biriyani Workshop

Recently, I had this wonderful opportunity, to visit the Kitchen of the fine dining restaurant – ‘Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor’ in Abu Dhabi. A very big Thanks to friends, who made this happen.

The restaurant stands in a prime location, in Nation Towers, overlooking the Corniche. The restaurant prominently showcases modern and contemporary interiors. Yet, the elegance of Indian cultural elements are not to be missed. The menu here, boasts of traditional dishes served with a twist.

Disclaimer: This post is not a review on the restaurant. I was not invited to write about the cuisine or the restaurant.

It is my own personal interest, to learn new things, from speciality chefs that has led to this post. It is hard to find restauranteurs, who are open-minded to share their recipes and kitchen. Especially, allowing a blogger like me, who doesn’t even have an account in any social networking arena, certainly isn’t a normal trend in either today’s restaurant business or blogging field . That is why, I need to extend my warmest gratitude to the owners of the restaurant, to have given me the opportunity to learn the dishes and also share them with my readers.

Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor, is a well known chain of restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha. The restaurant serves signature dishes of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, well acclaimed Celebrity Chef of the Indian Subcontinent. He can easily be hailed as, one of the first very few Chefs in India, to have popularised the Job of a Culinary Artist, if I can say so, to the most respectful status it enjoys today. Due to such devoted as well as media friendly/articulate Chefs like Mr. Kapoor, the profession has acquired a Cult Status today. This in turn, has motivated a big chunk of the younger generation, to join the crew of Chefs, in a dream to become Sanjeev Kapoors of their Restaurants. And millions of home cooks like me, also feel the aura of a Chef’s Cap, when a dish is cooked to perfection.

All said and done, the struggle of a chef to reach the desired heights is enormous. Especially, to reach the Pinnacle of one’s career, is not a mean feat. And Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor, continues to be the Super Speciality Chef, even after years of attaining the Apex status of the most popular Chef of Modern India.

One of the few first cookery books, I bought to keep on the coffee table at home, were three books of Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor. While we live away from our homeland, I feel authentic culinary experts like Mr. Kapoor are the Best Brand Ambassadors, who represent Indian Cuisine abroad.

I thoroughly made use of the opportunity, to learn two of everyone’s favourite dishes, Biriyani and Kabab. The recipe of these two, among many more, makes me feel truly inquisitive about the several processes of preparation.

Among the Biriyanis, the Chef demonstrated –

  1. Chicken Biriyani
  2. Easy Mutton Biriyani, with left over Mutton curry

The Executive Chef at ‘Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor’, was very patient, to explain the step by step processes of the making of Biriyani . After his demonstration, the recipe now looks very simple. A very big Thanks to him.

First to grab on, is the Chicken Biriyani.

Now, to the recipe-

Chicken Biriyani (serves 3-4)

Since it was a demonstration, the right quantities of chicken and rice are only given. Other quantities are approximate values. As told by Chef, It is a usual norm to use 1/2 kg chicken for 1/2 kg of rice.

Marinating the Chicken

  1. Half a kilo of cleaned chicken pieces

2. Add 4 slit green chillies and 3 tsp ginger garlic paste

3. Add turmeric, chilli, cardamom, pepper powders and salt to the chicken

powders

4. Add ginger juliennes, ghee, crispy fried (browned) onions and coriander leaves

5. Add yoghurt and mix well

6. Let this chicken and added ingredients marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Making Biriyani

  1. Wash and soak rice in water, atleast half an hour prior to boiling water.

2. Boil water in a wide pot or pan, that is big enough to cook rice and throw away excess water. Add dry spices and other ingredients listed below. Let the water boil with the spices for about 8-10 minutes.

  1. cardamom
  2. cinnamon
  3. bay leaves
  4. cloves
  5. black pepper
  6. fennel seeds
  7. ginger julienne
  8. mint leaves
  9. coriander leaves
  10. green chillies
  11. oil
  12. salt

3. Remove the spices from water.

4. Drop the soaked rice in the boiling water and let it cook.

5. Choose a good hard bottomed pan. The quality of the pan would facilitate in making a successful final product, which doesn’t stick to the bottom of the vessel.

6. Add the marinated chicken to the pan.

7. Two pans, one with rice and the other with marinated chicken, are kept alongside each other, both getting cooked simultaneously .

8. After a while, they look like this…

9. The chicken now, is half cooked. And the rice is also half cooked. It is time to give the first layer to the chicken curry. The stove is always kept in medium to sim position. Once we start keeping the layers, the flame should be in sim position only.

10. With half cooked chicken at the bottom, first layer of rice on top- add crispy fried golden brown onions.

11. Now, the second layer of rice; then golden brown onions and coriander leaves.

12. Add saffron water and khewra water (extract from distilled pandanus flowers)

13. Moving on to the third and the last layer…rice, golden brown onions, coriander leaves, saffron water and khewra water. This time, add ginger juliennes and garam masala on top

14. Remember, all this while, the stove is kept in sim position.

15. The next step, is to seal the vessel and allow the chicken and rice to blend well with the spices added. Take kneaded wheat flour and press it on the edges of the pan.

16. Close tightly with a lid, and let the combination of multiple ingredients bring out the best of each other. This might take approximately 20 minutes. Keep the flame in full for the first 2-3 minutes and then simmer and cook for another 18 minutes.

in full flame for the first 2-3 minutes

17. A better way to cook 100% unburnt Dum Biriyani, is to place the pan on a hot cast iron pan, which is kept on medium flame. This way, direct heat doesn’t affect the bottom layer of the biriyani, that is the chicken.

18. We are almost done. Hold your breath tight and open the pan to see the beautifully cooked delicacy. Enjoy the wonderful aroma of the slow cooked Dum Biriyani.

A truly inspiring and delightful experience over all.

National Day Celebrations – December 2019

This is a subsequent post to the previous one on the UAE National Day. This year too, the roads were lit and are still lit, for the arrival of Christmas and New Year. The air show conducted afternoon, showcased the skills of specialists on air maneuvering, and spread the colours of UAE, indeed a joyful event to watch. In the night, the fire works glittered and all roads seemed to have led to Corniche.

By evening, all roads led to Corniche...

And when the sun started his setting journey, more and more cars..

Zoom for a close up view of the traffic..

One of the highlights of this year’s decorative lights on the roads we noticed, was the inclusion of UAE’s first astronaut, Hazza Al Mansouri, who returned back after 8 days in space. It is a proud moment for the country and it is truly a great gesture of honour, the Government has showered upon the pioneer astronaut. He is certainly a symbol of Inspiration. It would be every parent’s wish that their child dreams big, aims big in life and achieves it too.

The Astronauts

These pictures show the immense pride that comes from the transformation of a country from a Desert Landscape to a Land of Greenery and Tall Raised Buildings… a perfect portrayal of Concrete Development with an Eco friendly Environment. Modernisation with a sense of History, Civilisation and above all Tolerance is what the world needs today. And that’s what the UAE proudly stands for.

The Marina Eye Observation Wheel

Deepawali – The Victory Story

Deepawali in the south of India or Diwali in the north, the festival signifies victory of good over evil. In the north, it is Lord Rama’s homecoming, after his victory over Ravana; In the south, it is the day of Lord Krishna’s victory over demon Narakasura.

Now, my victory story, doesn’t involve any such philosophy. It is the victory of perseverance, victory of persistence, diligence, commitment and the list is endless. Why have I suddenly drenched myself in a sea of boastfulness? Let me elaborate. Exactly on the victorious day of Deepawali – I was a changed person. I suddenly felt my soul reached an unexplainable ecstatic state – with my victory over two things.

One – victory over the tricky Athirasam and Two – victory over the complicated Boondi Laddu! Doesn’t that sound awesome??

Athirasam

Athirasam has always been a tricky affair, since my first article on Athirasam in November 2011. It seems to have been a long journey, but this time, I am a contended soul.

I prayed very hard to all Gods, not for me, not for Athirasam, and also not for the Gods to whom I devoutly offered…. but extensively for my family. They are super appreciative of my efforts in the kitchen. A few times, I succeeded making replica of flattened pumice stone with the athirasam batter. Though it was capable of breaking any tooth, as strong as diamond, they appreciated the polished texture of the thing I made.

A few other times, the batter disintegrated in oil, they sweetly commented, it looked like blooming flowers in a lake. I was smart enough to stop with the first batch. I converted the batter into Appam with Banana or sweet Paniyaram. I even got hugs and kisses for being so very innovative.

Though, my heart brims with pride, having made them proud, on such countless occasions, I could somehow feel they were worried souls, on the eve of Diwali. They were in fact getting panic attacks, when I was preparing the Athirasam batter. With a true feeling of helping them out of this stressful situation, this time I prayed to all Gods, with utmost Devotion.

Thankfully, the Gods didn’t drop – good looking, perfect athirasams from Heaven. That’s when, I started to think, and hence, got so much stories to share with you guys.

So what made the difference? There were a few things I thought I should re-analyse. All numeric ratios were checked and they seemed just right. The measurements were perfect; the ingredients were exact; the procedure was flawless. I felt like a school going kid, with my math problem gone wrong. All formulas right, done in the exact step by step procedure, rechecked several times….. but the answer went wrong. All my teachers stood in front of me, and seemed to be telling me – Maths is all about Practice. Not only Mathematics, anything in life comes with a price – and the most important of all might be…. Time – Devoted Time to practice and practice again.

I realised, making Athirasam was more than a tough mathematical calculation. Practice was not enough. But, learning new nuances from continuous practice helped. What I learnt from continuous Practice is listed below-

  1. Rice flour used for Athirasam needs to be moist and not too dry. That’s why, raw rice is soaked, dried at home for an hour or so, and powdered in the mixer while slightly wet.
  2. Jaggery used should be the darker variety and also one which is right for syrups – we call it the ‘Paagu Vellam’ in Tamil.
  3. Though the ratio is provided, always keep additional rice flour. Because, some varieties of jaggery might take in more flour. If there isn’t enough flour, the mixture would be watery, a consistency not suitable to make athirasam.
  4. Also, always mix rice flour to syrup and, do not pour the syrup into rice flour. This helps in binding the mixture well, and gives room to add more rice flour if needed. But, while pouring syrup into the flour- one might end up having a very thick batter. And, if there isn’t more syrup in hand, it would be difficult to alter the consistency of batter.
  5. The most important of all – THE SYRUP…. that makes the difference. What we need, is a single-string consistency or soft ball consistency syrup.

Soft Ball consistency – How to make the quintessential syrup?

  • Heat jaggery with 1/4 cup water in a vessel to dissolve
  • Filter when jaggery is dissolved and make a syrup.
  • Check for Soft ball consistency? When the jaggery is boiling well in the vessel – keep a bowl of water and add a few drops of the syrup. The drops should settle in water and one should be able to make a soft ball out of the droplets.
  • Soft ball consistency is same as single string. Take very little syrup in between thumb and index finger (be cautious… the syrup is too hot), now, single string should be formed. This is the right consistency of syrup.

Now, after getting the consistency of syrup right, add the rice flour to the syrup and let the batter ferment overnight.

For recipe and ingredients of Athirasam, and my initial stories on how I learnt athirasam from our family kitchen, visit – https://dosaikal.com/2011/10/25/the-tricky-athirasam/

RICE FLOUR

The next important aspect of this year’s Athirasam making was the rice flour. I had store-bought rice flour, that was Idiyappam maavu. While I was wondering, how to use this flour, as an easy option .. this website came to my rescue. https://www.sailajakitchen.org/2018/10/adhirasam-recipe-using-ready-made-rice.html

It had an answer to keep the store bought dry rice powder in moist condition. The author asked to sprinkle water little by little on the rice flour, and after mixing, powder the bread-crumb-like flour with dry ginger and cardamom in a mixer. The moist rice powder for Athirasam is ready.

Isn’t this super smart! I adapted this method, with a slight correction in the syrup consistency- accurately soft ball.

Thank You Sailaja! you made my Day!!

After allowing the batter to ferment overnight, I made athirasam on the day of Deepawali. Gods had answered the prayers of my family. My Athirasams were just perfect.

I had mixed feelings… Had I scored full marks in mathematics? Or was I an athlete, who has just reached the finish line, faster than ever? I touched my head…. do I feel a chef’s cap? I suddenly realised, my feet didn’t touch the ground, then, I pressed myself down.

It might sound like an exaggerated triumph, but, this is no mean feat either. My mother agrees with me. Since Deepawali until today, she has been the lone soul, to have listened each word of my triumphant story of Athirasam, in complete silence on the other side of the telephone. And just said, ‘I’m proud of you’ with tears in her eyes, that I could visualise through my BOTIM call.

Navaratri in Abu Dhabi – Binding Traditions Stronger!

Come September, there are a number of festivals in line. And, for an Indian household, festivals mean exclusive traditions and exquisite food. Pillayar Chathurthi passed with mouth watering Modhakams or Poorna Kozhukkattai. Then came Navratri/Navaratri with many varieties of Sundal or the Healthy seasoned Lentil salads.

This year, Navaratri/Navratri was a special affair. Living in Abu Dhabi, one doesn’t feel out of homeland, with millions of Indians, especially South Indians quite huge in number. But, it is certainly an amazing place where festivals are celebrated in their best traditional way, with undoubted authenticity.

My Navaratri in Abu Dhabi, reminded me of Chennai, where I would go to houses of relatives and friends, to see Golu – the display of dolls/artefacts and many more, in beautifully decorated steps. Golu, showcases the innovative decorations of mostly the women in the house, and ofcourse without gender bias, the men do give a helping hand. Whoever contributes to it, It is creativity at its traditional best.

Why Abu Dhabi reminded me of Chennai, is purely because, the Golu display, Traditional attire, Sundal and singing of Keerthanais in Carnatic music, all part of Navaratri back home, came as a complete package this year. The only difference being, back in Chennai, I went in Pattu Pavadai – the traditional dress for little girls in south India; here in Abu Dhabi – I took my little daughter who came in Pattu Pavadai.

Nostalgia heavily strikes the middle aged .. has any philosopher/psychologist mentioned it? If not, then it’s me to profess it to the whole wide world.

I truly need to thank my friends here, Radha, Rekha, Shalini and Uma, who took me in a time machine and made me relive those splendid memories. Back at home, in one’s own homeland, one is always part of the already built-in society. Sharing traditions and remaining rooted, becomes an easy affair there. Here, in a land of one’s livelihood, one needs to become part of a new society, as well gather parts of their own society to remain culturally rooted. This Navaratri/Navratri and Golu that I write about, are not community events, transferring the cultural current from a core transmitter. Most admirable part here, is that, these women of the household, professionals in their own walks of life, have independently and individually transmitted the tradition and culture, they learnt from their parents, to friends and members of an extended society.

Here are a few pictures of the fascinating decorations in their homes, arranged to perfection. The Navaratri celebrations with the Golu, provided splendid feast for the eyes, soothing traditional music for the ears, scrumptious food for the tummy, and glorious memories for the heart.

The first home that I visited… Golu at Radha’s

the beautiful steps

the Krishna concept

the Devis

the Ganeshas

Golu at Shalini’s..

the beautiful steps

such eye-catchy colours..

the Krishna concept..

surprising twist.. Cambodian concept..Apsaras and Angkor Wat

This one, rekindled my Khmer Memories. Cambodia holds a special place in my heart, for the history of the land, warmth of the people, traditional cuisine and the connect with India, especially Tamilnadu- during the eras of the Pallava and Chola Empires. Nostalgia Overloaded. For more information on my love for Cambodia – please visit – https://dosaikal.com/category/the-cambodia-diary/

Golu at Rekha’s..

the beautiful steps…

Thanjavur thalaiyatti bommai – dancing dolls of Thanjavur – the shopkeeper’s gallery

A big ‘Nandri’ my friends!!

Hand Crafted Poetry!

What a way to start my UAE Diary!! After Holland and Cambodia, it is time to start a new adventure in a new country. What more can I expect, than an artistic push to kick start my Diary in the UAE..

Recently, Ms. Mani Suri, esteemed spouse of the Ambassador of India to the UAE, H.E. Navdeep Singh Suri, displayed her unique pottery creations. Ms. Suri’s 12 year passion, saw the perfect limelight in the midst of the Arabian sands, visible through the glasses of the 90th floor exhibition hall, in Burj Mohammed bin Rashid Tower, near the World Trade Centre,  Abu Dhabi.

She is a professional herself, working as the Design Head of a Production Company in Jaipur. She holds a Masters Degree in Economics from the Guru Nanak University in Amritsar, Punjab and additionally a degree in Communication Design from the USA.

A creation is always a mirror of the artist’s mind. In many cases, it represents the personality of the  creator. The exhibition named – ‘Down to Earth – Mani’s Vibrant Creations in Clay’ showcased the simple person that Ms. Mani Suri is, and yet a vibrant social personality, her friends know her to be.  

Earthy Hues- so close to Mother Earth

I regard handcrafted creations of any medium- be it fabric, metal, rock or clay, as highest forms of artistic creativity.   This one exhibition,  the medium being clay, transferred the connoisseur to an arena, so close to Mother Earth, far away from the mechanical world,  thereby showcasing the artist’s truest appreciation of life.

mother

While ‘Mother’ stimulates nostalgia, ‘Desert Safari’ and ‘Palm Tree’ show the Arabian Charm;

‘Soulmates’ and ‘Lotus’ are synonymous to perfect; if these are perfect, what do we say about the ‘pomegranate’ -flawless? If pomegranates are flawless, the other pomegranate – ‘Anar ka Dhana’ with tiny seeds intact is a stunning thing to watch.

desert safari


palm tree

soulmates

pomegranates


anar ka dhana – seeds intact

All creators are narrators too. This one narrates her flaws too.  The crack in the pot and her perseverance in putting it back to a better shape is inspiring. Optimism has brought out one of the most beautiful pieces in the collection.

optimism at its best!

The colours are striking like those in the ‘Rainbow Ride’ or the ‘Sunshine’.  ‘Cheer Up’ truly cheers you up with its vibrance.   It’s surely an apt name-  ‘the vibrant collections’.

rainbow ride


sunshine


cheer up

Pottery or Poetry?

Ms. Mani was introduced to clay in South Africa, and since then clay from different parts of the world, has been an integral part of her life, hopping off and on different destinations, with her Diplomat husband. She continued her game with clay in Egypt and Australia subsequently.

The products displayed had different creative techniques – rustic, metallic, glazed or the sheeny finish and what not. The artist has gloriously played with clay and her imagination.

One of my favourites is ‘by the beach’.  The relaxed mood that the artist transfers to the onlooker is the success of such pieces of art. The happy mood that ‘let’s go, party’ throws on you is not to be missed.

by the beach

let’s go, party

The ‘Mother Hen’ and the ‘ugly ducklings’ are given such befitting names. 

ugly ducklings and mother hen

The work of pottery is nothing less than poetry in clay. But the names given to the pieces shows Ms. Mani’s interest in playing with words too. interesting and a few definitely fascinating…like the ‘hat trick’, ‘peekaboo’ or  ‘Copernicus’.

hat trick


peek a boo

coppernicus

 

When asked which piece of art she considers her master piece till date, Ms. Suri says – “I can’t name one, all are my children”.

Life can be driven by several forces. But, to lead one that is driven by Passion, is certainly an accomplishment in itself. ‘Down to Earth’ portrays this positive celebration of Life- symbolising Ms. Suri – the artist and creator.