Tag Archives: Abu Dhabi

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

This year’s Pongal – the Harvest Festival of the Tamils, was a special one for me. After posting my experience of Pongal in Cambodia , way back in 2014, now, I am delighted to post my experience of Pongal in Abu Dhabi, in 2020. Pongal was celebrated on 15th January.

Abu Dhabi, as many of us know, is a place very close to a South Indian’s heart. I recall a few lines I already wrote in one my previous posts – Navaratri in Abu Dhabi

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.

The same feeling of being at home, was felt during Pongal too. Firstly, there was a Pongal celebration by local Tamil Community, at Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi on the 10th of January, 2020. That gave a great start to the essence of our own Harvest Festival. There are a few more to join, in the coming days as well.

Apart from the events, that give a welcome feeling of being part of one’s own society, one of the most essential things to celebrate a traditional festival, is the availability of ingredients – exclusive to one’s native soil.

So, first step – I listed down the necessary things I needed to buy, for an authentic, traditional celebration – almost close to home, but away from home.

My list –

  1. Pongal Paanai – a new Mud Pot to make Pongal – The sweet rice pudding
  2. Manjal Kothu – Fresh Turmeric with the root and leaves, to tie around the pot
  3. Inji Kothu – Fresh Ginger with root and leaves
  4. Karumbu – Sugarcane
  5. Panakizhangu – Palmyra Sprout
  6. Maavilai – Fresh Mango leaves to make Thoranam or decoration in the house entrance
  7. Fresh traditional vegetables of Tamilnadu
  8. Banana Leaf
  9. Coconut
  10. Banana
  11. Rice
  12. Jaggery

Now, Rice, Jaggery, Banana, Coconut and vegetables are abundantly available in Abu Dhabi. Hence, the concern of getting those didn’t pop up at all.

My longing to make Pongal, in a new mud pot was fulfilled by Dar Al Meena Food Stuff Trading, located in Sharjah, which delivers organic produces from Tamilnadu, every week, on different days to different parts of the UAE. Click here to know more about the shop.

They deliver required native produces to Abu Dhabi every Sunday. So, my anxiety to get these trademark Pongal Agro products, was sorted out very quickly.

This post is not going to be one, with a recipe. But this one is, to share my happiness and fulfilment that resulted in this year’s Pongal celebration. Happiness, not because I could get those quintessential things – but specially and more specifically because, I could show my daughter, at least a glimpse of Pongal – the festival, so earthy, and so close to our roots.

Pongal is so special to the Tamils because, it is an ancient, non-religious, traditional festival, that is very strongly connected to the earthy aroma of our native soil. It is the Harvest Festival as well as a Thanksgiving Festival. Though, it is a festival in which the farmer is thanking his own eco system of nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, for providing the strength to achieve best yields. In turn, it is our duty to thank the Farmer, who produces the grains and vegetables we consume daily. Then, isn’t it very important to make our next generation value the sheer Hardwork of those humble souls, without whom, our filled plates with nutritious food and satisfied palates after each meal wouldn’t be achievable?

These are the things I procured from the shop, including my first priced possession of the new year – my Pongal Paanai/Mud Pot.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

The quintessential things –

mud pot, coconut shell ladle, the pirumanai to place the pot, fresh turmeric with root and leaves, fresh ginger with root and leaves.

my priced possessions – mud pot and coconut shell ladle

Seasoning the Man Chatti/Mud Pot

After soaking the mud pot in water overnight, I washed it well with gram flour using coconut scrub. The next step, in the process of seasoning the mudpot, I fried grated coconut and nei/clarified butter. This aids in removing any mud, impurities and also makes the pot stronger. Coconut and nei/clarified butter, would provide a nice aroma to the mud pot, while making sweet dishes in future. This is because, the clay would absorb the flavour and aroma of the things fried or cooked first, for the rest of its life span. I discarded the fried coconut. Then, washed the pot with the coconut scrub and gram flour. Man chatti/mud pot is ready to make Sarkkarai Pongal, in fact every year.

Rest of the products – Karumbu/Sugarcane

Panang kizhangu/Palmyra Sprouts

Maavilai/Fresh mango leaves and Maavilai thoranam

the vegetables and different kinds of rice – mappillai samba, hand pound white, hand pound brown

Making Sarkkarai Pongal

I made Pongal, with 3 cups rice and approximately 4 to 4 1/2 cups jaggery. Too much for a nuclear family. But, the joy of sharing with friends during such festivals is the true spirit of celebration.

To start, I tied the fresh turmeric root with leaves to the neck of the manchatti. Placed the man chatti with water to boil, on the stove. A tip here – Add sufficient water for rice to cook… this is not pressure cooker cooking.. so no water measurements. Add water in between, if water is insufficient to cook rice.

Sufficient water and washed rice immersed in it.

Meantime, I kept the jaggery with water on stove. Once water boils and jaggery is completely dissolved, switch off stove. We shall strain later, directly into the pot.

Checked the rice off and on, until it had become soft

After a few minutes, the rice had become thicker, with most of the water absorbed while cooking;

At this stage, I strained the jaggery liquid into the pot

I added freshly ground cardamom into the rice and jaggery pongee

It was time to mix well and check whether everything was going right.

I used this beautiful coconut shell ladle, to mash the rice well. This dual purpose ladle, also serves as a masher.

I fried cashew nuts in clarified butter/nei and added to the almost done sarkkarai pongal

Sarkkarai Pongal was a thickened pudding now. I closed the lid and got ready to thank the farmers, cattle and nature – all at heart, in front of the worship area, with all family members present.

Symbolising the new Harvest – vegetables and rice

Thanksgiving Time! Pongalo Pongal!!!

After the humble celebration at home, traditional meal with rice, sambar, avial, pachadi, poriyal, vadai and pongal was the treat of the day. It was truly a festival, remembering and thanking the Farmers, and their eco system of Nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, that provide them their basic means of livelihood, besides enabling us to reap the benefits of our primary food grains and vegetables.

‘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

48th National Day of the UAE – 02/12/2019

I am still in awe, absorbing the fast pace of growth of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. More closely of Abu Dhabi, because this is where I live. I watch Abu Dhabi’s coastal beauty and desert sands alongside the high raised buildings and their manicured landscape. Who said desert is short of greens? – Abu Dhabi has more than enough green for one’s eyes with neem and banyan trees to name a few, grass patches and many more plants and trees, alongside the tree of the soil – Date Palms. The credit of turning Al Ain and Abu Dhabi turning green undoubtedly goes to the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Malls and Shopping seems to be the foremost attraction. But, the land has so much more to offer…. Malls are just one huge part of tourism and weekend retail therapy. The brainwork that has gone into engaging tourists in vivid activities in the region is mind blowing.  Exploring into those attractions would follow in future posts in this section.

On December 2nd (which is almost today in the UAE), the UAE celebrates its 48th National Day. The day marks the formation of the UAE – which is a Federation of the seven Emirates – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm al Quwain.

The facts that I learnt from various articles and visits to important historic places in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are listed here –

  1. The collection of independent Sheikdoms in the Gulf were called the Trucial States, after signing a Treaty with the British in the year 1892.
  2. The first oil well was discovered in 1958, off the coast of Abu Dhabi
  3. The leaders – Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai, visualised a great future for their respective Emirates, and focussed on the development of the Gulf Region at large.
  4. The British announced their withdrawal on 16th January 1968. Very quick to react, Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Rashid of Dubai, established a Federation between the two Emirates on 18th February 1968.
  5. Sheikh Zayed, the Visionary, always sought a Federation of the seven Trucial States, along with Qatar and Bahrain to become 9. His relentless efforts were the key to the formation of UAE, which stands as a well developed Federation of Seven Emirates.
  6. The British protectorate treaty expired on December 1st 1971. The very next day, on December 2nd, the Union of Six Emirates – the UAE – was formally established. Ras Al Khaimah joined the federation on 10th February 1972.

(https://www.government.ae/en/about-the-uae/founders-of-the-union

https://gulfnews.com/lifestyle/community/how-the-uae-was-born-1.1610731)

National Day Celebrations 2018

We are all set to watch the air show in the afternoon, dancing fireworks show and the laser and light show at night tomorrow today. But I couldn’t resist posting the pictures I enthusiastically clicked last year, while we witnessed our first national day celebrations in the UAE.

The well lit streets were glittering. These are pictures from Al Ain, a garden city and oasis town, which is an hour and a half’s drive from Abu Dhabi. 

Abu Dhabi Corniche was a glorious sight to walk and click. Here are a few pictures-

Falcon – the national bird of UAE

The Fairmont Marina, Abu Dhabi displays 47the National Day

The emirate of Abu Dhabi got to see some of the finest performances on air. We were among the luckiest to have captured the air show from the Balcony of our tall raised residence.

Here is a glimpse of the colour filled Air show before the Sun set and the Fire works in the night,  that lightened the skies of Corniche  – the beautiful Beach of Abu Dhabi.  We truly enjoyed our first National Day in Abu Dhabi.

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Beach with spectators and rowing boats

Air Show in the Evening

After showering colours the planes on their way back…

The beauty of Corniche, Abu Dhabi and the light and laser show at night…

This is sheer display of Pride for the Nation, its Visionary Leaders and the Focussed Development that the country portrays to the rest of the world.

I am waiting for the splendid show today, this year’s National Day Celebrations. Shall update soon.

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.