Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A foodie in the UAE: thank God, it's organic!

Yesterday, I went to the mall on my lunch hour to look for fresh rosemary to use it in last night's soup. [I should explain that every mall in Abu Dhabi has a huge supermarket (which they call a hypermarket) as one of its anchor stores; otherwise, I would not typically go to a mall looking for herbs.] Anyway, entering the mall I was greeted by the sound of live music, and as I approached the grocery store I could see a line of Emirati men singing into microphones while a half a dozen others did a traditional dance.

Apart from on National Day, seeing Emiratis singing and dancing in a public space is very unusual. I was intrigued, but short on time and on a mission, so I kept walking toward the store. But then I stumbled upon what appeared to be the World's Longest Cake, elaborately decorated as a cityscape of Abu Dhabi, at which time I stopped a few moments to take it all in.

I didn't know yet what we were celebrating. All of the signs hung around the cake were in Arabic, so I thought maybe it was a local holiday I wasn't familiar with. I decided to run quickly into the store to complete my errand and then find out the reason for the excitement.

In the produce section I didn't find any rosemary but I did find this--

I gasped as I grabbed the most beautiful head of lettuce I've ever seen, which was flanked by bushels of exquisitely fragrant tomatoes, peppers, onions, and squash. Where did all this come from? In 17 months, I haven't seen vegetables near this caliber. With the ordeal of importing and the ornery heat, most produce arrives on shelves bruised and sad-looking. Even the wimpy "organic" sections of the grocery store offer up wilted leaves that costs a week's salary. I circled the display until I found a sign in English - and I think I heard the Hallelujah Chorus playing in the background as I read: Organically grown in Abu Dhabi.

Around the corner from the store I found a pseudo-farmer's market showing off the treats that we can come to expect from Mazaraa, "the first organically certified products in the UAE," according to the free pamphlet.

I now understood what the singing and dancing was about. I felt a bit of pride for this little country for moving in this direction; finding sustainable ways of producing their own food will be key to the UAE's continued growth and progress. It looks like they are pretty proud of it too--

UAE flag in vegetables

Not only are these vegetables divine to look at, they are surprisingly inexpensive. Typically, to buy four non-organic, average-sized bell peppers and barely edible lettuce would cost me at least 25 dirhams (nearly $7). But four huge peppers and a giant head of Romaine from Mazaara cost me about 10 dirhams (not even $3). And check out these beauties! Stuffed peppers are on the menu tonight --


  1. Great news! Let's hope they hang around. Everything farmers marketty in Dubai only seems to last a few weeks before fizzing.

  2. It's great to hear that we may be arriving to the UAE just in time! My husband and I will be relocating to Abu Dhabi this August and we, too, are foodies :) We love our Whole Foods here in the states and I have been wondering about the quality of produce in the desert.

    I loved the pictures of the celebration. I hope it maintains the level of quality and price that you talked about in your post.

  3. Ooh, shiny - what mall was that? My local Spinneys could double as a bank with the prices they charge.

  4. This was at the Lulu's in Khalidiya Mall (26th & 7th).

  5. That's an organic market that would be the envy of San Antonio! Beautiful!