Thursday, December 2, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide - Flavors of the Middle East

A little help finding the proper gift for those special in your life. I fixed the broken links on 12/21/2015 

This time of year I begin to panic a little. For me, the last two months of the year are like a jar of cookies guarded by a couple of children. Gone, consumed, devoured while you weren't paying attention. Ack, where has the time gone?

My level of stress and related blood pressure, especially in the month of December, do not benefit by the difficult task of finding gifts to gift. Which gifts to gift, is not a gift to my health. Fortunately for you, I hope to be of benefit to those looking for a gift with, flavors of the Middle East.


1. My first recommendation is an easy one: Patchi Chocolate.

I became a huge fan of Patchi Chocolate last year. My favorite Patchi store was the one down the street in Khalidiya - staff was always friendly and helpful. And the chocolate, always delectable, premium quality with flavors unlike any other chocolate. When we returned to the States, I went through Patchi withdrawls - no other chocolate satisfies my cravings like Patchi. Luckily, I found Patchi on - hurray. I have now purchased Patchi several times from Amazon and remain a happy, tastily satisifed customer. Photos and links will take you to so you can give the gift of Patchi. What a great gift idea.

2. My second recomendation is: Gunpowder Tea.

Gunpowder Tea is a form of green Chinese tea in which each leaf has been rolled into a small round pellet. It is believed to take its English name from the fact that the tea resembles blackpowder grains. The flavor of brewed gunpowder tea is often described as thick and strong like a soft honey, but with a smokey flavor and an aftertaste that is slightly coppery. This type of tea is often seen as having a flavor that is somewhat grassy, minty, or peppery. Yes, I became a fan of Gunpowder tea last year. I was able to find two brands of Gun Powder Tea on That's a good thing, because I'm almost out of tea.

3. My third food recomendation is: Medjool Dates.
Dates are everywhere in the Middle East. They are important as a food, but also very important culturally. Dates have been a staple food of the Middle East for thousands of years. They are believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf, and have been cultivated since ancient times from Mesopotamia to prehistoric Egypt. The fruit is very important in the Arabian and North African Countries because the date palm tree grows well in the dry desert heat. In the past dates took a very important role for certain desert regions as the staple food crop.  It was comparable to rice, wheat, and potatoes in other cultures. Dates are traditionally offered to guests, along with tea, and are the first food eaten when breaking fast during Ramadan.

4. My last food related recomendation: Vimto.

Not familiar with Vimto? I wasn't either until last year. You'll find this beverage everywhere in the Middle East and in the UK. I picked up a bottle on impulse at the Hypermarket last year - a big fan ever since. If you need to satisfy someones Vimto craving, here's a link to the product and a Vimto commercial (yes it's funny - Vimto is huge in the Middle East).

Video: Who will get the last Vimto?


Here are some book recomendations, I enjoyed these titles and believe they will make excellent gifts too.

1. Books by Tahir Shah.

My wife purchased me a book by Tahir Shah, "In Arabian Nights." This book is a tale about Moroccan story tellers, and the author’s quest to define his life by finding a story of his own. This book is a good read, one you enjoy slowly, savoring the colors, and flavors of Morocco and the stories nestled within stories. He's an excellent and humorous teller of tales. Recommended.

2. My last book suggestion is: Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times.

My time in Abu Dhabi was not all swimming, Shisha, cafes and business dinners. While living in Abu Dhabi, I found this book at Al Wahda Mall. The book, "Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times" written by Margaret Nydell, is what I consider essential reading.

Ms. Nydell writes very well. I found her book absorbing and difficult to put down. It became dog-eared quickly. For any expatriate living in an Arab country the subject of Arab culture and mores, is obviously relevant. That being stated, in today’s world of global tension, wars in the Middle East and a variety of voices, on both sides of the fence demanding attention – this book is more than relevant to anyone lacking an understanding of what it means to be an Arab and what it means to be a Muslim. I strongly recommend this book to anyone moving to the Middle East and to everyone in the States.

* If this list did not satisfy you in your gift giving pursuits, then my final recomendation is a Website. I have not personally shopped on this site, but it is the only site I've found which seems to fit the bill when looking for all things Arabian (including Bahkoor, Arab perfumes/oils and incense burners)

M'a sa-laama-a (go with peace).

- William

Monday, October 11, 2010

For a Friend Visiting Abu Dhabi

A friend from Church will soon be visiting Abu Dhabi for a week. Here's the information I sent him regarding eating out. I'm sure there's something I forgot.


Here's a list of restaurants I know in Abu Dhabi. Which to visit really depends on where you are staying. Check out TimeOut Abu Dhabi for suggetions. Also, when you visit one of the many malls, Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall, Khalidiaya Mall, Al Wahda Mall, etc. look for a free copy of Abu Dhabi Week, they are usually posted near the entrances.

  • At Marina Mall, eat at Hatam-Iranian Restaurant, 2nd Floor #332, great food, appetizer was a meal in itself.
  • At Al Wahda Mall, Beirut Restaurant, 2nd Floor Food Court Area, be ready to stand in line.
  • Lebanese Flower off of Defense Road (popular, locals should know where it is).
  • Chamas Brazilian Restaurant: Intercontinental Hotel. Expensive, but great if you want to eat a lot of meat.
  • Tche Tche Cafe: Corniche Towers, popular with Arabs, smoky from shisha, great iced smoothies, excellent hamburgers.
  • Al Safadi, our favorite place for shawarmas: Zayed The First Street, Khalidiyah. Yummy.
  • Indigo, Indian Restaurant: Butter Chicken and Buttered Naan! Beach Rotana, Abu Dhabi, Tourist Club Area. Very Expensive.
You must try the Hamour when you eat out. It's a firm white fish and very popular. For breakfast and lunch try the "Arab Breakfast" it usually consists of Foul (my favorite) Arab cheese or Labneh, olives, cucumber, tomatoe and sometimes falafel.

Oh, and don't forget to sample the Patchi Chocolate! We're big fans, luckily sells it here, but you should buy some there.

TimeOut Abu Dhabi has a decent restaurant guide -

You can also read my blog for ideas:


If you are interested in buying perfume for yourself I'd suggest Ajmal Eternal. If you're buying for your wife the same, and also Yaz and Samdi Al Qurashi (but it will be more awkward). Perfumeries are in the malls and in different neighborhoods. You can also buy perfume at Swiss Arabian in the malls (they have good prices and also sell Bahkoor which is Arab incense).


I'm sure you know the rules: don't stare at locals, don't take pictures of people without asking, don't use your left hand to eat with, don't show the soles of your shoes, and DON'T take the GOLD taxis. Take the Silver taxis or have the hotel get you a driver.

Enjoy the heat! Wish I was going too.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's That Smell?

My Collection of Bahkoor/Bakhoor/Bukhoor

In the above photo, you can see various boxes of bahkoor I purchased in Abu Dhabi, some charcoal and a couple of traditional incense burners, all resting on the rug we bought from the local rug merchant (Corniche Towers across from La Brioche cafe - recommended).

Also Called Incense
Bahkoor/bakhoor/bukhoor, also called incense, is widely used in the Arab world – with scorching desert temperatures and sweating bodies covered by layers of clothing, bahkoor/bakhoor/bukhoor is as much luxury as social necessity. Incense plays an important role in Arab life, one I've grown to appreciate.

While living in Abu Dhabi, I found my sense of smell constantly stimulated by aromas of bahkoor, Arab perfumes and shisha. My head was often turned by a group of Emirati women, walking past wrapped in the exotic aroma of Bahkoor (always careful not to stare at them).

Typically composed of woodchips (Oudh the Arabic name for Agarwood/Aloeswood) and soaked in fragrant oils and mixed with other natural ingredients (resin, ambergris, musk, sandalwood, essential oils). These scented chips/bricks are burned in charcoal or incense burners to perfume the house and clothing with the rich, fragrant smoke.

Incense burner, charcoal and Swiss Arabian Bait al Arab bahkoor

Bakhoor is usually burned in a traditional incense burner called Mabkhara (also called a Majmor), using charcoal of wood or manufactured charcoal discs/briquettes - which I use.

Traditional Uses
Traditional uses of Bahkoor include: to perfume the house, for special occasions like weddings, for a romantic atmosphere in the bedroom, as a gesture of hospitality, and it's used to "boost positive energy" and "dismiss bad spirits". You'll also find it/smell it in commercial shops, stores and in the malls where it's used to attract customers. It's also used after cooking or smoking to quickly discard unpleasant smells.

I've grown to appreciate Bahkoor and its many varieties. I hope you have the opportunity to try some at home too.

* Update 16 September 2015 -   Found my favorite Bakhoor "Bait al Arab" online! I actually thought I smelled it when I looked at the picture. Cool.

Buy Your Own
I found some Swiss Arabian Bakhoor for sale at Found some incense burners/censers too. You'll also need the correct charcoal for this type of incense (the Japanese silver charcoal lights quick and burns clean). I've included linked images below.

Let the charcoal burn until it is glowing white before you add the bahkoor. It will smell burnt if you don't. Don't use too much bahkoor. If it's your first time using a metal incense burner/censer, use it on a heat proof surface with good ventilation until you are familiar with it. It will be hot, if you think you might have to move it, have a plan to move it before you light it (test it outside on the pavement if you are concerned).

Yes, more Bakhoor and Oudh chips are available online. Also found some incense burners which may work. Recommend placing on top of a ceramic coaster/tile. 


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Unposted September 2009 - Here it is

I just found this post, which I did not post, written early September last year. Here it is, only gently tweaked.

Ramadan Kareem (Happy Ramadan)

Ramadan is the Muslim Holy month, celebrated every 9 month on a lunar calendar. It is a time of prayer, fasting and great celebration. I was lucky enough to be in Abu Dhabi this year during the beginning of Ramadan. Since Ramadan is dependent on a lunar calendar, Ramadan falls on a different month and day each year. A group of religious leaders watch the evening sky for the first sign of the crescent moon, signaling the beginning of Ramadan. August 22nd marked the beginning of Ramadan this year.

(photo above - Ramadan decorations on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi)

Fasting for Ramadan begins at sunrise and lasts until sunset. Ramadan fasting requires, no drinking, no eating, no smoking and abstaining from physical relations. All restaurants are closed during the day during the month of Ramadan. In Muslim countries, it is against the law to eat or drink anything in public. Some of the hotel restaurants may have a private, blocked from public view, location where guests can eat and drink during the day.

(Ramadan display in Abu Dhabi Mall)

The local newspapers and magazines encourage non-Muslims to attempt fasting, in order to better appreciate what the locals are doing and how they are feeling. I gave it a go for about a week. Have you ever gone without food and water during the hottest time of the year? August and September in the United Arab Emirates had the most brutal heat I’ve ever experienced. The heat and humidity kick up a notch and take summer to another level - I've heard it described as "hell on earth" - I just think of it as “oven-time”.
(Laborers taking a mandatory break between noon and 3 PM)

Fasting is something I do during the month of Lent. But the kind of fasting I've done, is not like Ramadan fasting. If you are indoors, out of the UAE heat, Ramadan fasting is tolerable in AC comfort. If you have to spend any time outdoors, under the brutal sun and humidity, Ramadan fasting is a true challenge and a test of one’s faith and resolve. By law, this time of year, the construction laborers are required to take a break from work from 12:30 PM - 3:30 PM. You'll see men in coveralls resting in the shade of buildings, trees and anywhere they can find a little relief from the sun. It was quite the experience, a humbling experience and worthy of respect.

Ramadan fasting is broken at sunset and after the Magrib call to prayer. Traditionally, fasting is broken with friends and family sharing water and dates. The Middle East, and UAE have the most wonderful dates you'll ever eat. Water and dates never tasted so good. About an hour and a half later is the evening call to prayer, this is when the feasting begins - these meals are called Iftar meals. Many of the locals will feast (and smoke shisha) with friends and family until late - some will pray all night, until early morning. Yes, this does affect office hours in the private sector, which tend to be shortened for Muslims to a work day of 9 AM - 2:30 PM (the shortened work day does not apply to expats).


Good deeds and giving to the poor are also aspects of Ramadan. It is said in the Quran " during Ramadan..." I read in the Khaleej times, that some people come to the UAE during Ramadan, to take advantage of people’s good will and to beg for money. Begging is against the law in the UAE. I was only approached once in Abu Dhabi for money.
Ramadan Symbols
  • Lantern - symbolizes the light of God.
  •  Crescent Moon - marks the beginning of Ramadan and the lunar calendar.
  •  Stars - the Heavens and evening sky
 (photo - posing by Dubai Creek - dripping wet - can you tell?)

We visited Dubai last weekend (late August) and attempted day-time, outdoor, walking and tourism.

Ouch - the heat and humidity of Dubai was more intense and brutal than we expected. Our first effort at escaping the hotel was rebuked; we ended up retreating back to our room and gulping down water.

The next day, we drank two liters of water before even attempting to walk in the oven outside. By the time we returned to our hotel three hours later, all that water was sweated out. My clothes were soaked; when I took them off in the room, they felt like they had just been pulled out of the washing machine, before going into the dryer. Late August in Dubai was a bloody oven. Even so, we managed to enjoy shopping at Dubai Old Souk and a late night boat ride.

In Closing

I found my time spent in the UAE rewarding and educational. I've gained new insights into the Middle East and Muslim Culture. Stereotypes have been broken and a deeper appreciation for the Arab world has been embraced. Truly an enlightening experience and time so well spent. If you have the opportunity to visit or work in the UAE - go there. I don't know when I'll return to the Middle East, but I look forward to that time.

Ramadan Kareem - A'slaam A'lakum

My First Ramadan Ramadan Fasting and Dates: A Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr Story (Festival Time) The Last Night of Ramadan Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr Fasting In Islam and The Month of Ramadan Pack of Five Handmade Arabic Calligraphy Eid Cards

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Etran Finatawa at WOMAD Abu Dhabi 2009

Here's a 3 minute video clip of a performance by the group Etran Finatawa. What a great time.

Learn more about this band from Niger at their website,

*I've added linked images to Etran Finatawa music available from

Tarkat Tajje / Let's Go! Introducing Etran Finatawa  Desert Crossroads 

WOMAD Music Stream

They are streaming music from the WOMAD Abu Dhabi site.

click to hear WOMAD music stream
Makes for great background music.