Anyone looking for a date? This past week we attended the Annual Date Palm Festival in Abu Dhabi, at the very beautiful convention center. With the date fruit's huge presence here in the Middle East, it was really exciting to find out more about this historical food.
Dates grow on trees in the region, and then are cultivated and dried. Yes, you can also eat them fresh, but since the beginning of time, dates have been dried naturally as a way to preserve them for later. It is then that they are usually eaten as a simple delicate and delicious dried fruit, accompanied by a small cup of strong Arabic coffee. Every hotel, government building (from the Police Station to the Chamber of Commerce) or any other place where you will find yourself waiting, you will also find a little cart of Arabic coffee and dates. Brian wonders when I will stop saying "Ooo Dates!" every time we see them.
At this festival, we met the growers and cultivators of dates from all over the Eastern region, with a large group from Saudi Arabia. As with most times when you can meet the real people behind the products, it was really nice to see everyone's passion, commitment and dedication to their dates. And most sellers were just as excited to meet us (some of the few "Westerners" at the festival). We heard more than one story about how someone had enjoyed visiting a friend in New York or Los Angeles at some point... but also had really not enjoyed being harassed at airport security and so probably would not make the trip again.
There were hundreds of different varieties of dates, and date products. Not only do the dates vary on their own with some sweeter, some less so, some chewy, some more crunchy....but there are also loads of variations on dates. Stuffed dates, juices, ice creams, purees and spreads, pickled.... and everyone was so generous offering multiple tastings of each and every product.
I was impressed with how much sugar and calories I could consume in only a few hours.
Usually I prefer things very simple. A few dates in a waiting room and I am excited. However, with all of this choice, I discovered that my absolute favorite were the specialty dates. These are meant to be more of a special dessert treat, and less of something to be eaten while you are waiting in line at the DMV. These were covered in sesame seeds, some in coconut flakes, other stuffed with toasted almonds, cashews or pistachios.
After tasting abut 25 dates, we were buzzing right along from stand to stand. With an ever greater appreciation for these little jewels, we loaded up our bags with a few different purchases.
Dates were, and are, essentially the "energy bar" before it was invented.
By the end of the day, Brian was able to distinguish that his favorite was the Sukkary variety (lit. sugary) that you see below. These are a medium brown skin; with a distinctly sweet and soft flesh from Saudi Arabia. Supposedly it is the most expensive kind. Would I expect anything less from his tastes?
Crates and crates!
After a few more dates, some sips of a deliciously creamy date-infused camel milk, and more chatting, we waved goodbye to our date sellers. With full stomachs and sugar rushing through our veins we felt like we had the energy to cross the desert, but instead we left with a new love of this timeless fruit.