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The other Abu Dhabi

Friday, January 18, 2013

Leave the glitz and glamour of Abu Dhabi behind and discover another facet of this desert city, as Raul Dias did on a recent visit, where he got to witness an organic food revolution that is making waves there

It’s 12 noon and the temperature is a crisp 12º۫C. The lush, bright pink, tomato laden trees seem to go on for miles, planted in neat little rows. Next to them are trees that bear tri-coloured bell peppers, ready to be picked by the farm hand. But not just yet. He’ll do that as soon as he is done placating the hunger pangs of the clucking hens that run freely in the adjacent chicken coop.

You’d be forgiven for imagining me in the middle of a farm in Tuscany. But, reality is a whole other ball game. I’m in Abu Dhabi, standing in the temperature controlled green house of the fecund Abu Dhabi Organic Farms, I can’t believe that the desert is just next door. Set up a few years ago, this organic farm was established as the first and only organic farm in the UAE.

A few hours later, I found myself at the Al Mushrif outlet of Mazaraa, an organic food retailer that stocks locally sourced food. The carbon footprint issue was a major source of concern here as most of the produce used to be imported. But, thanks to places such as Mazaraa and Abu Dhabi Organic Farms, food with a conscience is the buzz word now.

Interestingly, the organic food revolution in Abu Dhabi is even taking the hospitality industry by storm. The Organic Foods & Café that opened its first store in Dubai back in 2004, today has several branches, including one in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City. Here you get freshly baked items, gluten-free goodies and even organic skincare and household cleaning products.

The Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas on Saadiyat Island is another such champion of sustainability. The Park Bar & Grill, the hotel’s upscale twin-leveled restaurant, even does sustainable grill dishes on their menu, which I was to partake in for dinner later that day. But before that, I was booked into an organic cookery class conducted by The Park Bar & Grill’s Chef de Cuisine, Chef Maik Lilienthal.

I was told that I’d be learning to make an Omani Lobster & Local Tuna Carpaccio. Slicing tiny, translucent slivers of lobster and tuna, Chef Maik went on to arrange them on a square glass platter, anointing them with the dressing and garnishing with cucumber, tomato and shiso cress leaves that were sourced from Abu Dhabi Organic Farms.

Dinner was an organic trio of dishes that included the aforementioned Lobster & Tuna Carpaccio, a Lamb Rump with mashed potato and mushrooms for mains and a divine Arabic dessert called Halawa Bil Jebin, made up of semolina rolls, strawberry and rose water salsa dressed with organic honey. Healthy, tasty and sustainable.

The next morning heralded my last day in Abu Dhabi. Wanting to carry forward the ‘organic and local produce’ theme of my trip, I went down to the local Spice Souk where I picked up Arabian spices such as the lemony sumac, za’atar, the all-purpose Middle Eastern spice mix called baharat and karkade, which are dried hibiscus flowers that when used can make a refreshingly tangy beverage.

Purchases neatly packed and tucked under my arm, I couldn’t resist the urge of doing something typically touristy, so I took a taxi to the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, whose cool white inlaid marble floor, humongous crystal chandelier and vertiginous minarets took my breath away. And perfection once again showed its face to me as the setting sun hid behind the mosque’s largest dome, bathing it in the same shade of tomato pink I had seen at the organic farm.

Getting there
Abu Dhabi is one of the seven Emirates and the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It can be reached from Mumbai with return air tickets starting at approximately Rs 19,000.

When to visit
The cool winter months (from early November to late February) are the best time to visit Abu Dhabi, where pleasant days give way to chilly nights.

There is a range of accommodation options available in Abu Dhabi to suit every budget. But, for a unique experience of staying on an island in the UAE, The Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas on Saadiyat Island are the perfect place.

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