Just back from a ten day visit to England. Modern travel is extraordinary – one moment the glory of high English summer (think deep meadows, clear streams and the scent of hay) and then suddenly it’s palm trees, desert sand and serious heat. No time for adjustment. So different to when my forebears took several weeks to sail slowly out to India, gently acclimatising all the time. Still, I’ve snapped back quickly even though my body clock couldn’t believe it when the alarm went this morning at what it thought was 3am.
Food stocks are low, so I’ve just visited a supermarket. There are two very differing supermarket experiences to be had here. One is the shop aimed squarely at the expat community, shelves full of reassuring products from UK, Germany, USA and South Africa. A friend of mine invariably returns from visits back to the UK feeling wobbly, and has to go to the friendly aisles of the Abu Dhabi Waitrose and breathe deeply for a few minutes before she can bring herself to return to her apartment.
I get huge joy from shopping in the supermarket that caters for local tastes. The goods come from everywhere, are economically priced and many are entirely unknown to me. Even the mall which houses the supermarket is different – it has a large notice at the entrance imploring honoured guests to dress decently and refrain from obvious signs of affection.
So (dressed decently and behaving decorously) it’s into the supermarket, and a walk on the wild side. Every time I go I invest in a fruit/veg that I’ve never previously encountered. This way I have discovered (for example) Dragon Fruit (yum) and Weirdly Long and Convoluted Bitter Courgette (blah). Today’s excitement is a huge brown banana that was in the veg section. Hours of fun there, discovering what it is and how to cook it. Once I’ve done the mundane stuff, I can never resist adding a few extras to the trolley. Today’s exotica: pressed tamarinds; rose water; fresh Kneezi dates (couldn’t resist).
Then back home, another adventure in itself. The road network has changed again while I was away, and I was whizzed round the pretzel-type of junction and disgorged onto the busiest motorway in Abu Dhabi, heading in the wrong direction. One thing I can honestly say about the UK after years of travel is that you get idiots everywhere, but on the whole we have a most appealing road courtesy. Not so here, where every square of tarmac is furiously contested. Anybody who expects fellow drivers to ease on the accelerator or pull into another lane to allow them onto a crowded motorway will have their illusions rapidly shattered. But eventually I returned home safely and now I’m going to experiment with my new produce.
Written the day after: the brown banana is a plantain. I’ll try it in lamb casserole. The tamarind is unexpected – like a gritty, heavily salted date block. The rose water is superb, best efforts so far are stirred into yoghurt and just a few drops added to a glass of champagne. The dates are awful, very bitter. I’ll ripen them on a rack and then dry them in the sun. As with most experiments, mixed results!