At Sharjah Heritage Days, food is a cultural melting pot - GulfToday

At Sharjah Heritage Days, food is a cultural melting pot


A woman prepares the Emirati dish Luqaimat. Kamal Kassim/Gulf Today

Saratu Abubakar, Staff Reporter

I remember the first time I saw Luqaimat, it was during a National Day event, it looked like Nigerian Puff Puff. I was a bit sceptical about trying it because looking like Puff Puff doesn’t mean it will taste like it. Then I tasted it and it was Puff Puff with a different name.

Over the years I have come to realise that the similarity between Luqaimat and Puff Puff is one out of a lot of things that make up how similar cultures are.

Along your path in the UAE, you get to experience different cultures without buying a ticket and travelling to the place, it is a melting point. 

For its 18th edition, Sharjah Heritage Days is exposing its residents to different cultures while maintaining social distancing and ensuring all COVID-19 requirements are adhered to. 

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A sign encouraging participants to adhere to COVID-19 rules at Sharjah Heritage Days.

Culture is a way of life of a group of people, it is made up of our heritage, our beliefs and everything we own. As important as food is to quench our hunger so is its importance in our culture.

There is a Nigerian joke about a social event without food being an office meeting. This is what food signifies in every culture, the way of lives of people is not complete without the food they eat.

Food has transcended culture though, it is the reason why a Nigerian girl like me is obsessed with Emirati Luqaimat and can’t bypass a Turkish ice cream truck without having one.

Even if not for the taste, we all are drawn to Turkish ice cream trucks because of the antics of the guys behind the truck. The whole drama before you get your ice cream can be quite exciting.

While sampling two famous Turkish edibles, Okan, a Turkish ice cream vendor explained the history and tradition behind Turkish ice cream and coffee.

What we know now as Turkish ice cream started in the city of Maras; it is also known as the Turkish capital of ice cream. The city is known for so many things including its orchid flowers, whose roots are used to make the ice cream.

If you ever had Turkish ice cream you know it is very dense. This is as a result of the ingredients. The ice cream is rich in cow milk, roots of orchid flowers and other things.

Then the famous coffee, the Turks are known for their coffee, thick black liquid of goodness. 

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A Turkish ice Cream vendor at Sharjah Heritage Days.

Back in the Ottoman Empire, a guest is served Turkish coffee alongside water when he visits a Turkish home.

“If the guest drinks the water before the coffee, it means he is hungry and immediately food would be arranged for him,” said Okan.

However, if he drinks the coffee first, then it means the guest is just around for a brief visit and may or may not need food, he added.

While in some cultures everyone is assigned a plate, in other cultures, family members come together to eat from the same plate.

Shamma Eid, an artisan at the centre for Emirati craft at the Sharjah Institute for Heritage, reminisced on the days where families share every meal.

Although families still gather on Fridays and share meals from time to time, things are no longer as they used to be, she said. 

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A half eaten bowl of Luqaimat at Sharjah Heritage Days.

Eating together promotes the habit of thinking and looking out for one another. When you understand your loved one’s eating habit, you know when to probe if the person goes for a smaller portion. It helps you in tackling a problem before it escalates, added Eid.

From the culture of eating together among the Emiratis to the culture of serving guests coffee and water among the Turks, one thing cannot be denied: food is important to culture as much as certain beliefs are.  When you think of how it is compulsory to serve some meals at certain events, you would understand that food is beyond what we eat to just satisfy our hunger, it is our heritage and a very integral part of our culture.

Meanwhile, there are some things that I am yet to find answers to since the first day I tried Luqaimat, how many other cultures have such similar snack? What is it called in other cultures? Most importantly who created it? Did it travel across oceans, deserts and valleys? Or at different places someone was blessed with the knowledge of creating that delicacy?


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