Italian Cuisine World Summit in Dubai this November

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Over 40 Italian Master Chefs (+26 Michelin Chefs) Take over Culinary Dubai this November!




Throughout November 2014, Dubai hosts the 6th edition of the Italian Cuisine World Summit, the most important appointment in Dubai celebrating high end Italian cuisine. 

Over 40 Master Italian Chefs, among whom are over 25 Michelin starred chefs, will take over the city's most upscale Italian restaurants, making Dubai during this event the most star-studded culinary heaven.

dimasharif.com is appointed the official blog for the Italian Cuisine World Summit, and the blog will be following the event closely, introducing the chefs, their specialities and show you bits an pieces of what is taking place throughout the summit.

This video is an introduction to Italian Cuisine World Summit 2014, featuring some of the guest chefs, and more to come, so make sure to subscribe to Dima Al Sharif youtube channel (there might even be some live streaming at some point!), stay tuned and


Follow 'my journey with the Italians as they take over culinary Dubai' 
at www.dimasharif.com

Thursday, 25 September 2014

A seasonal culinary adventure right around the corner, just in Time for Eid!

A Omani Traditional Majlis, just by the cliff of the Green Mountain!


Thinking of what to do during this upcoming Eid vacation? How about a quick and awesome culinary adventure? But you just got back from summer vacation, can you really take another one and travel??? YUP, this one will fit right into the small break coming up, and it is just around the corner! Why not visit Oman's Green Mountain? You say why? Check this out...

Domestic tourists and travellers from neighbouring countries alike flock to Jabal Akhdar in the Sultanate of Oman to sample the renowned flavours of the seasonal fruits harvested in the region in September and in October. So you too can enjoy discovering and munching on this rich mountain's seasonal produce.

Among the variety of Mediterranean fruits grown on the highlands of Oman is the pomegranate, whose trees are found in abundance around Alila Jabal Akhdar and provide vibrant bursts of pink and red across the mountain range. I was lucky to be at Baker & Spice (Al Manzil) the other day, when the pomegranates had just arrived from Oman's Green Mountain to stock the shelves of the Farmhouse (my absolute favourite organic, seasonal produce shops in Dubai). So of course I got to taste and am telling you they were gorgeous, delicious, fresh and all that you want a pomegranate to be. I even instagrammed that you should run and grab some :)

In addition, other luscious fruits now in season include grapes, strawberries, raspberries, pears, apricots, plums, peaches, figs, walnuts and almonds. Seriously who does not want to be there?

The Barley Fields in Oman's Green Mountain 


The good news is, there is a beautiful resort there, that will make your stay even more rewarding. However short that stay is, you will definitely feel rejuvenated, and with the consumption of all this fabulous seasonal produce you will come back a changed person! Not only breathtakingly beautiful, and with access to the Green Mountain's natural beauty, but the Alila resort also embraces the bounty of its surroundings and the natural properties of the pomegranate, long valued within the local communities, has been incorporated into the property’s spa treatments and restaurant menu.
And because we are talking culinary, and since pomegranates are the main produce of Jabal Akhdar, they are featured in an array of dishes served at Alila, such as salads, sorbet and a number of desserts. They are all prepared by the new Head Chef at Juniper Restaurant, which is named after the juniper trees that grow in the highlands of Oman and decorate the walls of the resort.

Guests can discover the area’s rich pomegranate heritage through the leisure concierge service, whose staff is drawn from the neighbouring villages. Walks can be arranged through the walnut and pomegranate groves in which guests can sample the fresh local produce. For guests who seek to experience the souk environment, a trip to the Nizwa village at the base of the mountain can offer better prices to those found in Muscat for the sweet fruit; or stops by the road to chat with the local vendors and purchase their freshly harvested supply. While at Nizwa, do ask about their traditional Shiwa (meat cooked buried underground) which also happens to be very popular during Eid.

A breathtakingly beautiful seasonal Culinary adventure right around the corner, the perfect activity for this upcoming Eid vacation ;)

The beauty of being in the company of Nature
The Green Mountain - Sultanate of Oman



For further information on Alila Jabal Akhdar, please visit: http://www.alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar
And for reservations, email jabalakhdar@alilahotels.com or call +968 2534 4200


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

What You Will See in a Farm in Oman



Nothing prepares you to the mount of green that is in #Oman! 

In my head, Oman is a country that belongs to the hot hot-climate Gulf Region and somehow the image in my head is more of a desert that by virtue of definition lacks such greenery. But not Oman, No! It stunns you with its green, making you wonder why you ever thought it's a desert! Yes the summer heat hits Oman too, but somehow its plants manage to remain evergreen!! I love it :)

During our visit to Oman with MAGGI Arabia for the #MaggiDiaries programme, we were invited by Fathiya (a very lovely Omani lady). In there the ladies had surprised us by wearing traditional Omani Dresses and make up. I am never more excited than when I get a chance to explore and learn about the
culture and heritage of a place, and therefore was really happy to get to know that of Oman, which by the way is an ancient country!

The visit to the farm not only introduced me to the culture of a place that I have repeatedly visited before - yet never managed to rub shoulders with its heritage! -  but it also shared a slice of what life on a Omani farm feels and looks like, as well as an insight into how these women spend their time when gathering, cooking together and celebrating. Absolutely wonderful stuff! (They even showed us how the traditional Qabouli dish (Rise with meat, vegetables and boiled eggs) is made, as well as Marqooq (paper thin traditional Omani bread).

I don't want to say much as I rather leave it up to you to see and make up its beauty and effect!
So find the photos in the album below and feast your eyes on the country's green and its women's colourfulness!






Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Haunted Travel! - Essaouira, The City of Opposites

Essaouira Coast photo by Georges Atallah

 They say that a city that is hundreds of years old has a spirit; one that holds the spirits of all those whose life came to a full cycle there! But what if those spirits' lives came to an abrupt end, too soon? Does that necessarily mean doomed to being HAUNTED?!!


 Essaouira, the city of opposites! The beautiful, the ugly; the light, the dark; the open and touristy, the closed and private; the alive, the haunted; the full, the empty; the happy and the grim... Essaouira strikes you with its beauty and vacation mode that it instantly puts you in, then stuns you with its grim, darker side that blows on you in the form of a chill down your spine as it turns into a complete freak show at night! Yes, I am absolutely aware of what am describing, and I am not one of those believers in other presences and the phenomenal, supernatural world within ours! However in Essaouira, you can't help but be made to think about these because the stories, the symbology and rituals... are all over the place. And all this happened in only 3 days! I loved it when I got there, and could not wait to leave it when I did. To me, 3 days were way more than enough! Here is a recount of that experience!

Once we reached Essaouira, I felt so happy. It has a very pleasant feel to it, more than any other city in Morocco, and at first glance you feel very familiar. Like a typical touristic city on the coast, you instantly experience a shift in your brain that screams: "Vacation!" A line of open restaurants - offering the best ever seafood, straight from the ocean, surrounded by green trees everywhere and overlooking the coast - greets you as soon as you get there. Then an old gated city to your right, where tourists are flocking in. Looks very promising and I can't wait to get inside that gate and explore every inch! We lunched at those amazing seafood restaurants and appreciated being out in that amazing sunny day after being stuck on the road for a few hours. As soon as lunch was over we head towards the old city, and typically it is beautifully aged, rusty, with all things looking antique and a few modernised and hip joints greet you as you stroll down its narrow alleys.  On either side of the walls, dangling fabrics of every which colour you can dream of, with the familiar Moroccan patterns stir back at you as you walk. I and my lens are loving this beauty, the colour, the shade and the sun. I could not stop snapping photos, everything was so easy on the eye, that I unwittingly wanted to capture for ever. Rugs, pillow cases, pashminas, and many a traditional Moroccan hooded coats and leather loafers are ever where your eye turns, covering the old, peeled and rusted original walls of the city. A contrast that in day light looks so pretty and alive.








The Cafes and bistros with shaded entrances and chalkboard menus are seducing your just-filled appetite to go in and sneak a bite... tourists crowding every shop, and every alley along with cats and sea gulls, the place is full of life, where everyone is either buying or selling, and in my case, capturing every moment. By the time we reached the Riyadh, my brain was already intoxicated with colours, patterns, and all the interesting exchanges and interactions taking place in those alleys. I had heard lots about Riyadhs in Morocco, and how they are a 'must experience', I was finally going to experience one firsthand. The Riyadh is very different to any place I ever stayed in during any of my travels, and I highly recommend you stay at one in Morocco instead of a hotel, because it really allows you to experience the authentic Morocco and introduces you to the culture, cuisine and lifestyle way better than an intercontinental experience. Riyadhs are very similar to boutique hotels, very homely, with very few rooms, a house kitchen, and a feel of exclusiveness and community rather than stranger accommodation. I loved the very feminine pink, Victorian floral room I was given. Victorian yet very specifically Moroccan with all the Talasem art hung on the white walls, along with a large wooden window that once opened makes the room feel like a terrace, bringing in sharply nippy wind contrasted by the warmth of the afternoon sun.
(here are some photos of the Riyadh)

Lobby
The rooms, 1-3 in every floor 
Room

Talasem Art
View from Room
 We head out for the rest of the day, going about our business, carrying on with the shoots and savouring the beauty of this curious city.

Before you know it, the day is over and the slightly shaded yet over exposed alleys start to turn darker, and by the time it is fully night, they are barely lit. Arched Alleys with yellowish overhead lights very scattered, each barely covering a square meter, the rest is pitch dark. It is not long until you are literally the only one roaming around, it seems that in a blink, everything is tucked away, doors are locked and people just suddenly disappear, except for the occasional hooded person swifting by so suddenly. In the absence of light and all the decorative merchandise being all tucked away, the walls start revealing their true age and a sense of weariness is all over, very melancholic and somewhat grim! A complete metamorphosis takes place in less than two hours, changing this vibrant, colourful, alive beauty of a city into its aged, lonely and sepiad beastly twin. Despite coming from the same origin the two have nothing to do with one another!

Regardless, we walked on until we got to the Riyadh. There, we had a banquet of tagines and other local appetisers. An amazing feast of local foods, that no one remembered the dark reality outside the doors of the Riyadh. We ate, laughed felt merry in the presence of some local people, the owners and staff of the Riyadh, along with a few other Moroccans who were part of the production team... After dinner we were all talking about the difference between night and day in Essaouira, and there started all the inside stories about the common belief that Essaouira has a dark spirit! Essaouira as it turned out, was once upon a history overtaken by pirates. These pirates wreaked havoc all over the city for years and years. Many people were killed, abused, hurt and so on, and it is believed that the spirits of those people haunt the city!! Essaouira, as we were told, was also the place in Morocco that is known for black magic! In fact, not only do people believe and practice that magic, but as described, practitioners from all over the place come to Essaouira to learn the practice on the hands of the Masters!!! There are rituals, and closed events, where an animal is sacrificed to summon the four spirits in practice of this Voodoo, black or Sihir as the references are to this type of exercise!

The darker side of Morocco

I could not believe what I was hearing! It felt like one of those scary camp nights, when everyone gathers around the fire, with the torch lights against their faces and telling scary stories as a form of thrill! I could not believe that while we all know those scary stories are entertainment on a bored night, I was experiencing the real deal with people who actually believe in this ever so fully! Some, even practicing too! Essaouira is windy, and extremely cold. There is no heating system in the Riyadh except a fire place at the corner. I don't know whether it was the cold, the drifts of wind passing through the cracks or the stories, but I could feel a chill that made me uneasy! (I am not suggesting a presence here, merely saying cold and slight anxiety in reaction to what's been said are the reason I felt that way!)

The stories went on, and got more incredible as we went, from a mad woman, or spirit of a woman roaming the forrest nearby. To production teams being forcefully expelled out of shoot locations for disturbing the spirits haunting the caves... And the spirit of a young girl, haunting the Riyadh and crying in the corner for the loss of her father or someone she loved (can't really remember the details)... have heard so much about magic and Morocco, and know that many people believe this stuff...  I was wondering when was it all going to come out, and almost reached a point where I thought so the whole Magic, Spirits, Djin, Sihir and so on where just rumors about Morocco... But not in Essaouira, in Essaouira, I met the stories of this phenomenality. Yet I must admit, that while it made me slightly uneasy, and anxious at times, I do not believe in presences. I think that when we hear such stories we are bound to stop and at least consider them, but I cannot believe phenomenon until I actually encounter one, which of course never happened! However, it did affect my sleep, I was weary all the time (the whole mood is just too dark for me). Despite being exhausted, I mean we were working the schedules like no tomorrow, however the freezing cold unheated room, the stories and the weariness had kept me up and when I blinked gave me terrible dreams!!!

Essaouira at night
Creepy!!

Typical Essaouira, being a the city of Opposites as I refer to it, the ladies at the Riyadh wanted to counterpart all the horror movie mood that was going on, they arranged a Sufi night for us. Sufi nights are nights spent, reciting prayers (like when you pray for someone, or ask that good happens to you or someone else), reciting Islamic themed songs, and at times even reciting verses from the Quran. However all done in more like a singing, coupled with the occasional Sufi twirling and dancing. Sufi orders differ in their rituals from one place to another, but in essence they all believe in a love relationship with God and devotion in all that is said and done to God. In Morocco, Sufi evenings are done to bring in the good and expel the bad; to generate positive energy and to protect one's self, loved ones and home from any harm. That night was also quite an experience. I have attended sessions for many a Sufi orders, during my travels, and am generally fascinated by the discipline in all its variations, however, I have never been to a Moroccan Sufi session. It was unique, however more similar to the Egyptian style Sufi practice than that of the Levant and Turkey. Our moods were elevated, everyone was feeling very positive. We danced, sang, sent out prayers and rays of light for ourselves and the ones we love. Some even got served with ritualistic prayers to bear children, get married, succeed... and so on!

Moroccan Sufi Session

Moroccan Sufi Session in Essaouira





























In the end, Essaouira was highly interesting. Beautiful then metamorphosed, when I first stepped there, I had no idea it was going to turn out the way it did! It introduced me to Morocco's dark side as well as Morocco's brighter side! A true contradiction in every sense. It was massively charged with so many emotions, and very much like a roller coaster ride! Believer or not in any of the Essaouira maddness, the city will charm you and won't allow you to feel like it was just another ordinary city. Perhaps it's spirit is so unique that we could only explain it as being haunted!!!

Loved it, hated it, appreciated the "new" in that experience, but was very happy to leave it when I did! 3 days, were more than enough for me to say: "Been there, done that, and that is that!"


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Reflections from my visit to the Moroccan Berber

Berber Tagine
the most delicious you will ever have

I can honestly say that this was the single most inspiring day in the whole of #MaggiDiaries trip. I absoluetly recommend you visit when in Morocco. You will never know Morocco until you have visited the Berber!

The visit to the Berber of Ourika, reminded me of the importance of simplicity in our lives. Watching these amazing people, and the very simple life they have, where happiness is definitely not reliant on acquisitions or any belongings but rather on the human connection, the extended family the communal support... and seeing their faces that shine with honest smiles, warm and welcoming, offering you all that they have because that is what we (humans) do; connect, share and converse. The connection, understanding and feeling these people was beyond expression. One of those things that get lost in the description, and therefore, better kept in and expressed in the photos. If you watch the Maggi Diaries video on the link below, You'll find me standing at the side at somepoint in that Berber family's home and saying: "There are no words to express what is taking place here today." that is really how I felt and continue to feel every time I look at these photos. Perhaps something in me, wishes to have that kind of life, or that kind of simplicity. believe me, I am yet to meet any other people that are this happy.
What struck me the most that day, was the unimportance of language, we do understand one another on a deeper level if we were to mute everything and take in the experience. Between the colloquial bereber language, French, Moroccan Arabic and mainstream Arabic, we managed to converse. However the most connection happened when those women (both the berber family and at the Argan Cooperative) started singing - in a very high pitched voice, perhaps not a records winning quality - there was a silence! by everyone. In respect to the human voice that is demanding your attention. A voice, which to me spoke a language I did not understand, was crisp and full of emotions that somehow I understood everything! I understood that woman, her motherhood, her belonging to a greater family, her love to her people, place and life, most importantly her and my presence at that very same place at that moment sharing the most amazing Berber Tagine and looking at the same scenery, smelling the same air and belonging to the same earth. Despite how similar or different we could have been, at that point we were one, and she sang and I listened. We connected.

The traditional way of making the Berber Tagine



Argan Women's Cooperative
Similarly at the women's cooperative, I was stunned by these women's lives. 
A thing or two about patience, a virtue that I completely lack, kept creeping into my soul and demanding me to explain to myself what was it that I am in such a hurry for?! Always, rushing and running and always "can't wait"! These women, day in, day out, from morning to evening do the exact same thing, in the same place, with the same people! Seated in a dark room, that if it was not for the few narrow windows scattered around, breaking in some light, it would have been pitch dark. With the small rays of light these women shine, very colourful and utterly beautiful. They sat, on very uncomfortable seats, all day in the perfect assembly line, breaking the skin of the argan seed with a stone, peeling that skin, then breaking the shell to extract the small argan almond, which is then ground to extract its beautiful oil. No entertainment, bearly any light, they sang, solo at times, in a group at other times, and always repeating after one another... in that dark room, these women had one voice, their own voice inseparable from each other. They talked, advised and helped one another and they tirelessly repeated the process every single day! In the presence of such serenity and such acceptance, I cannot help but wonder, what it is exactly that we keep complaining about? Or better yet, what is it exactly that is wrong with our lives that we are so restless! 


Similar to a tagine pot this elongated pot generates lots of steam to cook the tagine
The couscous heats on top too

Some experiences are life changing! yes sounds like a cliche but never when you encounter one, and that day was such to me. In the absence of language, light and all things extravagant I learnt a huge deal. In that set up I found the kind of experiences I am always in search of. Perhaps things do not have to be explained, and perhaps in the most un-understanding we do just that : understand. Perhaps making sense of everything is the reason why nothing makes sense. Sometimes all we need to do is just let things be the way they are and leave it at that without our interference - maybe then we find pure happiness!










Sunday, 27 April 2014

Destination Jordan




Jordan is a beautiful country with equally beautiful people. A unique place with everything; the ancient, the new... The traditional, the modern... The mountains, the valleys, the dessert, the sea... Everywhere in Jordan you find a piece of history followed by a piece of something new!


Culinary wise the country is rich! from the traditional and decades old popular restaurants, to the more modern and trendy ones all is there for you to enjoy. But my absolute recommendations, culinary wise is to Visit Wadi Rum and eat with Beduins, and absolutely unique experience. Visit Al Karak and see how Jameed is made (fermented yogurt balls). Go to Ajloun & Jerash and taste the best ever labneh. In Jerash Um Khalil restaurant is a must, beautiful scenery and an amazing stock of artisanal Mooneh (Pantry foods). Then Go to Al Ghor (Jordan Valley) and taste the local produce (fruits and vegetables) straight from the farmers and while you are at it, if you are lucky, you get to taste the heavenly Allayeh made on Al Saj (a tomato-based stir-fry cooked over an iron skillet (not by any means the fancy type) but by all means the most delicious ever!.... And all this is just to name a few!

A must visit!



Check this post for Jordan Street food Must try's.




Here is a picture album from Jordan

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Summing Up Jordan - Generosity is not a display but a way of being





This time I had spent only a few days in Jordan, but feel like I have covered a few months there! Perhaps when we connect with a place, duration no longer matters because what we cover during that time is way more profound than what we may in a month spent just gazing around! When traveling there is nothing more beautiful than finding a connection, and perhaps that is best done through food. Because put food in the middle, we immediately become social, we converse, share and therefore know more about the place, its people and way of life. Once that connection is made, a place becomes all too familiar and we no longer feel like strangers or outsiders! Somehow, we find similarities and realise that despite the difference in details, all is the same in the end. That thought alone is enough to connect us and remind us that regardless of the imaginary boxes we always view ourselves within, the world is huge and we are all in it. It is all ours and all out there for us to explore.

Jordan was the first stop on this journey I have taken, and in Jordan I had reconnected with its old, became acquainted with its new and joined the dots for everything in between (besides devouring its absolutely unique flavours!). Most interesting to me this time was finding true generosity. Observing its people go about their daily routines I have learnt a huge deal about what it really is to be generous. Realising that it is not a display but really a way of being. There I have seen generosity as giving, regardless of what, it is unconditional giving mindless of ourselves and without expecting anything in return. Furthermore, I have realised that there is no greater satisfaction than that granted by this kind of giving.

We often mistake generosity tying it with money or abundance of offering, but generosity is a personal choice. We give in love, we give in knowledge, we give in assistance, in support... we give in the way we deal with people, we give in money, we give in anyway we can, and we choose how much we want to give and why. However, when we choose to give unconditionally and for the sake of giving, mindless of ourselves, we are then being generous. That is what I have been repeatedly shown this time around in Jordan.

Jarash
Did you know that more than 70% of the ruins in Jerash are still under the ground?! 

Apparently the whole city sits atop buried ruins

During this trip people opened their homes for us and welcomed us there to cook and eat with them. They have been so hospitable, warm and welcoming and they all have been so generous offering us really everything in their homes. While shooting 'The Three Sisters' episode for instance - having us four along with many other crew members - and while the food was cooking, the ladies brought out every item in their pantry from Labneh balls, to zaatar, maqdoos and all types of stored home-made food and fed us in case we were hungry while the actual lunch cooked. They then offered us a banquet of amazing home-cooked platters that can feed a country and thought it was not enough, so brought out even more of their pantry stock, all of which was extremely delicious. But it did not stop at that, as you can see in the episode, they were giving us tips for alternative remedies for diabetes, they gave me time-saving tips for storing foods when in season, and have taught each one of us a thing or two about sisterhood and relationships that last. They showed us by example how love and giving is the essence of happiness.

When at that age, having such a support system and choosedly living together can only mean that at some point real generosity took place and the three have unconditionally given love and support for one another. So blessed they are with their spirits, their company and for being so welcoming, opening their homes to some 10+ people for no personal gain!

Rawan & her friends

Rawan too had invited us to her home. She invited us to meet her friends, and all their children. While there discussing healthy eating for kids and having the children around, she invited us to cook with them, and basically make a lot of fun mess in her kitchen! She generously opened her heart, home, and kitchen for us and wanted to share with us a slice of her life, and even took us on a picnic to the park. Why, simply to connect and be hospitable to these complete strangers she just met at a cooking competition!

Then of course, Hashem restaurant, who offered us a breakfast of the best hummus, falafel, fattet hummus, musabaha... you will ever have. Then passionately told us the story of how Hashem restaurant started, making sure we learn that when there is a will no obstacle can stop anyone, all the while ensuring that we eat any dish we mention!

And the guy we met, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary, still loving his wife as though he'd just been smitten. We all know how relationships can never last without unconditional love, suppoprt and giving, and the bond between these two goes to show how generosity goes a long way!

Mooneh - Pantry
All that got me thinking of how generosity is at the essence of all our relations. That it is in a way the essence of being social. If we just want to hold back, or think of only one's self then no relationships will ever be possible. Therefore we must always give and experience the amazing happiness unconditional giving grants us!




My Diaries - Little notes I wrote throughout this trip
Leaving Jordan Diary:

We all look for different things, and I can always only explore the perspectives I look for. And I look for connections, enriching experiences, and exploring myself in the presence of new surroundings. Because there is where I find growth and there is where I enrich my understanding, ultimately allowing openness to enter both my heart & mind....



The Journey Continues...
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