Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Friday, 12 January 2018

Kim Kardashian or Audrey Hepburn?

It depends on what you like.  One is fake, flashy (some would say trashy), and over-rated.  The other is effortlessly classy, serene and understated. And that’s how I think of the difference between Dubai and Oman.



Trinkets at the gold market in Dubai



Dubai is unarguably a new country, both in its short history and penchant for continuing to become “more”.  With a population of about 2.88 million, 85% are expats (42% are Indian). The country has over 95 skyscrapers exceeding 200metres, with plans for another tower to exceed the current Burg Khalifa at 1,000 meters.  Why, you ask yourself. 


Bigger and better?


Muscat, population 1.28 million, the capital of Oman (4.64 million) on the other hand, has limits on building height, and the 90m minaret on the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the tallest point in the city.  The history of the country goes back hundreds rather than tens of years and you can visit forts, castles and towers built in the 1600s.



Fishing boats, Muscat - no fish in the waters off Dubai as development has decimated the ecosystem


In a direct contrast to their Grand Mosques, Muscat’s design and architecture is restrained while Dubai’s is daring and creative.  It’s as if Dubai says “why not” and Oman says “let’s not”.


Leading families in Dubai have monopolies in different industries; transportation, mall development, tourism, building, telecommunications etc.  For example, all public transportation is owned by one family.  Even Uber.  After a big outcry when they initially shut it down, they just took it over.  If you call Uber you get a white Lexus and it costs more than a taxi.  On our recent trip the family controlling telecommunications blocked Skype (WhatsApp voice was already blocked).  You and everyone you want to talk to overseas has to buy an app from the telco and use their system. 


Omanis work, and so you get to meet them on a day to day basis.  The taxi driver is Omani because the Sultan wants visitors to experience Oman hospitality when they arrive in the country.  In Dubai the taxi drivers are Pakistani, service staff in hotels and restaurants and shops are Filipino, African, Pakistani, anything but Emirati. Literally millions of south Asians make up the construction workforce.  Emiratis may have jobs, often at a level that exceeds their ability and a salary that exceeds an expat colleague, but they don’t necessarily work (anecdotal evidence gathered from friends working across a range of jobs in Dubai).  There is a saying that Emirates stands for English Managed, Indian Run, Arabs Taking Extra Salary.


Emitarisation is a policy of giving preference to local Emirati staff in selection.  Fair enough.  However, given a proportionally small population, most of whom are women and children and therefore unavailable for work, this is not a particularly realistic strategy for efficiency and productivity.


In Oman there is a policy of Omanisation.  To make it work the Government has funded universities and training organisations to provide education and training for locals to ensure they are appropriately qualified and skilled for the workforce.  With expats at 45% of the population (again mainly south Asian) the attitude and framework are there, though they admit it’s a long game. 


In Muscat after work on a Thursday (the weekend is Friday and Saturday) we watched local Omani guys playing seven a side football (soccer) on the beach.  In Dubai, we see Pakistanis play cricket in the car parks - they’re not allowed to use the grass.


Football on the beach in Muscat


I could go on, but you get the picture:  two countries sharing the Arabian peninsula with commonality in many things, for example, religion, but quite different in culture, values, and attitude.  At leSt that is my impression, shallow as it may be!


So which do you prefer?  Hitting the malls and designer shops with Kim?  Or a walk through a C17th castle with Audrey?






Sunday, 7 January 2018

Learning about Islam

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat
 At the Jumeirah Mosque and the Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding there is a tour every day at 10:00am except Friday.  We have already been to marvel at the Sultan Qabood Grand Mosque in Muscat, but here in Dubai we hope to learn and understand something of Islam. 
The Centre’s motto writ large
The h-g enjoying pancakes
We arrive early and enjoy some hospitality including pancakes with date syrup and soft cheese, dates and coffee. The room is full of tourists, all but the most clueless wearing clothes that cover arms, chests and legs, and the women have scarves or shawls ready to cover our heads when we enter the Mosque.  The Mosque provides an abaya (for women) and dishdash (for men) who fail to meet the dress code. 
My name’s Tracey/Latifah, and no, those aren’t today’s exchange rates behind, they’re prayer times
Our guide “my name’s Tracey, also known as Latifah” introduces herself with an east end accent.  She married an Emirati and moved here 27 years ago. Tracey talks us through the ritual of washing before prayers then takes us into the Mosque and describes the five pillars of Islam and the reasons behind them. The second pillar is prayer, and to demonstrate Mohammed unselfconsciously goes through his prayer cycle. It takes only a few minutes. At the end of her talk Tracey invited questions - as she says “It’s like being in school init?” These are probably questions she’s answered 100 times before, but she’s patient and open with her responses. Why do women cover their heads? Why do women have a separate prayer hall? Why can men marry 4 times? Why can’t women have more than one husband? I’m sure you can google the answers, and while Tracey is clear in her mind, we struggle with some of the justifications. The Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai is small and quite plainly decorated compared to the stunningly adorned and massive Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, but Tracey tells us anywhere clean with four walls will do.  We leave knowing a bit more about the religion which is remarkably similar to Christianity.   Photos below all of Muscat    
The main minaret - 90 m tall
Shoes removed before entry
The chandelier hanging in the dome is 14m tall and the largest in the world    
Apparently the carpet contains 1,700,000,000 knots and weighs 21 tonnes.
The designs include Persian Tabriz, Kashan and Isfahan design traditions,     
The main (read men’s) prayer hall (musalla) takes 6,500 worshippers.
The women’s musalla holds 750, but women get just as many brownie points for praying at home as men do for praying together at the Mosque. Besides, when you’re cooking dinner you can’t just drop everything, bundle the kids into the car and rush off to the Mosque at prayer o’clock.
The tiling and other details are perfectly executed  
The power bill must be astronomical
300,000 tonnes of Indian sandstone to build the Mosque