The UAE’s first female pastry chef explains where her inspiration for cooking originated and her favourite local dishes in Dubai
Homegrown hero Chef Sahar Al Awadhi is driven by her love of high quality, locally sourced ingredients and has earned herself the impressive title as the first female pastry chef from the United Arab Emirates, yet she retains a modest air and unfailing devotion to her cooking. Before joining the team at the Burj Al Arab in 2016, Chef Sahar trained extensively in Dubai and Paris to hone her skills.
Having grown up in the United Arab Emirates, the hospitable nature of Emirati cooking and nostalgic memories of shared family meals have a strong place in Sahar’s heart, inspiring much of her passion for homely, high quality cooking. Here, she talks us through the elements of Emirati cooking that have inspired her career, reveals her favourite local dish and recommends the best places in Dubai to try traditional Emirati food.
Are there any elements of Emirati cooking that inspired you to become a chef?
“Food has always been such a huge factor in our household, and as a result, anything food related has always felt like my comfort zone. My mother cannot stand bad food, so she has always made delicious food. She is well known for her exceptional cooking skills in our community.”
What is your favourite Emirati dish and why?
“It would have to be Balaleet. It’s a delicious breakfast dish made with sweetened vermicelli noodles and spiced with saffron and cardamom, and topped with an egg omelette. I love the combination of flavours and textures, especially when you get to the caramelised, burnt part in the bottom of the pot. The floral flavours of saffron and cardamom and the addition of a savoury element, which is the egg (which I like generously salted), brings it all together.”
What memories do you associate with Emirati cooking?
“Ramadan. Family members and neighbours get creative with their cooking and they love to share it. The one hour before breaking fast everyone shares what they have been cooking up all day and It's always a pleasant surprise waiting to see what you're going to get. It helps that you're hungry. My classical favourite is Harees, savoury lamb and wheat that’s been cooked for hours into a porridge and finished off with really good quality ghee and fried onions – I love it with cinnamon and sugar.”
Where is the best place to eat Emirati food in Dubai?
“The Arabian Teahouse is a great place to experience local treats and has a fantastic selection of the traditional dishes such as Beith Tomat, an egg and tomato scramble. You should also try the Khameer, Emirati bread with egg, sesame and saffron. I also love Chebab, Emirati pancakes with date syrup, and Legemait, Emirati doughnuts with date syrup and sesame seeds. My favourite Balaleet is at Karak Inc.”
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