Biting into a date is like biting into thousands of years of tradition. In the Emirates, dates were a staple of the Bedouin diet
as well a medicine, and their palms provided shade during scorching summers. Today, dates accompany Arabic coffee and provide the base for a sweet syrup that can be spread on bread for breakfast, mixed with tahini for a dip or added to cakes and mixed with honey.
Dates have a long history across the Middle East. The most prized, the ajwa dates
, come from Medina and are considered a fruit from paradise for their sweet and rich flavor. Dates are mentioned repeatedly in the Quran
as a blessing from God, and it is recommended to eat a few dates per day to keep healthy.
“[These] days, old people ... eat [dates] for medicine and for diabetes,” explained Abdul Jabbar, an employee at Green Lawn Dates at the fruits and vegetable souk.
Dates are one of the fruits with the highest concentration of natural sugar and provide an excellent source of antioxidants
and protein. For NYU Abu Dhabi students and staff, they are a great gift for family members back home eager for a taste of the region.
Photo by Nicole Lopez del Carril/The Gazelle
Avoid the overpriced dates at Spinney’s or duty-free stores and instead try going to the fruit and vegetable souk and its row of date specialty shops. Aside from local dates, the UAE imports an estimated 250,000 tons a year
from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and North Africa.
Jabbar recommends the Majdhool dates from Saudi Arabia that are very popular among the locals. At 120 AED per kilo, they are sweet but not overpowering, a great accompaniment for Arabic coffee. Ajwa dates from Medina can be bought at 120 AED per kilo. For students who want a local date, try the Lulu or Fardh dates from Al Ain for 25 to 30 AED per kilo. Dates can also be bought in packaged containers, ready for safe travel in your suitcase. Nestled in date syrup, the Khalas Qaseem VIP dates are perfect for a sweet treat.
Take an afternoon off and peruse the mounds of dates, tasting the many varieties. Aside from plain dates, one can also buy dates stuffed with nuts — cashews, pistachios, walnuts — or candied lemon or orange slices. There are chocolate-covered dates, date paste balls rolled in sprinkles or coconut-and-date cakes. There are also fresh dates, great for warmer months as opposed to dry dates, which are eaten more in the cooler months. At the souk, there is a date for everyone.
To get there, take a 15 AED cab towards the fruit and vegetable souk, near the fish market at Mina Port. When you turn into the market from the main road, the dates are on the row to the far right.
Nicole Lopez del Carril is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.