Al Aqssa Sweets, Al Safa Carpet, All Prints and Jashanmal National Company are among the winners at the inaugural Urban Treasures, an awards ceremony celebrating some of the oldest cafeterias, restaurants and shops in Abu Dhabi.
The initiative, launched in 2020 by the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi, held its first ceremony on Wednesday at the Cultural Foundation. It recognised 15 popular establishments, all of which have been running for at least 20 years, as “places of cultural significance”.
Recipients include Al Ibrahimi Restaurant, Al Sultan Bakeries and Markets, Lebanon Flower Bakery, Bu Tafish Restaurant, Tripoli Sweets, Al Raiqa Date Fruit Trading, Malik and Shaheed Stores, and Al Dhafra Restaurant.
Winners received an Urban Treasures brass plaque to be displayed in their storefronts. They will also be featured in a year-long social media campaign to encourage more people to visit . The campaign will highlight how each establishment is a significant component of the urban and social fabric of its neighbourhood.
“We initially started with 60 establishments that were nominated by the public,” Yasmeen Al Rashdi, head of the Modern and Urban Heritage Conservation Unit at DCT Abu Dhabi, says. The number was cut down after a filtering process that eliminated institutions that have been running for less than 20 years.
“Some were on the borderline, so they will be eligible next year,” Al Rashdi says. “We encourage those establishments to be nominated again.”
After this initial assessment, the Urban Treasures team began conducting surveys of the nominated establishments. The survey included interviews with owners, managers as well as patrons.
“The interviews that we had with the people that frequent the establishments really helped us get a better sense from the community from the grassroots level,” Al Rashdi says. “And what these establishments mean to the city and to districts and the communities that they serve.”
The award is expected to become a biannual event, with new candidates becoming eligible every year as they meet the 20-year criteria.
“There is a lot of work that goes into the process of collating the information, securing interviews with the owners, doing our background research, and of course, evaluation itself takes time, especially when you're dealing with such large numbers,” Al Rashdi says.
Nadim Baloochi, owner of the tailoring shop Malik and Shaheed, says after living in Abu Dhabi for almost five decades, he is touched that his store is now recognised as a culturally significant landmark in the city. The store is located in Madinat Zayed and has been a staple for tailoring equipment and textile since 1992.
“I am so happy,” he says.
Reputed for its confectionary, particularly its knafeh, Al Aqssa Sweets is one of the most revered sweet shops in the capital. The Palestinian establishment, which opened its doors in 1980, now operates two branches in the Al Zahiyah and Khalidiya areas.
Mahmoud Hanoun, the shop's founder, says he was honoured to receive the Urban Treasures accolade and that he will continue to uphold the highest standards in his products.
“Our products are our treasures,” he says. “If our quality is best, people will come to us.”
Hanoun also spoke about the importance of having an award such as Urban Treasures to recognise long-running establishments and how they impact the community.
“We have been here for 40 years, and this kind of recognition is a big thing for shops like ours,” he says.
Al Rashdi says it is “no mean feat” that these urban gems have been able to survive for this long and do well in a city that is constantly growing immensely and quickly.
“There has been such a shift in how we interact with the city but also consume, whether in terms of restaurants and shops,” she says. “There’s been a shift towards malls, and some of these establishments may have transitioned into big retail facilities, but the award is about recognising their essence.
“It was wonderful to give each one of them the moment they deserve. I think it’s quite refreshing to see events like this, that allow us to recognise people who are contributing really to the city and its identity.”