Dear Ali: Do people eat camel meat in the UAE? And if so, why? And where can I taste it? CQ, Dubai
Dear CQ: Yes, we do eat camel meat. It might sound odd but it is like coming across crocodile meat at a hotel in Dubai. I was really shocked and thought: wow, I didn't know you can eat it. But it was no surprise to my Ozzie friends. See, camel meat is one of our national specialities and is regarded as a "comfort food" that is usually served when someone passes away or a child is born and, of course, at weddings. In the Bastakiya heritage village area of Dubai, there is a restaurant called Local House that serves camel burgers as an alternative to beef or chicken burgers. Switch restaurant in The Dubai Mall too, serves it. However, camel meat is not available in every store or restaurant. In case you are wondering, it actually tastes very tender and juicy, especially if the camel was slaughtered at a very young age. It's easier to find camel milk in the grocery stores. You can also drink pure camel milk, which we Emiratis like to have from time to time. I've also heard that there are some shake stores where they make different flavoured milkshakes, ice cream, chocolates and cheese out of camel milk. It is healthy too. Not only does it contain 40 per cent less fat and cholesterol than cow milk, it is also rich in calcium and contains three times more vitamin C, more minerals and iron. If you have a chance to eat camel meat or drink camel milk, try it out, even if it tastes different than the food or drinks you are used to.
Dear Ali: Is it easy to become friends with an Emirati if I am not a Muslim, and can we be like true friends? KM, Dubai
Dear KM: That is a good question. Well, for one, nationality shouldn't be the reason why a friendship doesn't work out. Most of the time, it's the differences in cultural values, perceptions of life, interests and priorities that stand in the way and make it harder to become friends. However, I can understand your concerns. See, every friendship has a basis. If you aren't Muslim, it is probably common for you to spend most of your leisure time with your friends. You might like to get a couple drinks after work, but since we, as Muslims, don't drink alcohol this might cause a problem for you. Emiratis like to spend quality time with our families after work and then, of course, with our friends. But again, it depends on how well we know these friends and whether we feel comfortable with their lifestyles. Another aspect is that, as a Westerner, you might be able to be friends with anyone. But for us Emiratis and other people from the Gulf region, there are certain barriers; you are only our friend when you actually know our sisters' names. This means you have to actually be like family to us to be called a true friend. Now, a friendship between you and an Emirati isn't impossible. And if you would like to be friends with an Emirati, take it step by step and know that it will take a lot of time and trust for you to develop such a friendship. There are many cultural activities such as sports activities, since it's winter now, desert camps and safari tours that involve Emiratis and foreigners and provide a great opportunity for meeting an Emirati outside your workplace. Another tip would be to gain more information about our culture and religion, not only by reading but also by asking us. I hope this helps. But whether you are a male or female who is not Muslim, this won't be an issue for you to be friends with us, since we already cherish the diversity in our country and feel proud that we have friends from more than 200 nationalities all living in harmony in our beloved country, the UAE.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE.