Insight into the UAE's progress – through a supermarket aisle

Browsing the fruits and vegetables available here from all over the world can leave you with a feeling of awe

Vegetables and fruits to mark arranged like the United Arab Emirates flag, at a supermarket in Mushrif Mall, Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari/ The National
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Over the decades that I have lived in Abu Dhabi, the country has developed in many ways.

I try to keep abreast of things, looking around to note the changes and to insert them into my mental picture of the UAE today. Perusing the media, looking at new buildings, talking to friends and acquaintances – all this and more helps me to keep up to date.

I must confess, though, that I never expected to gain new insights into the country and its evolution by way of browsing the fruit and vegetable section of a major supermarket.

A shopkeeper at the fruit and veg at the Waterfront Market in Deira, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

I should admit that I am not very familiar with supermarkets, preferring to sit and have a coffee while the shopping is done. Except, of course, for making the visit to the checkout desk, debit card in hand, something to which I am quite accustomed.

A few days ago, I spent some time wandering around a well-stocked fruit and vegetable section and I learnt quite a lot.

I didn’t know, for example, that UAE produce had become so diversified. Leeks and celery, for example, as well as much else on display. Wonderful. Years ago, I used to study the country’s agricultural statistics – what was grown where, and how much of it. There wasn’t a huge variety. It would be interesting to compare the crops of today and of 30 or 40 years ago. Farms have become bigger, techniques have been modernised, new crops have been introduced and it’s now a very different industry.

This particular supermarket clearly labels produce with both its name and its country of origin, and a stroll along the stalls yielded a few surprises. Food from within the region – that was expected, as was produce from East Africa and from numerous European countries. I suspect that in the 1970s, though, shoppers would have had little opportunity to buy items from China and Vietnam, since the trading relationships between those countries and the UAE had still to get under way.

For me, the real surprise was to see mention of a few Latin American countries, including Costa Rica (for pineapples), Brazil and Peru. I had been aware, from a cursory following of the news, that trade between the UAE and Latin America had been growing, but hadn’t expected to find evidence of it amongst the fruit and vegetables.

I was a bit disappointed not to see some Jersey Royal potatoes from my home island of Jersey – reputedly the tastiest potatoes in the world – but they are available in other supermarkets, I gather. For the rest of it, the globe as a whole was pretty well represented.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 4, 2020.  Ramadan spirit is more evident now at the  Abu Dhabi Fruits and Vegetable Market as UAE Government Coronavirus restrictions are slightly loosened.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
For:  Standalone / Stock images
(C) Justin Galea, Executive Chef and Director Food & Beverage at the Le Royal Meridien hotel in Abu Dhabi, selects blood oranges for desert at the Fruit and Vegetable Market in Mina Zayed, before a #healthyliving cooking experience, organized by The National, on Saturday, Mar. 28, 2015, at the hotel in downtown Abu Dhabi. (Silvia Razgova / The National)  (Usage: undated, #healthyliving Section: Healthy living mag, Reporter: Stacie Johnson) *** Local Caption ***  SR-150328-cooking14.jpg

It wasn’t just the geographical spread of the merchandise that intrigued me, but the variety of the produce on offer. Having been here for so long, I am quite accustomed to mangoes, and rather like them. I hadn’t, however, quite realised the wide variety of them, much as I’m used to that in apples and plums. The pomelos, from China and Vietnam, and the ridge gourd (or turai) from India, though, were completely new to me. I had never heard of them.

That, of course, may reflect the fact that I rarely wander around the fruit and vegetable sections of supermarkets. It is also testimony, not only to the way in which UAE residents have become used to a global variety of foods, but also to the fact that people live here from those countries who want to buy them.

It is the same on the shelves selling condiments and spices – a wonderful agglomeration of bottles and jars to suit the tastes of people from all over the world. They and their tastes have all arrived in the UAE, each adding in their own way to the country’s gastronomic and demographic diversity.

We hear frequently about how this country is home to people of around 200 nationalities, of different languages, cultures, customs and faiths and indeed, cuisines, ingredients and palates. This diverse multi-cultural streak reflects the intrinsic accepting nature of Emirati society.

Among several big developments in this country are the expansion of infrastructure and the introduction of modern technology. If a time-traveller from that UAE in which I first landed so many decades ago was to arrive in one of our major cities today, he or she might find it difficult to recognise that it is the same country.

It is very much to the credit of our leadership over the years that the country has evolved in this way. A credit, too, to the people of the Emirates who have adjusted so well to the ever-changing world around them.

I have known for years that the UAE is a pretty remarkable place. I just didn’t expect to gain new insights into it in the midst of a supermarket’s fruit and vegetables display.

Published: May 26, 2022, 9:00 AM
Updated: June 01, 2022, 12:57 PM