Eid treats of sugar and flour show how diversity can empower
More than one billion Muslims across the world are celebrating Eid Al Fitr, which comes at the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. To mark the occasion, many will have cleansed their bodies and dressed in their newest clothes. They will have engaged in morning Eid prayers in the mosque or at home. They will also have visited family and friends, exchanging gifts and greetings.
Eid Al Fitr translates from Arabic into “the festival of breaking the fast”. So, it comes as no surprise that food is central to the festivities. And, as we know, no feast is complete without a sweet conclusion – dessert. Among the favourites in the UAE are luqaimat. These deep-fried dumplings are drizzled with date molasses or honey, and topped with sesame seeds. Beneath their crispy shell is an inside that is soft and fluffy. Then there is the chebab, the Emirati version of pancakes, infused with cardamom, saffron and dates. In Egypt, kahk – butter cookies filled with nuts and sugar – are central to Eid festivities.
In Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, a popular Eid treat is sheer khurma, which translates literally into “milk with dates”. Milk, sugar, vermicelli, dates and nuts are mixed to make this delectable pudding. Meanwhile, in South-East Asia, Muslims celebrate Eid with dodol, a sweet, sticky, toffee-like candy.
Desserts play a central role in celebrations beyond the Muslim world as well. Diwali, the “festival of lights” celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, often features besan ladoo, a round Indian sweet.
During Christmas, classics at the dinner table include the log-shaped buche de Noel, and the rich fruity Christmas pudding. During the lunar New Year, the Chinese celebrate with sticky rice cakes known as nian gao. They are made from glutinous rice flour and brown sugar. It is believed that eating this chewy cake during the Chinese New Year brings good fortune and prosperity because the words “nian gao” are homonyms of the Chinese words for “higher year”. In South America, alfajores – shortbread cookies sandwiched together with creamy dulce de leche – are a popular treat for all festive occasions.
The variety of these desserts reflects the cultural diversity of the world
The variety of these desserts reflects the cultural diversity of the world. Yet, despite their differences, these treats are made of the same two ingredients: sugar and flour. From Chinese black sesame rice balls to American apple pie, these two simple ingredients are used to create an endless spectrum of dishes.
That from two foundational ingredients emerge such an array of flavours reveals that there is a multitude of ways to express our shared humanity. This makes our diversity all the more beautiful and all the more powerful.
Just as having the same dessert all the time would be boring, the world would be dull were everyone the same. Diversity is what makes the world a fascinating place in which to live. It is the combination of colours, standing shoulder to shoulder, that makes a rainbow beautiful. Likewise, it is the harmony and melody of different musical notes playing together that makes a symphony enjoyable. Innately, therefore, we seem to find beauty in diversity.
Diversity not only enriches our souls, it also strengthens us. An old proverb goes: “Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.” We are made of the same stuff, but make different things out of ourselves. This allows us to contribute to society in diverse ways, making it a better place for all.
In the UAE, we are fortunate to live in a country that not only tolerates difference, but that embraces it. Home to more than 200 nationalities, the nation’s cultural diversity is woven into its food, language, music, and architecture. The UAE recognises that we all have the potential to contribute to society in our own unique ways. As such, it embraces our differences with open arms, an open heart, open eyes, and an open mind. Because of this openness, there are all the more types of sweetness to go around.
Fatima Al Fahim is a writer and Oxford University graduate of public policy
Published: June 5, 2019 06:31 PM