Sharjah date festival celebrates UAE's national fruit

Traders sell hundreds of kilograms of dates each day at bustling souq during annual event

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Thousands of date devotees will flock to Sharjah for weeks to come for an annual celebration of the nation's most loved fruit.

The seventh annual Dates Festival displays a wide variety of the staple food in the sprawling Souq Al Jubail.

The popular event, which got under way at the start of the month, will run until the end of September and is expected to whet the appetite of date lovers across the emirate and beyond.

The festival provides date sellers with a major platform to share their produce, plucked fresh from local farms, with the public.

Mohammed Haneef, 58, an Indian salesman from Kerala, has worked in the vast market for 40 years.

He cherishes the humble date and the role it plays in the joy of life in the Emirates.

Fruitful time for traders

Thousands expected to flock to the annual dates festival in the weeks ahead. Chris Whiteoak/ The National

“Dates are a symbol of hospitality in the UAE and appear at everything, from celebration, to iftar or during Ramadan to present as gifts. They are good for your blood sugar and full of fibre and natural sugars,” Mr Haneef told The National.

He has more than a dozen varieties of locally-produced Rutab dates, which are in high demand.

“We sell a big amount of dates every day at this time of the year because it is the date season. By September the date season finishes,” he said.

The dates festival includes fruit grown at farms all over the country as well as selections imported from Oman.

It is a favourite date in the diary for enthusiasts in the UAE and traders are hoping to reap the rewards.

Ibrahim Abdul Rahman, 52, a salesman from India, has worked in the market for 32 years.

He said he has sold about 250 kilograms of dates each day since the festival began on July 1.

Daily deliveries sell out fast

A wide variety of dates from all over the UAE can be sampled at the festival. Chris Whiteoak/ The National

“We have 12 types of fresh dates in our shop. However, there are hundreds of types of dates in the world. We receive the dates by trucks coming from local farms in the morning and afternoon. There is no leftover for the next day,” Mr Rahman said.

“The most popular date with customers is the sweet, sticky and caramel dates called ‘khalas’. People buy it for Dh25 per kg.”

Taher Malabari, 30, from India, said he sells nearly 500kg of dates each day, with the khalas, shishi and khanezi varieties among the most popular.

“Dates are part of the UAE’s cultural fabric and traditions. Dates are a must on any table during lunch, dinner or can be a nice snack. Some types have a lot of sugar in them, and some much less. Some have a seed larger than the flesh. You have to know the date very well before deciding on which ones to buy,” he said.

Mohammed Ashraf, a 26-year-old salesman, said the mabroom date is the most expensive, at Dh50 per kg.

“The mabroom is a Saudi date that is produced in local farms in the UAE. We sell many dates on Saturday and Sunday because it is the weekend and many people visit the souq,” Mr Ashraf said.

“I call khalas the king of dates because it is the most popular.”

For Butti Abdulhameed, an Emirati customer in the souq, the date is a precious fruit steeped in tradition.

“Dates are mentioned in the holy Quran, and Muslims end their fast during Ramadan by eating a few pieces of dates as the Prophet Mohammed used to do,” he said.

Date palms are a revered part of Emirati heritage. The date has been a source of food for generations of desert communities, while the trunk, fronds and other parts of the tree are used for construction, making tools and fashioning handicrafts.

Date palm trees can grow up to 21 or 23 metres high, with leaves up to four to six metres in length.

A pot of dates is often found in Emirati households, serving as a treat to welcome visitors or a late-night snack to savour with Arabic coffee.

Another date for the diary

For those hungry for more, the long-standing Liwa Date Festival, an annual extravaganza of date-related events, competitions and cultural activities, this month will welcome visitors for the first time since 2019.

The two previous celebrations of Emirati heritage were closed to the public because of the Covid-19 pandemic and featured only participants.

Held in Liwa, Al Dhafra, this year's festival runs from July 16 to 24 and will allow members of the public to learn about the most popular varieties of dates grown in the UAE.

Updated: July 16, 2022, 8:14 AM