Ambra Meda visits an up-scale boutique in Dubai entirely dedicated to the world a beloved exotic delicacy.
By Ambra Meda
Atlantis, the majestic resort situated on Palm Jumeirah (the world’s largest man-made island, that looks like a palm floating on the warm waters of the Persian Gulf), is famous for its architectural wonder and luxurious water park.
It’s no surprise that during our visit, we end up seeing only the profile of its gigantic facade emerging in the dark and the shutters of a closed ticket booth. All our time is consumed in only one shop: an up-scale boutique entirely dedicated to the world a beloved exotic delicacy.
When we cross the threshold of Bateel, we presume to be visiting a deluxe chocolate shop. Imagine our excitement when we realize we are actually in a “dates boutique“.
As we move towards the display, behind a bright, crystal glass we glimpse the most lavish assortment of premium quality dates, date truffles, chocolate covered dates and date pastries we have ever seen. We didn’t even imagine that these little, oval fruits, borne from palm date trees and referred by the Bedouins as “the desert oasis”, existed in more than 600 varieties. At Bateel they feature more than 20 kinds, each one cultivated in their farms in Saudi Arabia.
We try to decode the signs: “Ruthab”, “Tamr”, “Khidri”… None of these words sounds familiar.
The storekeeper comes to our aid and we learn that dates are classified by their phases of ripeness. “Balah” is a date that is still not mature, with a crunchy, astringent flesh.
The second phase, “Rhutab“, defines the half-ripe stage of the fruits, that have a texture even softer than the “Tamr“, the fully-ripened dates.
The seller seems to be a real connoisseur: he could write a lyrical essay about every variety of date, and he minutely describes all of their characteristics in flavor, consistency and provenance. “Wow, it seems like you tried all of them”, I inquire with a hint of jealousy. “Of course!”, he answers promptly, “I need to be accurate when addressing my customers”.
“This is a ‘Gattara‘ date”, he says handing us a small, dark fruit that resembles a dried prune….. “But if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll like the ‘Nabout Seif‘, which is absolutely the sweetest one”. It’s saccharine and viscous, in between a ripe apricot and a persimmon.
As he continues to lecture us on date facts, we guess our favorite will be the “Khidri“, that has a “sweet, chewy, raisin-like flesh”. We try it in three different fashions: filled with roasted almond, candied lemon and candied orange peel. Each one is delicious and different from the other; we savor them slowly to capture all their subtle, different accents of flavor.
When we think we couldn’t do any better, we realize we still haven’t tried the best. The “Kholas” with caramelized pecan and the “Wanan” filled with candied ginger peel are absolutely over the top.
We immediately order some more to take home, sure we’ll daydream about them for a long time afterward.The pulp that melts in our mouth is enlivened by the crispy consistency of the nut and by the spicy kick of the ginger.
Incapable of leaving, we drift around the shop, wishing we could try all the mouthwatering delicacies: date-infused sweets and confections, sparkling date drinks, date balsamic vinegar aged 10 years, pastas and date olive oil… Even a date “panforte”, one of our favorite Italian dessert revisited in an exotic key!
“You really have a passion for dates… – the man comments – Why don’t you go visit our café at the Dubai Mall? They have a great selection of sweets and also a vast range of gourmet foods that mix the Italian-Umbrian culinary tradition with a classical Arabian heritage”.
The temptation seems too hard to resist: the day after we head at “Café Bateel” for breakfast, where we drape ourselves over the armchairs in the outside patio. It’s terribly hot and humid, but the sun rays sparkling on the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world, is a spectacle we cannot miss.
In the sophisticated atmosphere of the Dubai Mall water garden, we order a date shake and a selection of pastries and chocolates rigorously date-based.
Our choice consists in a “Date Pistachio Marzipan Dark“, a dark chocolate coated “Barhi” date with marzipan and caramelised pistachios; and a “Date Rocher White“, a date ganache enrobed with white chocolate and almond brisures. Both are impeccable. A small artwork of flavor.
The pastries are on the same level. The “Mahmoul Biscuit“, a butter biscuit filled with date paste, and the “Honey Fig Roll“, a treat made with dried figs, marzipan and dates, are delicious, but the “Date & Pecan Biscuit” is so good that we immediately ask for a second, and more to take home.
This soft, rich baked biscuit is a mix of chopped “Kholas” date, pecan nuts, dhibs (date syrup) and vanilla.
The paste is moist and finely textured; every bite gives you an intense aromatic experience until it dissolves in your mouth.
While we were flying here, we were wondering what will be our most memorable food experience in Dubai. We have our answer.
The Avenues, Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE
The Waterfalls, Lower Ground LG-119, Dubai Mall, Dubai, UAE
Still hungry for dates?: The best date shake in the world
It is often said that Italians don’t eat to live, but live to eat. And to Ambra, philosophizing about food is no different than discussing art. She grew up as a devoted lover of all things Italian, from pumpkin gnocchi to pistachio gelato. After moving to the United States she discovered the pleasures of a new world of food. She eats, travels and writes for Still Served Warm.