What it's Like Finding Real Food in Abu Dhabi
Do you wonder what it's like to be a real foodie in Abu Dhabi?
Today I'm continuing a series featuring real foodies from other countries, because don't we all wonder what it's like to live in a far-away place, and how shopping for and feeding your family might be the same or different? (Click here to see the other posts. If you know of a real foodie in another country, please email me! [email protected])
Please welcome my blogging friend, Sylvie McCracken, she is going to share with us how in the world she ended up in Abu Dhabi, what it's like raising kids there, and also what it's like finding real food in Abu Dhabi…
1. First, can you share with us a little of your story, and how you ended up in Abu Dhabi?
Sure! My husband is a school teacher and our first stint here was in 2009 when we had a newborn and I wanted to take a break from working full time. We were living in Los Angeles and knew it would be challenging to support a family of 4 (there's 5 of us now!) in L.A. on a teacher's salary so we jumped ship (for school teachers, Abu Dhabi is the country with the best pay). Our 3rd baby was born here. We live in a smaller city called Al Ain, within the emirate of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
2. What has been the easiest real food to source there?
Surprisingly, grass fed butter has been easy to find and affordable. Kerrygold and Organic Valley are both available here at nearly every grocery store and Anchor from New Zealand is available in bulk as well.
3. What has been the most challenging real food to source there, and how did you handle it?
We gave up raw milk (which my kids and husband adore) when we moved here. There are a couple of sources of raw camel milk but my friends haven't had great experience with it. The quality seems to be a bit suspect. Organic milk is available but we just go without it.
There are a few fruits and vegetables that are either expensive (like butternut squash) or usually not great quality by the time they reach us (like kale or berries) or non existent (like spaghetti squash) so we mostly go without them.
I think in general the challenge has been getting honest answers to sourcing and organic practices. Part of that challenge is the language barrier and because a lot of the meat and produce is imported you have to trust the grocery store to relay that information accurately.
We do the best we can and focus on the foods we can get plenty of like gelatin (which I'm so obsessed with I wrote an entire ebook on it: The Gelatin Secret).
4. How do real foods/traditional foods fit into the culture in Abu Dhabi now vs. many years ago? Has access to real food declined there as it has in the U.S.?
It's interesting to observe the difference between the older generation and younger generation here (the local emiratis). The traditional foods are very much enjoyed by the older generation and are plentiful at feasts such as Iftar, the fast-breaking meal enjoyed every evening during the holy month of Ramadan. The younger generation gravitates towards a more Americanized junk-food diet and that's what you would see the most of at the malls which is where we spend a lot of time (it's hot outside!) 🙂
I'd say the decline here has happened faster and more dramatically than in the U.S. even. I know that sounds shocking and sad but I've never seen so much packaged food as I have here. Obesity and diabetes is unfortunately a big problem here.
5. Have you learned any new and interesting regional recipes that you could share?
I've been using Mediterranean Paleo Cooking by Caitlin Weeks, Nabil and Diane Sanfilippo a lot. Our housekeeper is from Sri Lanka and makes curry for us once a week which is amazing. I'm loving experimenting with new spices that are common here: za'atar, saffron, etc., but haven't developed any proper recipes with them yet.
6. Does your family LIKE the food there in general?
The kids go through phases but for the most part, yes! Except the 2 younger ones don't like spicy food and if we're at a restaurant often what they consider not spicy is way too spicy for them.
My husband's favorite food is Indian food so he's a happy man since that's a common theme and there are plenty of amazing hole-in-the-wall places where he can get his weekly fix inexpensively. I miss being able to buy healthy convenience food (maybe some Applegate hot dogs, guacamole, etc.) and having a farmer's market practically every day of the week in Los Angeles.
Here we mostly use a regular grocery store and have compromised quite a bit on food quality compared to the local, organic, seasonal that was so easy to swing in SoCal.
7. Anything non-food related that surprised you about living there or that has been tricky? Or maybe something that you have really loved?
I think what was really surprising and tricky when we first moved here was how difficult and inefficient the systems and processes are from renewing a visa to getting internet hooked up. The fact that there are no proper addresses makes even getting a delivery a bit of an adventure. I was raised in Argentina which is technically a third world country and not the most efficient in the world so it's not that I was expecting a U.S. standard of efficiency, but the hoops we have to jump thru to get anything accomplished here has us alternating between laughing and crying. 🙂 I do think some of these challenges would be a tiny bit alleviated in the big city (Abu Dhabi proper which is a 1.5 hour drive from me or Dubai, a 1 hour drive from here) but they would come with other challenges such as crazy traffic, etc.
Less surprising but equally tricky coming from from Southern California weather is the fact that it's often too hot here to hang out outdoors, unless you're in the pool. I get a bit of cabin fever at home and the malls get old after a while.
On a much more positive note, I've given birth to my 3 kids in 3 different countries (Argentina, U.S, and U.A.E./ Abu Dhabi) and if I had to recommend one of those 3 for the easiest and most affordable place to have a natural childbirth it would be Abu Dhabi, hands down. It wasn't perfect but definitely the least fuss of the 3 (all in hospitals, for context) and you certainly can't beat a less than $100 co-pay.
Other good things: What I love about living abroad is the ability to expose my kids to other cultures, languages, food and religion. Hiring help is very common and affordable here and a huge help when you're making everything from scratch in the kitchen for a large family. I love being able to send my kids to a homeschool camp where my oldest unschooled teen also works so that I can have a few hours to work on my 2 online businesses.
Being close to Europe and having the time to be able to explore it is pretty cool too. A few years ago we spent 2 months traveling through Spain and Italy as a family. Unheard of for Americans but very common for expats here. It's not just teachers that get 2 months off – it's fairly common here in several industries.
Thank you for sharing Sylvie!!!
Could you help me FIND real foodies who would be willing to answer some questions or share their story? Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s a friend or family member you know. Please don't just email me and say, “So and so would be great…” Instead, if you could actually ask them if they're interested and if so, see if they'll email me their story (preferably with pictures), I'd appreciate it! [email protected] Or send me their email and I can ask them and send along some questions. 🙂 ***Also, if you've suggested someone in the past — can you send me their email again as it may be lost in my crazy inbox. Thank you!
More Scoop: Sylvie is a mother of 3 and a former celebrity personal assistant, now living in Abu Dhabi where her husband, Eric, is teaching. She and Eric each lost over 65 lbs with paleo and continue to improve their family’s health with food and lifestyle tweaks. Sylvie shares recipes and health tips at Hollywoodhomestead.com and business and entrepreneurship tips at SylvieMcCracken.com. She is the author of 3 ebooks:
- Paleo Made Easy: Getting your Family Started with the Optimal Healthy Lifestyle
- The Gelatin Secret: The Surprising Superfood that Transforms your Health and Beauty
- The SIBO Solution: Your Comprehensive Guide to Eliminating Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth.