Thursday, December 6, 2012

International Date Festival

Once upon a time my grandmother handed me a large, dried, brown fruit. I was suspicious, but took it into the other room with my grandfather and put it in my mouth... and almost gagged. One of the only things I didn't like to eat growing up was raisins, and this tasted like a raisin, but with even stronger flavor. I could tell, without even chewing! So, like any 4 year old, I took it back out of my mouth. My grandfather then noticed that I hadn't eaten it (but not that I had tried) and asked if I were going to eat it, because if not he wanted it. What was I to do? I handed to him and let HIM eat the raisin-like thing.

 I later learned that this raisin-like thing was called a prune, and I actually like raisins AND prunes today... but that memory still leaves me wary of brown fruit that comes in the shape of a big water bug. So, even though dates are a very important part of the culture here, I could never work up the courage to try them, until our friends invited us to the International Date Festival held at the convention center here in Abu Dhabi.

 There were all sorts of nationalities and types of dates. One brochure claimed that there were over 300 different kinds, and many of these were available to taste. Some dates are a mushy paste inside, and I found that I did not prefer that kind. My favorite was from Saudi Arabia. It has a chewy texture and a nutty, almost caramel flavor. It's like eating candy, but better for you! Dates have a lot of fructose and about 20 calories each for the smaller ones and around 65 for some of the larger medjool dates. Though they have more calories than most fruits, they make a great substitute for processed sweets. They are also good sources of fiber, potassium and other important vitamins and minerals... so we picked up a pack of the kind I like.
Dates are made into many types of cookies, candies, and even date-flavored milk. We also got some "date honey," which is more like a syrup, to try.

At the convention, along with many types of dates to sample with coffee, there were also tiny date palm seedlings, a tower made out of dates, a date palm tree to climb- rock wall version, and other typical goods.

Dates are definitely more delicious than I thought!

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