Chicken peshawari, biryani, thaali… it feels great to be assigned eating as school work.
Street Food is a class at NYU Abu Dhabi about observation and immersion. There are mandatory off-campus assignments requiring us to venture into the city, sample cheap eats, talk about what’s on our plates, contemplate the food back home, and think about the urban spaces around us.
By the end of the class with Lecturer Deepak Unnikrishnan, we all have to submit essays about Abu Dhabi’s food scene and culture.
The class contained every single medium possible to make us learn, and before anything else, think — an essential part of any writing course. We used a variety of fascinating writing pieces, good music, and absorbing visuals to stimulate us.
We discussed articles, fiction, poetry, graphic novels and, importantly, the intent and techniques of different authors in delivering their message to audiences.
As someone who had not stayed in the UAE before joining NYUAD, the course served as the ultimate guide to the city.
Our First Assignment: Wander and Find Food
We were asked to go into the city and find very specific food places, like a Chinese baqala (which means grocery shop in Arabic) or a Philippino bakery. Wandering around the city for over three hours, we ticked off every box in our list. Along the way, we were also exposed to a variety of other cuisines, like Chips Oman and two-dirham karak tea.
It was an enjoyable experience for me to feel a growing connection with Abu Dhabi, which is important since the university is located on an island a few kilometers away from the heart of the city.
Another important aspect of the course is understanding urban spaces, so traveling via public transportation provided an opportunity to observe crowd activity — something I never really noticed much before.
We paid attention to the variety of languages spoken on buses, observed the people using the languages, and these gradually helped paint a picture of the diverse culture here in the UAE and why certain types of food are readily available here.
Street Food took me through the streets of Abu Dhabi and the UAE. By walking, eating, and learning about the history of Abu Dhabi and its cuisines, I learned how food is connected to the city’s evolving soul. The course left me hungry to learn more.
We met people whose works we have read, reread, and analyzed. One of them was Anna Zacharias, one of the authors of The People of Ras Al Khaimah, a book we read in class.
While in Ras Al Khaimah with Zacharias, we were having a discussion about the culture of cruising in the city in a vehicle and sipping karak, a practice I had never heard of before this.
I learned that this sort of bonding experience that intertwines traditions with elements of modernity is a beloved thing to do for local youths. As we were in the midst of a discussion, we heard a commotion from afar. Some friends of one of our classmates were cruising around the Ras Al Khaimah emirate — a real life example of learning outside the classroom.
In another class, we witnessed an ice cream being made by one of the professors from the science division. We looked at the ice cream’s molecular structure, its physical shape, form, and taste, and watched videos to see how a popular dessert like ice cream varies from place to place around the world. As I bit into my ice cream, I had an honest food for thought moment.
By walking, eating, and learning about the history of Abu Dhabi and its cuisines, I learned how food is connected to the city’s evolving soul. The course left me hungry to learn more.