[Cake credits: Photographed this beauty at the Choco'a stall, at the 2011 Abu Dhabi wedding fair]
Today is a very special day for me. It's the day when, a year ago, google surfaced the blog of another fellow food blogger in the city – the lovely, positive energy-exuding, Sally Prosser. It’s the day when a half-baked idea was first scrawled as a comment on Sally's blog, My Custard Pie. It's the day that led up to the moment when Sally responded with excitement, eager to connect with someone with an equal passion for food.
Who knew that that half-baked idea would rise, over the span of the next twelve months, into the first and only, unbelievably diverse, and explosively energetic food blogger community in the UAE?
I must warn you, this post will be terribly atypical – no foodie drool and deep-fried bits to dunk into some life-changing chutney. No...all this is, is just a bit of history, a bit of context, and a bit of mush to share with each of the bloggers that are part of this community today. I’ve drawn up a very scanty timeline to show how things came to be – or at least my version of it.
But who cares about fuzzy dates and the timeline minutiae, I’d rather just get to the mush. So here it is, here are some of the things that this UAE-based group of talented food bloggers has given me and that I'd like to celebrate today.
- An ever-expanding pot of unique, passionate voices that bubble up through each of their individual blogs. Each with a different style, a different approach, but a similar degree of contagious passion for food that makes you want to wake up each morning and check them for updates. And that, I do.
- An album of food experiences and memories that are worth savoring for many, many months, and hopefully years to come. The Iftar dinner last August became the first of many fabulous opportunities to meet each other in person. We’ve done so many different things together, including trekking over to the Shindagha vegetable market at 7am, icing gingerbread at Sally’s home, digging our barehands into the pile of shrimp at the Buqtair shack, popping our heads into the baklava kitchens at the Al Samadi factory, noshing our way through the menu on Shake Shack’s opening day, laying out a mind-blowing number of picnic goodies at our potluck in Safa park, learning tips on photography or how to make macaroons from each other, and splashing spicy broth across the table while trying to dish noodles out of a common soupy hot pot in the back streets of Deira. Each time, the food has usually been good. But it's the conversations and memories that have undoubtedly always been priceless.
- A support network that has aged over the past few months into a blend of sweet, rich and complex friendships that extend far beyond the world of food blogging. When you meet complete strangers at a dinner table, there’s only so much you can psycho-analyze about that plate of salmon carpaccio. Conversations have branched out far beyond food to practically everything under the sun…families, vacations, pregnancies, relationships, health issues, and a host of other topics not remotely related to what’s on our plates. Support in times of a question, where can I buy vanilla pods, or how do I switch from blogger to wordpress, is practically 24/7 – our facebook wall never sleeps. Opportunities to grow, gain recognition…and well, even enroll in a competition, win it, and appear on TV [thanks to Anja for sharing, and Marta for making us proud by winning the spot on TV.]…all of those and more are shared selflessly with each other.
Ironically, some of us face-stuffers have also trained side-by-side for long-distance races.
- Engaging food-inspired conversations that happen at breakfast time, lunch time, tea time, dinner time…and all the times in between. The number of different topics posted up by members on our Facebook wall has soared far past the 1,000 mark [thank you facebook email notifications for giving me this data] – on average, around 5 new posts of something food related every day. That number doesn’t even begin to include the multitude of thoughtful responses and practically ‘live’ discussions sparked off by most of these posts. It could be anything – a member’s latest post, a new restaurant opening, a plea for camera help, an offer to share a stinky piece of cheese, a provocative article on organic food, anything and everything – we relish it all. [And many of us have managed to not get fired from our day jobs while we’re at it.]
- An opportunity to be part of something that’s far bigger and way more deliciously decadent than any one blog alone. Without sounding too profound, it feels like we’re ushering in an era of explosively active food blogging in the UAE. Boy, that does sound profound. The group has grown so rapidly because each blog has often acted like a voice for this community, and surfaced valuable connections that either become new members of the group, or become friends or collaborators of the group in some other way. Fellow bloggers, you have shared not just a meager taste of the goodies on your plate, but graciously gone far beyond to let us all double dip into your world of friends, connections and resources. For building a community that transcends each of our individual blogs, I thank each and every one of you.
While I really do admire and appreciate every one of the 56 members in the group, there are three that I’d be wronging if I didn’t mention them. Sally, Anja and Chirag – the three of you had been instrumental in providing offline advice and feedback from Day One about how to grow and administer the group, providing a wealth of thoughtful ideas, pulling the group forward in your own quiet but special ways, and often responding to lame ideas [by yours truly] that were thrown out into the ether with such naïve enthusiasm that anywhere else, they would have fallen flat and crawled out in pain. For growing the group when there really wasn’t one to begin with, you guys truly rock.
I get embarassed about going all mush on everyone, but at least I'm not alone. Chirag's story of how he joined the group is one of my favorite ones, because for once, I hadn't creeped someone else out wih a strange comment, rather they'd turned around and given me a dose of my own medicine! Not surprisingly, we're friends to the core now. Najla dedicated a pretty pink moist chocolate cake so that the group could celebrate virtually, and we had more cakes and drinks streaming in on twitter, facebook and blogs from Sally, Dee, Didi and Abby. Sandy shares what being part of a local blogging community means to her - "I can put a face to everyone’s blog name" and how the group "has helped me find my calling." And Meris, in her lovely evocative voice, tells us what we meant to her as she looked to take private baby blog into a public cheesecake fantasy.
This is as much mush as I can squeeze out of me in a year, maybe even two. I’m full of memories and emotion, and totally out of words [this is when you as the reader sigh with relief.]
Happy Birthday to a phenomenal community of UAE food bloggers.
Here’s to many more months and years of eating, growing, and building lasting friendships for times to come.
(A final touch of nostalgia, that first email which went out to the tiny group of bloggers we cobbled together using google searches and blog stalking.)