BLOG Archive for January, 2020

LAUNCHING THE NEW NATIONAL DISH UAE

January 30, 2020

by Akash Muralidharan

As the newest member of the Center for Genomic Gastronomy (CGG), my Dubai visit was indeed an amazing welcome into my journey with the CGG. On the day of the travel, my anxiety was not helping me. Having slept for only a few hours, I got ready for an early flight. It was an unusual start I should say, for a number of reasons.

My dad offered to drop me at the Chennai International airport, and gave me a good pep talk before bidding goodbye, which doesn’t happen that often. Also I was upgraded to business class for free on Emirates Airlines, which doesn’t happen that commonly. Travelling to Dubai on business class was not exactly what I envisioned for my journey as an artist. It was indeed an unusual start to my travel and my journey with CGG.

So that’s how my journey to Dubai began with some champagne, good food and a very good sleep that I had missed the previous night. So with that my excitement overtook the anxiety on reaching Dubai. I quickly checked in to the hotel and moved to the venue to check the exhibition for the final corrections before the opening night.

The venue was all set for the big night. We quickly made a few changes and the chef’s team were right on time to put the food out for the incoming guests. I trained as an Architect and Designer so public speaking was not my main strength. But Thanks to Catherine Flood, curator from V&A and Yasmeen Sabri, our design coordinator from Alserkal Avenue I slowly got the hang of it and prepared myself for the following days.

An important learning moment, during the event was my conversation with Catherine Flood. On the first day of the event we were to render a talk to the public on how the New National Dish: UAE exhibition came into life. In preparation for the talk we had a very good conversation on how the V&A exhibition “Food Bigger than the Plate” was setup, the challenges faced, and sacrifices made.

The exhibitions at V&A and New National Dish UAE were attempting to change how exhibits in Museums and Galleries were experienced. As an amateur artist it was an eye opener to experience it first-hand. A lot of people who came in were surprised when they were told that they could eat the food in the exhibits. It was lovely interacting with the visitors, looking at the exhibition through their eyes and experiencing it in very new perspectives. Some of them left me with very intriguing questions.

Some of the visitors were confused by the signage and thought that the New National dish was the burger joint right next to the venue. Which actually wouldn’t be that far-off, since a prominent Emirati told us, “the unofficial national dish of the UAE is probably hamburger sliders”.

Alserkal Avenue put up an amazing show for the Al Quoz fest 2020. The event was teeming with artists and good food. Their in-house team is very enthusiastic and passionate. The piece was a particularly good match for their series of tours for visually impaired visitors.

On the last day I had the chance to have breakfast at the eL Seed studio, cooked by the artist himself. It was an amazing opportunity to see all the artists in the same room and share Shakshuka with them. Thanks to the team at The Center for Genomic Gastronomy for this incredible opportunity. Looking forward to where the next New National Dish would take me.

JAN 2020 Food Research Travelogue

January 27, 2020

From January 9 — 19, 2020 two researchers from the Center for Genomic Gastronomy traveled to the UAE and China for site visits and food research. Below is a summary of the trip, with additional writings about the food research to follow.

In the UAE we were completing research for the New National Dish project and in China we explored the Shunde district, which fittingly has been a UNESCO “City of Gastronomy” since 2014.

From the very start of the trip geopolitical and historical events seemed to swirl around each stop, but never fully derailed the progress of the trip itself.

A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FLIGHT PATH

Even before the researchers took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on January 9th we got the sense that this trip might be taking some unexpected turns—the pilot came on to announce “today we will be taking a slightly different flight path than usual.” Yup. 

The 2020 Baghdad International Airport airstrike that killed General Qasem Soleimani had occurred just 6 days earlier and Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was downed only one day before we flew over the region. 

Flight paths in and out of the region were adjusted accordingly, and we wondered how the events would impact our interlocutors in the Emirates and what the mood on the ground would be. However, upon arriving in Dubai any geopolitical tensions seemed overshadowed by the enormous rains and flooding that were taking place.

As one of our interviewees attested “Anytime there is tension or instability in the region, money and people flood into the UAE. The wealthy send their savings and their families for safety in the UAE, and we benefit financially.” This interviewee had a business that was struggling at the time due to the softening of the Emerati economy, and certainly saw the irony of him benefiting from these tensions, but the man-made rain was an immediate concern.

A VERY RAINY DAY IN DUBAI

We drove from the airport to our hotel in a taxi, and had the very unusual experience of heavy rain the entire ride. It only rains a handful of days in Dubai, and we had thought we left the we weather with us back in Europe.

A rainy taxi ride from DXB to our hotel in Dubai.

However, we were even more shocked to wake up to rain each day that were were in Dubai. The streets were flooded, traffic crawled and many of our site visits to farms had to be canceled because we would not be able to make it to the sites and back due to the flooding and traffic.

Flooding outside our hotel in Dubai.

We spoke to market vendors, restaurant owners and other people who uniformly seemed to believe that all this rain was a result of state-sponsored cloud seeding programs.

Dubai fish market.

While we have done research on cloud seeding and weather modification in our own work, we were not expecting that to be the research topic while we were in Dubai. There was some sense that cloud seeding was tied to the government’s desire for water security and food security, but that this might come at the expense of the dominant tourist economy.

Skyscraping—for rain. The UAE “seeded” clouds more than 185 times in 2019. (GETTY IMAGES / WIRED)

These tensions played out right before our eyes in fairly dramatic ways, as the ceiling tiles fell from our hotel lobby and hallways, and water damage pervaded most parts of the building. Dubai’s pop-up city wasn’t designed to be buffered against massive rains and flooding.

Falling roof panels and flooded hallways in our hotel.

We will need to follow up our research on cloud seeding, and how it relates to food and water issues, but some great reporting by Laura Mackenzie was posted on January 11th, 2020—“Bringing in the rain: Has the UAE’s cloud-seeding program gone too far?”

As we sat in the unflooded Dubai International Airport (DXB) on January 12th, 2020 we began reading breaking news articles about the Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines, which was causing evacuations and cancelled flights within the region.

Taal eruption by Adisidis (CC BY-SA 4.0)

We took off on our flight from DXB to CAN and the additional volcanic activity that occurred had mostly local effects and our flight was not diverted. Volcanoes and cancelled flights are significant for our research Center, because our founders initially met while they were in Spain, expecting to possibly be stranded for days or weeks with the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland.

CULINARY PARANOIA ON THE RISE

We landed in the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN) on January 12th, and began our site visits the next day. One of our first site visits was to an open air fish, poultry and vegetable market. It is common during our research to visit markets as well as farms and kitchens, but we entered the market this time with a slight bit of apprehension. The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak was just starting to be reported on in the days before our arrival, and it was clear that the initial outbreak centered on the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which sold live animals. Additionally, a few cases of symptomatic people were reported in Guangdong. Because this was all occurring during the Chinese New Years celebration when many people return to their families and criss cross the country, the risks for a pandemic or just general level of confusion and fear were heightened.

Exterior of Shunde food market.

As we chatted to the vendors at various market stalls we began to wonder what kind of animal may have caused the virus to jump into humans. We primarily focus our energies on plant-based food research, but on that day in particular, the fruit and vegetable stalls seemed like the preferable places to look, touch and taste. One of our ongoing research threads are various forms of Culinary Paranoia that emerge in the global food system, and this was an example of us witnessing and participating in an emergent unease about the purity, health or safety of food, without having much in the way of details, facts or methods of verification. 

Vegetable vendor at Shunde food market.

We returned to Europe on January 19th, 2020, just four days before Wuhan province was put in quarantine. As of this writing the local and international impacts of the outbreak are still underway, but it seems likely that this event will have some consequences for the level of culinary paranoia across the planet. 

The people we met, the food we tasted and our on-the-ground experience was amazing, and we are immensely grateful to our hosts and interlocutors. However, history was making some pretty strange gestures in the background the entire time.

CURRENT & UPCOMING

March 1, 2018
Climate Fiction PT
October 21 - 29, 2017
Dutch Design Week: Embassy of Food
October 19 - 21, 2017
Experiencing Food (Lisbon)
Nov. 5 - Apr. 2, 2016
2116: Forecast of the Next Century
Nov. 5th, 2016
KiKK Festival Workshop