Traditional Emirati cooking Tanoor at its best

The age-old cooking method, which spans over 24 hours, needs a two-meter-deep stone well

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For many generations, villages around the UAE and Oman, have come together during celebrations such as Eid and other occasions, to cook a meal collectively using an old method found in rural and mountainous areas. Commonly called a Tanoor, an “underground oven”, the cooking method requires a two-meter-deep stone well in the ground and over 24 hours of cooking time.Image Credit: Supplied
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On the day of the cooking, each family in the village would bring their own meat, traditionally goat in the UAE, and would spice it according to each home’s personal recipes. Some families prepare the spices for weeks prior to the cooking event. The meat is then wrapped in leaves, in the UAE they use Al shoo’ and Al shakhs which are leaves commonly found in the mountainous areas. Other regions often use banana, mango or lemon leaves.Image Credit: Supplied
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The wrapped meat is then placed in individual baskets made of palm tree leaves. Considering the large number of meat being cooked, often around 20 or 30 whole goats, each family would place a unique marking on their own basket to ensure that it is later identified easily.Image Credit: Supplied
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Families then begin to toss their baskets of meat inside in the tanoor oven which is then immediately covered with a lid to allow the fire to reduce, and then buried under piles of sand to ensure that the oven is completely sealed away from any air that could ignite the fire. Every few hours there is an inspection to check if there’s any leak in the oven. Any leak of air through the lid could mean the fire will start again. The oven is checked from the outside to ensure there’s no smoke.Image Credit: Supplied
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After 24 hours of cooking, the village gathers again the following day to receive their cooked meat. A special kind of firewood is used in this cooking process. The samr tree, common in the desert and mountains, is usually used as its wood delivers a special taste.Image Credit: Supplied
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The lid is lifted where over 30 baskets of meat have completed cooking. Goat is typically the meat used in the UAE and the Hatta regions, however, in Oman and neighboring countries, beef and veal are often used as well. The oven can hold large amounts of meats and baskets, making this process a shared experience with the village.Image Credit: Supplied
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Using long metal hooks, each basket is lifted and wheeled away by the families. The occasion usually gathers a large crowd as families wait to receive their own basket.Image Credit: Supplied
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Each basket has a unique marking for families to identify their own batch. Despite the cooking method being similar, often families would share their meals with their neighbors as each household has its unique way of spicing and serving the meat allowing for more variety and choices.Image Credit: Supplied
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Families open each basket of meat that has their own markings. The slow cooked meat with the special taste of firewood and unique spices, is frozen for many days to come as the cooking method creates a very tender meat that is a much sought after delicacy in the region.Image Credit: Supplied
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The meal is commonly consumed on special occasions especially Eid Al Adha as there is large quantities of meat being shared. A portion of the meat cooked in this process is traditionally distributed to those in need around the village.Image Credit: Supplied

Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor and Roudha Mejren, Staff Reporter THE GULF NEWS

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