No, not the Emirates Palace hotel. An actual royal palace in the majlis of Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, the UAE’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research after a forum on education ties between the UAE and India. This is a nightly ritual for the sheikh. At first, you sit in a long room where banquettes line the walls. This is where visitors — in this case attendees at the forum like me and also a large German delegation in town to accompany Angela Merkel — sit and wait for his highness to enter.
Once he’s seated, a bit of Arabic coffee is served in tiny cups to everyone, starting with him, of course. Then they bring a steel bucket of sorts containing hot coals over which oudh wafts. You’re supposed to waft the smoke in your direction in order to “cleanse” yourself. Presumably this was refreshing in days when visitors had been riding camel-back out in the desert. The smell is interesting, but it was a bit too smokey for me.
Then we all went into a hall where all sorts of meats, vegetables and rice were piled high. I had an excellent pasta-type dish and fresh tomato salad. The rice pilaf was excellent and reminded me of Indian cooking. There was a dish I was told was a traditional Emirati dish, kind of a thick paste composed of bulgar and lentils. It was OK, but a little bland for my taste. (It also looked like that chicken desert in Turkish cuisine, which I hated, so that kind of put me off as well.)
But the most adventurous thing I tried was camel. It was OK, fairly lean and a little dry. Not bad, but nothing extraordinary either. The most remarkable thing was that literally in half an hour, the sheikh stood up and left. And, just like that, dinner was over. You gotta eat fast.
He stood at the front door shaking hands and bidding farewell to each guest. And then, he got behind the wheel of his Mercedes and drove himself home to the palace proper.