Nationalistic Flavors and Temporary Meals: Issues of Citizenship and Belonging in Dubai's Immigrant and Native Foodways

Authors: Salma Serry*, Boston University
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Middle East, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Nationalism, Citizenship, Culture, Middle East, Arab, Dubai, Gulf, Food, Foodways, Meals, Flavors, Cooking
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 42
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For hundreds of years, the winds of the Indian Ocean have carried spices, essences, grains, seeds and people alike, to and from the coast of the Arabian gulf. At the heart of this vibrant and everchanging center of trade, emerged Dubai, stepping onto its building block of booming oil wealth to become one of the most hyperglobalized and multicultural geographies in the world. However, beyond its glitz and glam, lies a complex narrative of splintered immigrant communities and cultures (that make up 89% of its population), each with its own foodways and practices which are analyzed against theories of immigrant culture, Intersectionality and Place Attachment to their home countries. The paper draws on ethnographic research of urban food spaces in Dubai such as Little Manila Towns, Egyptian Neighborhood, African markets, and the themed “Global Village" and "Heritage Village” to understand the continuous yet paradoxically temporary presence of the oscillating immigrants and their food culture in the city. On the other hand, and in striking contrast, one finds the minority Emirati “nationals” proudly guarding, preserving and practicing their own within a carefully constructed postcolonial heritage narrative that aims to disseminate an elitist identity-shaping and a nationalistic “exceptionalism” that seldom acknowledges and often excludes the interconnectedness of the cultures that were ever linked to its land. This paper aims to explore the multiple and interlinked ways in which food carries meanings of identity, belonging, and citizenship – or lack thereof- for both immigrant and native societies of Dubai.

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