A Date With Sticky Toffee Pudding

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Sticky toffee pudding, a quintessentially British dessert consisting of a very moist sponge cake and chopped dates covered in toffee sauce. Sticky toffee pudding is a British classic, but how and why did dates, a stape food from the Middle East, find themselves in this age-old recipe?

This was the question that encouraged Kuwaiti food writer Sarah Al Hamad to embark on a 3 year quest to uncover the mystery, travelling through Andalusia in Spain (Europe’s largest date plantation), Liwa Date Festival in Abu Dhabi, California and Cartmel in Northern England, the home of sticky toffee pudding.

Al Hamad has since published her book “Sun Bread And Sticky Toffee” which is predominantly a cookbook but also combines Al Hamad’s beautiful photography as well as her “travelogue” following in the footsteps, as it were, of the humble date. The book contains 40 recipes from all over the world, from reworked ancient to contemporary recipes all with dates in common.


Her journey was so much more than a quest to uncover recipes, but a journey of discovery: how foods evolve over time: “I learnt that connections (between people, places, cultures) are all around us, everywhere in our lives. We make choices to follow one path over another; in my case, one research strand over another, and that’s how we evolve and how a book or piece of research comes to existence.”

Al Hamad compares the role of food in everyday conversation in Khaleeji culture to the role of weather for the British. “Like most cuisines, the Khaleeji kitchen is a result of geography and climate. Vitally, our way of spicing food and our use of grains like lentils and mung beans to create stews and biryanis came to us from our trade routes with the Indian Subcontinent. Spices like turmeric, cardamom, cumin and curry powder are the star attractions in dishes like machbous, dhal soup, mrabyan etc.”

Sarah Al Hamad was born in Kuwait but came to study her MA in Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS - she admits she never planned to stay in London for 15 years. She describes her stint working for Saqi books, a publisher of Middle Eastern fiction and nonfiction, as her “golden opportunity” and has never looked back.

Interview quotations taken from Bahrain Confidential.