Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. I went to friend's place for a Christmas Eve dinner and then I had a late lunch/early dinner Christmas Day hosted by some other friends of mine. Turkey and all the trimmings for Christmas. Like my eggnog woes someone else lamented that you can't find pumpkin pie here. C'est la vie I guess, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches of not being in North America. It is a shame though as pumpkin pie is my favourite. For the Christmas Eve function I made some eggnog (sans alcohol) and while I would not say it was the world's greatest eggnog it turned out reasonable enough.

The other day I was on my lunch break at the mall with some Qatari colleagues when one of them remembered that he needed to shop for something we do not really know much about in the West -- aoud. So off we went to an Arab perfume shop in the mall where raw aoud is available for sale.

Aoud (or sometimes spelt 'oud' but that is also the same spelling for an Arabic guitar) is a wood that Qataris like to place in incense burners. The wood is from a Southeast Asian tree called an Agar tree. When a certain type of fungus attacks the tree it fights back by exuding a resin, which also happens to be a powerful fragrance. When the resin-infused wood is burnt it gives off a fragrant smoke which Qataris use to add a scent to rooms or clothing.

When we got to the shop the owner started pulling out small chests where he keeps pieces of aoud and my colleagues took the time to point out to me how to identify various qualities of aoud. Bands of colour is important (the word is normally light in colour, darker bands indicate the resin) and a tiny piece was placed in incense burner so that we could see the resin boil and create the smoke (another way to tell how much resin is in the wood). While the tiny piece was in the burner they showed me how to brush the smoke towards your face to get the scent of the wood, also mentioning that smoke from good quality aoud will not cause your eyes to water. Then they demonstrated how you hold the burner a few feet under your face and let your gurtra hang down over the smoke so that the scent of the smoke infuses the clothing. Much like tobacco smoke if you get enough in the clothing the scent will stay for a couple of days.

All in all it was a great lesson in Arab culture.

Now you might be wondering, isn't this 'quality checking' a bit much for a bit of wood you burn? You would think so until you realise how expensive the stuff is. The first box we were shown contained low-quality aoud that was selling for about QR 300/kg (US$80/kg or ~US$35/pound). That was the low-quality stuff. One of the boxes contained aoud selling for QR 1000/kg (US$270/kg), and the best-quality aoud that the store had went for . . . . brace yourself . . . . US$9500 a kilo!! I nearly fell over, almost $10,000 for a kilo of wood! Aoud is serious business in the Gulf.

I now want to grow an Agar tree in my home!

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