Foods of Abu Dhabi

The Foods of Abu Dhabi was a pilot group project me and my class have started during the Introduction to Digital Humanities class. The aim of the project was to create a map of as many dining places in Abu Dhabi as possible and create a map visualization of them. Our professor has designed a form on Fulcrum where all of us could introduce the data gathered.

Screenshot of the Fulcrum form.

The form included the following questions:

  • place of the name
  • food origin
  • food subvariety
  • location (either by using GPS or typing in the coordinates from Google maps)
  • date of establishment
  • average price (AED)
  • number of tables
  • comments
  • delivery to saadiyat (yes/ no)
  • last delivery time

In the beginning of the data collection process, we have ventured out in the city and went to restaurants, cafeterias, and cafes to ask the owners or the workers details about their dining places. The interactions were interesting as we would come to learn more details about the place than what we were mainly interested for the Fulcrum form and also “get a feel” of the place which a map cannot recreate. Then, however, we learnt that there is a much easier way to “collect” spatial data by using the coordinates from Google Maps. Using Zomato.com and other similar websites, we continued to add entries to our data set.

Our next job was to create and export a map using CARTO, a map that would surprise a certain aspect of dining in Abu Dhabi. I chose to focus on the Khalifa City and the dining areas it provides. My map can be consulted at the link below:

Foods of Abu Dhabi

The reason why I chose to focus on Khalifa City is because the area is known to be one of the richest in the entire city so I had my expectations set quite high regarding the prices of the food. It turned out that it was not the case and that there are many affordable dining places in Khalifa City. The viewer of the map can hover over the points on the map and see the name, the origin, and the average price of the dishes served at the respective place.

Findings:

  • many of the dining areas have very affordable average prices (10-25 AED)
  • there is a variety of cuisines in Khalifa city: Middle Eastern (Emirati, Lebanese, Saudi), European (Spanish, French, Italian, British), Asian (Indian, Japanese, Chinese), American, and other International.
  • the average prices vary from 10-15 to 80-90 AED
  • there are extremely expensive dining places in Khalifa City (which was initially my expectation)
  • there are many Indian restaurants
  • many of the restaurants are centered around the Etihad building (center of the city)
  • none of the places deliver to the faraway land of Saadiyat

This project will be restarted during the following semester at NYU Abu Dhabi by professor Wrisley’s class on mapping. For the students in that class, I would like to give the following pieces of advice:

  • try to collect data by going out and interacting with the owners and workers of the restaurant; it is very difficult (hence, very little data about that) to gather information regarding the number of tables and the date of establishment (and maybe even others) about the place without getting to talk to someone who works there. Plus, it is very fun to do it although you might need to pretend you are organizing a big party when you are asking/ counting the number of tables!
  • try to add more about fields to the Fulcrum form: opening hours, special menu, general rankings on different websites. Some research on opening hours would really be interesting!
  • set a “national” granularity and try to add as many “national” restaurants. It would be very interesting in the end to see how many and where are different nation-representative restaurants located. Also, a comparison between the demographics and the origins of the food would definitely say something!
  • Good luck with the project and do add as many entries as possible!

The Citizen Scholars in Context

The class on the 26th of September had a very inspiring topic (which lead me to day-dreaming about implementing a crowdsourcing system in my hometown sometime in the future).

Citizen Science is, according to Wikipedia, “a scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists,” or simply put “public participation in scientific research.” The citizen scholars are, thus, any person who takes part in the research and contributes to the progress of it. An example of such project is Zooniverse, where people are invited to help recognize and classify faces of animals that would further contribute to the development of an AI feature that computers will use in recognizing those faces automatically.

In class, not only that we discussed about the benefits of such a mechanism, but we even tried it ourselves! Crowdtranscription is a subcategory of Crowdsourcing which requires the user’s help with recognizing and transcribing text in scanned images. Me and my classmates, together with our professor, went to 18thConnect and edited the Memoir of a chart of the east coast of Arabia from Dofar to the Island Maziera. The document had been previously digitized by an OCR program, but as we learned last time, the digitization of a text comes with occasional errors which, so far, only a human brain can correct. It was an amazing activity for me as I could take responsibility and contribute to other people’s attempts to create great online resources for the large public. At the same time, I was able to notice, as last time, other errors that appear in the process of text digitization  and also what decisions one editor needs to make when transcribing and/ or editing a text. For example, he or she needs to decide whether to preserve the italics, size, indentations, or superscripts that appear in a text, or simply to replace them and motivate their decisions in a note.

Since the text was documenting the journey of a sailor around the Arabian coasts, a thought popped up in my mind. I realized I know very little about the old history of the geographical area I am currently living in (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirate). Then I realized there are an incredible number of research that can be conducted using citizen science. The UAE and the Arab World in general is still so little known to those outside of it, especially when it comes to fields such as history, language, literature, culture, and even (old or traditional) cuisine (if you are to ask me). A research on almost anything in these categories would contribute to the dissemination of information beyond the Arab borders, out into the curious and intrigued world. After a quick search on Google I found that there are some projects (currently undergoing or already finished) on the topic. For example, the team behind the Arabic language collection claims that their collection comprises more than 100,000 books and more than 15,000 manuscripts. Still, very little of this is available online, to the large public, and, which is more, even fewer must have been translated to English. However, good news are announced, as some of the manuscripts are going through the process of digitization.

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