Dubai is not just about Bugattis and skyscrapers. Situated in the heart of old Dubai is the Spice market or souk, it is easily reachable via Metro to Baniyas Square. It is located next to the gold market, so it is easy to knock off the two spots together. But for me, spice and flavours and aromas are far more interesting than cold gold. Interestingly, the value of Saffron is greater than that of gold as saffron is so light.
As you enter the market you are immediately assailed by colour and aroma of spice with each shop displaying their wares both in and outside their small interiors. I was greeted by my new best friend, Abdul, who remembered me from….. was it France….no, Holland, oh yes….. from London, I reminded him. Abdul is a skilled negotiator, getting me interested in his wares before even mentioning price.
I had to have his herbal tea, very healthy, very good for the digestion, full of green tea and rose petals, and look at the size of these pomegranate flowers. He told me how to make the tea, one teaspoon per cup, hot, but not boiling water, and then steep for not less than 4 minutes but not more than 8. “Very good, and this bag will last you for many months”.
How could I leave Dubai without a bag of mixed spices. The spices are layered, much like the jars of Arabian sand, and smell divine. A small teaspoon of Baharat, which contains cardamon, cloves, coriander, cassia bark, nutmeg, chilli, and, of course, saffron, is used to flavour chicken, lamb, fish and soup. Again, this small bag of spice will last you until you come back to Dubai.
Obviously I had to buy Saffron, and that came in as many different varieties as Heinz: pure, very pure, with added crocus, the King of Spice. Just a pinch, sir, this jar will last you for two years, this jar of the spice will last you for three years.
I declined his offer of various offers of nuts, although tasted many of them, as well as his dried mango, which was as fine as any I’ve ever tasted. He then offered me a taste of his Arabic Chocolate, made with camel milk and honey. It was delicious, but at first I said no to it. The shop was nice and cool inside thanks to its air conditioning, but outside the thermometer was hitting 47 deg, and there was no way that chocolate would not spoil in that heat. No, no, he insisted, it will be fine, so I relented. I didn’t believe him, but I took some. Incredibly, when I got back to my hotel, the chocolate was just as it was when I was in the shop, in perfect condition. I, of course, was not. Red faced, and practically melting in the heat, I had really struggled to walk the 30 minutes or so to my hotel.
It’s a souk, a market, so of course we had to negotiate on price. Although I reduced the price substantially, I still left, feeling that I had just put his kids through school. However, that is all part of the experience, the rich spice of life!