Meena Bazaar: A slice of India in Dubai
Dubai's 'little India' was also intended to be a spot for the entertainment of women.
On record, there is no such place as Meena Bazaar in Dubai. "This road is officially called Al Ghubaiba Road, I assume," said Ahmed Lathif, a grocery shop owner. "But everyone calls it Meena Bazaar. If you search on Google Maps, it says the same."
Thousands of shoppers and traders who crowd the narrow, crooked streets of Meena Bazaar will narrate the same tale. Meena, or Mina Bazaar is home to some of the oldest and biggest gold and textile stores selling and displaying predominantly South Asian wares. The shopping district is located between Al Fahidi, Al Musalla and Al Ghubaiba streets.
Shops are lined with exotic jewellery and textile stores that showcase embroideries with zari and brocades. Nestled in between these elaborately designed gold and textile stores, there is a massive line of shops selling faux leather bags, perfumes and designer shoes.
Given its narrow lanes, the streets are also home to traffic snarls, empty hole in the wall stores, and the sight of men pushing handcarts to deliver goods are also ubiquitous. Don't be surprised to find pushy salesmen urging you to buy "branded" bags and perfumes.
Furthermore, finding a good parking spot in the district is a perennial nightmare. Named after the Mughal-era shopping district near Delhi's Red Fort, Dubai's 'little India' was also intended to be a spot for the entertainment of women, according to some of the oldest residents in the area.
As Ram Buxani, a Dubai-based veteran non-resident Indian entrepreneur and chairman of the a 60-year-old business conglomerate ITL Cosmos Group, said in his book Taking the High Road that an Indian garment shop set up in Bur Dubai in the 1970s changed its name from Shardha Trading to Meena Bazaar, and the title caught on from there. A lane in the bazaar is also named after Buxani's company 'Cosmos'.
Thriving street food culture
Giving Meena Bazaar a genuinely authentic South Asian twist are its several little eateries serving Indian road-side snacks such as vada-pav (vegetarian fast food), golgappas (hollow puri stuffed with flavoured vegetables and water), samosas, and jelebis (deep fried sweets).
"This is a new development in the area. Earlier, there were a few cafeterias like Jebel Al Noor, which sold shawermas, and a few Indian restaurants. Now many little Indian eateries are coming up in Meena Baazar. Two weeks ago, a new lassi (buttermilk) shop opened up. They also serve Delhi-style falooda," said Ahmed Rafiq, an individual who was enjoying a cold drink from the Desi Connection Restaurant in Meena Bazar.
Divya Narwani, a Sharjah- based resident, said she visited Meena Bazaar for shopping at least once or twice a week. "I find everything I need here. Especially, Indian spices, food and traditional clothing. It is a little India in Dubai," she said.
Meena Bazaar is the busiest place close to the festivals and occasions such as Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha, Diwali and others. Retail outlets are continually witnessing a stream of shoppers.
"People come to buy traditional wear for these festivals," said Jay Mohan, a textile salesman. He added: "You can find the fabric of every colour, size and design here. If you want to custom-make clothes, we do that too." In many stores, fabrics are cut and stitched to suit the shape of the customer. "All kinds of customisation we do. Only for Dh150, including the fabrics. All styles and fashion - Indian, Pakistani and anything the customer wants," said an excited Mohan. firstname.lastname@example.org
Right from the time you take a left-turn from Al Fahidi street to enter Meena Bazaar, it feels like you have been transported into a shopping district in India. Aside from the massive gold and textile stores, it is the nondescript little hole in the wall shops selling jasmine flowers, incense sticks and trinkets that genuinely add a South Asian flair to Meena Bazaar.
What began as a small locale that sold typically South Asian wares is now also home to several modern retail outlets. However, since the 70s, the somewhat small locale has grown into a centre bursting at its seams. More residents have moved in, the shops have multiplied, and traffic has risen dramatically. There are constant signs of expansion.
Taste of India
The food outlets are what gives Meena Bazaar a genuinely South Asian flavour. Eateries such as Puranmal Vegetarian, Mumbai Masti, Mumtaz Mahal Indian Speciality, New Ruchi and dessert houses like Kulfilicious are home to some delicious authentic Asian cuisine. Shoppers can always find a spot to rest their weary feet and order some traditional Indian mango lassi.
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