Spicy trip down old Deira souq

THEY COME IN ALL COLOURS AND FLAVOURS ... the spice souq, tucked away from the bustle of city traffic, is a quaint marketplace bearing the signature of generations
THEY COME IN ALL COLOURS AND FLAVOURS ... the spice souq, tucked away from the bustle of city traffic, is a quaint marketplace bearing the signature of generations

Dubai - The abra, which costs only Dh1 per person, is not only a convenient mode of transport but also serves as a major touristic attraction.



By Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Thu 22 Sep 2016, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 22 Sep 2016, 10:41 PM

On most days, we hear announcements on the creative projects Dubai is undertaking, showing that ambitions have no limits. Rarely do we pause to look at the traditional side of Dubai, which is equally breathtaking and peaceful enough to take your mind off the usual busy routine.
Born and raised in Dubai, I have to admit it was my first time to visit the Spice Souk in one of the oldest areas that lies in Deira. So I decided to dump my car by the creek in Bur Dubai and take a ride on the tiny wooden abra to get to the other side.
The abra, which costs only Dh1 per person, is not only a convenient mode of transport but also serves as a major touristic attraction.
The late afternoon sunlight glittering on the quiet water movement and the sound of workers yelling across the majestic dhows stuffed with commercial goods, anchored on the creek side immediately takes you to the past. And at once, you are in a state of peace.
As soon as I got out of the abra, the strong aroma of spices pulled me towards the place that cannot be missed.
Crossing the road, I reached the narrow lanes of the Spice Souq, lined with open and closed-roof stalls on each side and framed by colourful spices neatly arranged in sacks.
It hit my mind,  the strange, yet fascinating healing powers these different powders and herbs can have on the human body and skin when wonders of modern medicine fail.
Everywhere, there were stalls with items for sale. Souvenirs like daggers, rugs, scarves, traditional shoes and outfits were laid out for buyers or as a mere eye-candy for passersby. Plenty of shoppers were calling out already-fascinated tourists, trying different tricks to attract them into their shops.
"This is saffron, it protects against cancer and other diseases. You can also apply it on your body," said Hamed Ghanimi, the merchant of the first shop lying at the market entrance while pointing at one of the sacks. His family has owned the shop for 50 years, and as time goes by, Ghanimi said the spice business is growing.
"Dubai is now a favorite go-to destination for tourists, so we see the numbers grow by the year," he said as he led me inside his shop to meet his father who has the most interesting name I have ever encountered.
"My name is Mashallah," he said, smiling at my slightly surprised face expression. Mashallah is a widely used Arabic phrase that expresses appreciation, joy or thankfulness for an event or person.
Now at 70 years old, Mashallah has his children running the shop for him. He said his other son manages another shop next to his.
"We get our spices mainly from Iran and India. Different herbs such as mint, lavender, jasmine, henna and Sidr are from Iran," said Mashallah.  While Dubai residents have an appeal for turmeric (Kurkum), chilli and sage herbs, tourists prefer to buy nuts, herbs and tea. The most popular spice remains the magical saffron, considered one of the most expensive spices.
"There's high demand for saffron because it is cheaper here," said Mohammed Sharjah, a merchant from another shop.
He said vanilla, coffee, and Indian and Arabic curry appeal to tourists. 
Another trader, Abdelrazaq Mousa, in a 60-year-old shop said the spices mostly come from Iran. While GCC visitors made up the majority of visitors, tourists are now seen more often.  "Spice trade is like the ocean with tides that experiences highs and lows. But Dubai overall has been and continues to be a great environment for trade," said Mousa.
Like Mashallah, he added that this year has seen a hike in sales. 
As a first-timer to the spice world, my visit to the traditional market was indeed fruitful. I left with a great insight on the different kinds of herbs and spices that I had never had a clue of.
On my way back on the abra, I made a promise to myself to visit this traditional side of Dubai more often.
A spicy lesson

  • Turmeric (Kurkum) is used to treat coughs and remove freckles, as an antiseptic on acne, blemishes and an anti-inflammatory for bruises. Its anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle properties improve elasticity of skin.
  • Saffron is known for its antidepressant effects. While it treats blood pressure and heart diseases, it is also useful for skin and hair.
  • Cinnamon is delicious when added to desserts and tea. It also is helpful in managing blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol.
  • Anise is an excellent remedy for asthma, bronchitis cough and digestive disorders. 
sherouk@khaleejtimes.com
 


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