A Trail of Four Markets – a Friday market hop across Old and New Dubai

Fish Market Deira - #unseenDXB - photo trail Gulf Photo Plus & Frying Pan Adventures

The Friday brunch experience to try in 2015 is not the one in a sterile overpriced hotel, but rather the buffet of sensory market experiences that both old and new Dubai have to offer. Save your dirhams and spend a fruitful Friday completing this trail of four markets in the City of Gold.

Google Map Locations: Open https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zOr9LeKZFoJk.k_Pnyxhd0WVU and click the layer in the left box labeled ‘002 Food Trail: Friday Market Hop.’

The Deira Fish and Vegetable Market

Connect with the region’s rich fishing heritage and chug coconut water for a fourth of the price in New Dubai.

Fish Market Deira - #unseenDXB - photo trail Gulf Photo Plus & Frying Pan Adventures

Suggested Time: 6:00AM to 9:00AM (the market runs all the way till 1:30PM but the early birds always get the freshest catch). Unlike the rest of the markets in this post, this market is open every day of the week, mornings and evenings.

Descriptive Buzz Cloud: Smelly, chaotic; bustling; ALIVE; authentic; male-dominated; friendly (sometimes too friendly); diverse; plentiful; bargain-worthy.

The Lowdown: Parking is NOT free on Fridays; much of the market holds imports of fish, fruits and veggies – but if you know what’s in season, you’ll know how to look for the local fish; the freshest catch is at the far end of the market; buy sustainably using www.choosewisely.ae; ditch the overfished hammour (orange-spotted grouper) and buy eshkeli (pink ear emperor) instead, which is excellent deep-fried in gram flour batter at the Grill & Shark Restaurant that I’ve described in an earlier post; rehydrate yourself in the veggies section with the cheapest coconut water you will find in Dubai (AED 4 to 5/coconut in the fruit/veggie section of the market (pictured below) as opposed to 15+ on the new side of town); crisp apple-green jujube are in season at the time of writing this post and are being sold right by the coconut water stand at the back of the market – AED 5 will grab you a nice bagful to crunch on for pre-breakfast munchies; ladies, please dress conservatively, unless you enjoy bare nuggets of you being stared at lecherously.

Fish & Veggies Market Deira - #unseenDXB - photo trail Gulf Photo Plus & Frying Pan Adventures

Want a friendly guide to reveal insider info on the market? Join the #unseenDXB photography course with Gulf Photo Plus, a project that I have co-designed. The expert photo instructor lays bare all my secrets about the market, including a super early morning visit for the frenzied wholesale fish auction, my favourite fishmonger’s stall, a visit to the shore to watch my fishmonger’s boats unloading, and loads of great info on how to capture the movement and atmospheric natural lighting in the market with anything from a phone camera to a DSLR.

Fish Market Deira - #unseenDXB - photo trail Gulf Photo Plus & Frying Pan Adventures

If photography is not your thing, join meon my morning trail which includes the fish market and a bunch of other Old Dubai food-loving experiences. All photos of the market in this post and at the next one (RIPE) were taken on the #unseenDXB photo trail with Gulf Photo Plus (first launch trail on Friday, Feb 6, 2015).

There, shameless plug over.

Fish Market Deira - #unseenDXB - photo trail Gulf Photo Plus & Frying Pan Adventures

The Ripe Food & Craft Market at Zabeel Park

Instagram profusely at this trending New Dubai market and rave about something. Anything. #goodLife #sexySelfie #glutenfreenutsfreedairyfreeBUTcheatwitharedvelvetcupcakeday

Suggested Time: 9:00AM to 10:00AM (the market runs till 5:00PM but the crowd swells a tad bit too much after 10:30AM for my peaceful Friday liking)

Descriptive Buzz Cloud: Strong community feel; positive vibes; family-oriented; westernized; encouraging number of home-grown brands; bustling after 10:30AM; great people-watching.

RIPE Food & Crafts Market Zabeel - unseenDXB - photo trail Gulf Photo Plus & Frying Pan Adventures

The Lowdown: Get there early else parking is a nightmare; AED 5.00 to enter the park; unbeatable fun outdoorsy vibe and a wide selection of prepared foods and handcrafted products; even though a market like this one might seem a bit affected after you’ve just left the grizzly fish market, keep an open mind to soaking up the outdoor fair-like atmosphere; there’s a lot of hype around certain stalls in the market, but remember that long lines for food don’t always correlate with taste/value for money on the new side of town; support the friendliest roti-gangsta on the planet – Tahir Shah – and his homegrown brand Moti Roti by buying a wrap with home-style Pakistani stuffings snuggled into a freshly-puffed whole wheat roti + lassi; the Prime Rib rosemary lamb sausage or beef burger might be the best AED 15.00 deal in the market, and they throw in water for free; hats off to all the vendors and their assistants who put in a boatload of effort serving the crowds all day; ladies, dress to impress (…on Instagram).

RIPE Food & Crafts Market Zabeel - unseenDXB - photo trail Gulf Photo Plus & Frying Pan Adventures

The Farmer’s Market on the Terrace

Appreciate the seasonal produce of farmers who create green magic despite harsh desert conditions.

Suggested Time: 9:00AM to 11:00AM (be there early for the choicest produce, even though the market does run till 2:00PM)

Descriptive Buzz Cloud: Local seasonal produce; interaction with farmers; friendly; family-oriented; humble; for chefs and the serious/quality-seeking cooking enthusiast; authentic; passionate; Baker & Spice’s simple but scrumptious spinach and eggs on an English muffin.

Baker & Spice Grill - Farmers Market on the Terrace - Dubai

The Lowdown: Stalk their Facebook page for updates; this is the only farmer’s market in Dubai – people use that term too broadly here, but a farmer’s market is where you can actually meet the farmers who grow your produce and this is the only market in Dubai where you can do that; sells mostly produce + Balqees raw honey (which I unabashedly support) + RAW coffee + Baker & Spice’s grilled breakfast and baked goods + some other prepared foods; no cupcakes sighted thankfully; small market, but focus on quality of produce rather than quantity; go with the belief that if strawberries are not in season, then they don’t need to be at the market; buy what’s in season locally and celebrate ingredients in thoughtful home-cooked dishes; lack of selfie obsessives here – patrons simply care about their food, less about others watching them care about food; engage in friendly, informative banter with Laura Allais-Mare, the queen of the Slow Food Dubai chapter who’s got a stand right by the entrance of the market; grab spinach and runny eggs pinned between tender halves of an English muffin from Baker & Spice and find a grassy patch to kick off your flip-flops and tuck in; while not really local, the olives at the Astraea stand are really worth a taste. Let Kostas (photo below) infect you with his passion and knowledge of his family farm on the island of Samothrace in Greece – and if you buy a jar of precious fruity marinated olives, don’t be an elephant and forget them at the market like I did.

Dubai Farmers Market on the Terrace - Astraea Olives - Greece

The Lowdown, part 2: To really appreciate this farmer’s market, you have to visit a local farm and understand the challenges of farming in the desert. Contact Slow Food Dubai to get on their mailing list and learn about farm visits. Organic Oasis comes recommended by my Fooderati Arabia friends and you can connect with them over Facebook to find out more details about scheduling a visit. Greenheart Organic Farms (which doesn’t sell at this market) also conducts informative farm visits that I’ve described in an earlier post. Educate yourself by learning from the masters – Sally Prosser, an award-winning blogger at My Custard Pie who frequently inspires her readers by sharing ‘’veggie art’’ on Facebook after her trips to the market and of course Laura, the leader of Slow Food Dubai. Both of them are usually flitting about the market, but even if you don’t run into them, I’ve got them to tell you why they love this market and why you should too:

Sally Prosser my custard pie and Laura Allais-Mare slow food dubai - Farmers Market on the Terrace - Dubai

Take a trail break with a much-deserved afternoon nap, unwind over tea and cookies bagged at the Farmer’s Market on the Terrace and then head over to the final, most hidden market of the trail…

Abu Hail Friday Night Bazaar

Get a real Taste of Dubai at a bustling night market that serves up specialties cooked in the homes of Emiratis, Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos. 

Suggested Time: After Maghrib prayer time till about 11:30PM.

Abu Hail Friday Night Market - Deira - Old Dubai

Descriptive Buzz Cloud: Old Dubai; home-style cooked food from the communities of Old Dubai; live frying and bread (regag) stations; down-to-earth; no-frills; killer chicken tikka; fried foods galore; conservative dress code; not for the fussy eater.

The Lowdown: This real taste of Dubai has no entry ticket and descends every Friday into the parking lot of the Union Coop in Abu Hail (Rashid Road); stalls are owned by Emiratis, some of whom sell food (e.g. harees, margooga) cooked in their homes and some of whom have leased their stalls to Indian/Pakistani/Filipino families who sell their own national foods; queues in Old Dubai usually correlate less with hype and more with flavour, so follow the crowds in this market; the food section is only one small edge of the market, much of it is dedicated to clothes and other knick knacks; dress conservatively – don’t land up in sleeveless shirts, shorts or anything body-baring; don’t  leave without the lemony, immaculately charred chicken kababs (AED 25.00, including bread and chutney) in the last portacabin-like stall at the far end of the market – there’s always smoke billowing out of it and the Emirati man (Ali) who grills the kababs often sings (in Urdu) to passer-by’s (blow-by-blow photo account for your viewing pleasure below);

Bahraini Kababs - Abu Hail Friday Night Market - Deira - Old DubaiBahraini Kababs - Abu Hail Friday Night Market - Deira - Old DubaiBahraini Kababs - Abu Hail Friday Night Market - Deira - Old Dubai
DSC04861Bahraini Kababs - Abu Hail Friday Night Market - Deira - Old Dubai

The Lowdown (cont’d): …deep-frying is the trend here; hot-sellers are nose-tingling whole chillies or onion shreds or potato slabs dipped in spiced gram flour batter and deep-fried to a grease-laden crisp; acceptably crispy luqeimat vendors are challenging to find at this market, the ones I’ve tried are anti-climactically doughy; mediocre karak chai options; be ready to stand your ground and claim your rightful batch of freshly fried goods – in markets such as this, queues are often not defined by straight lines between two points and forceful aunties get first dibs; while there are many families around, don’t go as a single woman or even a pair of women – my outrageously attractive friend (she’s taken boys) managed to garner some unwanted, nauseating attention from pre-puberty school boys; the Union Co-Op customer service is on hand for distressed damsels and can help to nip adolescent adrenaline in its bud; take your own napkins and Purell; don’t photograph local or veiled ladies or you might end up eating your pakodas at the police station.

Abu Hail Friday Night Market - Deira - Old Dubai

If you manage to weave through all four markets in one day, I want to hear from you, you little market monster you.

Google Map Locations: Open https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zOr9LeKZFoJk.k_Pnyxhd0WVU and click the layer in the left box labeled ‘002 Food Trail: Friday Market Hop.’

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

11 thoughts on “A Trail of Four Markets – a Friday market hop across Old and New Dubai

  1. Rupal @Foodienfabulous says:

    Sigh..this post is what my dreams are made of! Done three of these over and over again and echo every single one of your fabulously put words. And this night market – how have I not yet been here *hangs head in shame*. Planning a trip soon!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Great to hear that you’ve completed 75% of the trail already Rupal! The Abu Hail Bazaar isn’t going anywhere (hopefully) and it’s the perfect weather for kababs al fresco. Enjoy discovering it on Friday!

  2. Sally - My Custard Pie says:

    Blushing to be so generously described and quoted, itching to get to Abu Hail asap. You’ve captured the spirit of the first three perfectly, with accuracy, perception and wit. Adore this post. Off to tread in your footsteps.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Sweet Custard Lady, thank you for your generous words! You’re my reference point as far as the local farmer’s movement in Dubai is concerned – you were actively supporting it far before it became ‘fashionable’ to do so, and I love your dedication to the market. Let me know if you make it down to Abu Hail…you might be the first British expat to make it down there ;)

    2. InaFryingPan says:

      Dear Custard Lady – thank you for your gracious words! I really do respect your knowledge and dedication to the local farmer’s market – you were supporting their work in Dubai long before it became ‘fashionable’ to do so. As for Abu Hail, can’t wait to hear once you’ve visited…you may be the first British expat to go down there!

  3. Tasneem Rajkotwala says:

    Incredible info here Arva. I wish I could do the trail of all four markets in one day but since there are limitations I can’t wait to go to the Abu Hail market this Friday – so rustic and spectacular!

  4. Faisal Khatib says:

    Parking at the Abu Hail market is a nightmare and be prepared for some idiot to double park behind your car blocking it. Best spot to park is near the school down the road. Also it only happens during the cooler months (unless they’ve changed that).

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Faisal, spoken like a true veteran!
      Parking – not a nightmare really when I visited the last few times. There’s a quiet parking area right behind Union Co-Op, and in the front, they’ve figured out to way for additional cars to park in parallel-parked queues between the diagonal parked cars, leaving each of them space to exit (sorry, this makes no sense written down – you have to see it to understand!) Anyone who can navigate around the never-ending construction in places like JLT / Marina / JBR will be fine here, and if you can handle driving in Naif, this is a walk in the park!
      I visited in the summer of 2014 – hot, sweaty, kababs still spot-on…but a bit too sauna-like to fully enjoy the experience.

  5. Ahmed Saidawi says:

    Thanks for the post, super informative and interesting! Keep it up! :-)

  6. Bonnie says:

    This is fascinating! Can you please tell me if “The ripe” market and “Farmer’s Market” open throughout the week or just Fridays?



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