The Farmer’s Market in Dubai

blankI had the most refreshing experience last weekend at Jumeirah Emirates Towers.

No, I’ve not done a 360 on this down-and-dusty blog and caved in to the high street. The experience I’m talking about is out on the sun-washed lawns of the hotel’s ballroom gardens. It’s out under the small white pavilions where the first ever Farmers Market in the UAE reopened its green gates for business on Friday.

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers - Balqees Honey

I strolled through the stalls, buying my favourite Yemeni honey from Riath at Balqees, sneaking in tastes of Baker & Spice’s fresh breads and pastries, and enjoying the interaction with the farmers present at the market.

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers - Baker & Spice

The conversations and experience that morning planted a seed in my head – I have to find a way to work with those spearheading the local farm movement. The common person like myself needs to gain an overview of farming techniques in the desert, learn how to select good produce, engage in more nuanced local vs. organic vs. sustainability debates, participate in cooking lessons with the harvested produce, and eventually become intricately tied in to the local farm movement. I’m still mulling over how to move forward with this, but I do feel strongly about it – just as strongly as I did when we launched the educational Sustainable Fish Market visits in Deira.

We sat out on the lawns, exchanging news and gossip over swigs of coconut water and messy bites of giant breakfast sandwiches made fresh on the grill by Baker & Spice.

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers - Baker & Spice

The tender sesame bun on my breakfast sandwich gaped wide with shock at its centre, screaming in protest because I’d rebelliously asked for every choice of ingredient to be shoved into its delicate mouth. The two bun halves were divorced by the enormous burden of a soft-boiled pickled egg, omelette, chicken sausage, lettuce and caramelized onions, all glued tenuously together with tomato salsa and homemade yoghurt-mango sauce. I simply couldn’t bear to leave any condiment feeling unused and rejected on the grilling table.

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers - Breakfast Sausage Sandwich

The sheer excessiveness of the sandwich, something that might as well have just walked off the sets of an American ‘Craziest Eats’ TV Show, was incredibly childish and liberating.  And that moment, juggling a sandwich bursting with wholesome high-quality B&S fillings, cozying up on the shaded patch of grass, laughing with My Custard Pie, Chef Silvena and the flying Airspectiv maverick – that moment was the highlight of my month.

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers - - by Laura Allais-Maré
Courtesy Laura Allais-Maré, founder of Slow Food – Dubai.

The first time I visited the market back in 2010, I unfairly compared it to the giant markets of Seattle and NYC, each of them plush with all manner of fruits, veggies and baked treats. At the time, my heart sank at the limited variety of what was on offer at Dubai’s farmers market. It was a piddly fraction of what I had encountered abroad. I was more focused on scale, on variety, on exotic ingredients rather than the simple notion of what is available locally. I had behaved as a spoil brat whining for what wasn’t there, and completely missed the point on what was there.

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers

It is only now that I understand the broader context of a trend that places like Baker & Spice, Greenheart Organics and RIPE had set into motion – baby steps towards educating the community and sourcing high quality local produce in what is essentially a desert. Educating the community comes first, and the resulting demand fuels the movement for more local produce. What we get in Dubai may not be as diverse as what you get in other countries – obviously, we are in a desert and our supermarkets fool us into believing otherwise with their lush stacks of imported ingredients. But when you learn to cook with what is locally available and in season, you start focusing less on what you don’t have and more on the quality and preparation techniques of what you do.

My fridge is now stocked with okra, beans, farm-fresh eggs, eggplant and the most addictively savoury corn bread whose salty spiciness had best be dunked into a bowl of creamy vegetable broth. I am proud that the local movement has started and is taking commendable steps forward in Dubai. Even if the variety of produce doesn’t grow, I do hope that people’s support of whatever little is available does.

Farmers Market - Dubai - Jumeirah Emirates Towers - Baker and Spice spicy cornbread

The Farmers Market on the Terrace takes place every Friday, for about 6 months of cool weather in Dubai. More information can be found here.

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.

4 thoughts on “The Farmer’s Market in Dubai

  1. MyCustardPie says:

    Truly the highlight of my month too. Doing my weekly shop and using what is available challenges my culinary creativity but tastes so good. Sharing the experience of that mega sandwich of top-notch, super fresh, high quality ingredients….it was the nearest thing to street food stalls I’ve experienced here in the UAE. There was choice there enough for me without the organic fruit and veg being flown in over thousands of miles so they become tasteless. You’ve captured the atmosphere so well.

  2. Amelia Johnson says:

    Can’t believe I still haven’t been to what I’ve heard is the most ‘authentic’ farmers market in Dubai. Thanks for your description – it’s now in the diary for next weekend!


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