I was born and brought up in Mumbai, India. The reason I start with this sentence is because, understanding and cooking with spices automatically is in my blood. Having officially moved to Dubai UAE, three years ago, I feel like I haven't left home as Middle Eastern cuisine is very similar in aspects of the ingredients used and methods to prepare the dishes.
It is quite extraordinary to witness how a single spice can be used in a variety of cuisines and yet taste completely different. I was blown away when I tried some of the Middle Eastern dishes for the first time. So, I decided to hit the best place to gain inspiration and knowledge about spices in Dubai, The Spice Souk.
LOCATION AND NEIGHBOURS:
It is located in what we call Deira, the old Dubai, the streets are narrow, the buildings aren't touching the skies of heaven and the people are more traditional in their mindset of thought and attire. If driving here, parking will pose a challenge, as it is always a busy place to be.
The reason is, because the Abra Dock is adjacent to the spice souk. As you walk along the streets you will see boats loading and off-loading supplies of all sorts into trucks ready for delivery to their destination. One of its ubiquitous neighbours is the Gold Souk.
The Spice Souk is not only a tourist attraction but also a place to learn and purchase some of the best spices you can get your hands on. Some of the little shops along the sun-lit alleys grind them fresh to order. The entire area is filled with a medley of surprising aromas. The atmosphere and environment gives the impression of being in a chapter of an Arabian Nights novel.
The word "Souk" or "Souq" stands for market in Arabic, it is a place where goods are bought or exchanged, imported or exported. Originally, boats or, dhows- as they call it, from the neighbouring countries like India, Ceylon, China and the Far East unloaded their spices at the souk and used them in a barter system for oil. Traders from around the world brought with them a variety of merchandise and "haggled" over the sales and purchases. In modern times, the spice souk is still a market but a mere shadow of this former wonder.
The spice souk stocks a variety of spices. You name it and they most probably have the whole seed, pod, plant, powder, making it a one stop shop to purchasing any spice under the sun. Apart from spices you will also come across an array of tea leaves, flowers, plants, powders, essences. Even specifically roasted coffee beans are sold here, from turkish coffee to arabica coffee. Not to mention the wide variety of dried fruits and nuts presented lavishly in platters and baskets.
My trip to the Spice Souk was unforgettable as I ended up having a conversation with a very young 97 year old, Mr. Abdullah, an owner of one of the spice stalls in the alleyway who talked about the importance of spices in life and also discussed some serious health benefits, which I had no idea about. We came up with a list of "Must-Have" spices for a kitchen. Stay tuned and follow me below for a write up on some of the must have spices in your kitchen!
Definitely worth a trip if you're in Dubai as it showcases the old culture and heritage of the emirate. Make the effort to understand these spices and you will be blown away with the aromas and flavours they have to offer. As for the "Must-Have" spice list for my kitchen I would say that this should be a "Must-Have" list for all kitchens. So stay tuned for my next post to know about this list of spices!