On the second day of our adventure, we visited the spice souk in the old section of Dubai. The most impressive thing that struck me about this part of town was its cleanliness. No trash of any kind could be seen on the ground. No crumbling sidewalks. (Don’t get me started on this because I can rant for hours. You may find hints of my feelings in some of my posts from 2011.) The area is perfectly safe too.
As we entered the market, I was amazed that it was organized by content. One aisle featured stores that only sold cooking pots and utensils; another was dedicated to spices. I expected to see open stalls or booths but found actual shops with glass fronts and open doors. We found shop after shop with huge bags of spices. From whole spices like cardamoms, anise, peppercorns of many colors and cinnamon sticks of varying lengths to ground spices including, cumin, turmeric, chiles and paprika, they had everything one would need to create a perfectly seasoned dish.
One of my most interesting finds was the saffron flowers. They are actually bundles, about an inch in diameter, of saffron threads. It was very easy to see the different parts of saffron, from the yellow thread to the red stigma. Each vendor offered several quality grades from the least expensive (contains some yellow parts) to the best which had virtually no yellow parts at all. One of the shopkeepers, Jamal, not only sold saffron in small quantities but in huge boxes. When I asked him who buys saffron in such large quantities, he replied that Indians use just a pinch of saffron in each dish and Saudis throw a handful into the same amount of food! Since the spice was so fresh, I could smell its aroma without having to bring it to my nose. Ahh! Of course we had to buy some (okay, just about 6 grams).
This trip was educational for me as well. After snapping away with my camera, I asked the shopkeeper the names of the items I didn’t know. The first one was dried lemon and its cousin the black dried lemon. These lemons are staples in Emirati cooking. Since I had seen a few recipes at home that called for them and didn’t really know what dried lemons were or where to find them, I was thrilled to see both varieties! I didn’t buy any since I wasn’t sure if I could take them home; now I wish I had.
I also discovered saffron pistachios. Light yellow in color they are roasted with saffron and turmeric. I tasted just one nut in the store and it was quite tasty! I purchased 400 grams that were sealed in a bag for me to take home. I can’t wait to start working on my version of this recipe.
Cinnamon sticks come in many sizes and thicknesses. I thought they only came in pieces about 4 inches long. I found huge bags of them in one of the shops. Some were thin, others thicker, and some were up to a foot long. I purchased one of the super-sized sticks to see how the flavor compares to those from Kerala.
Our hotel, the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort, offered fresh Arabic coffee and delicious dates that melt in your mouth to all guests in the lobby. Since it was free I helped myself often. The coffee is a light roast ground with cardamom pods. I think it is best suited for the afternoon since it is light. In one of the shops at the souk I purchased two pounds of this delicious coffee to take home.
What a fun day. I can’t wait to get to India (Goa and Kerala) to see the plantations where spices are grown.
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