Monday, November 21, 2005

Spice Souks

The Souks in Dubai are an amazing experience in sensory overloading. Dubai is known for its shopping and along with plentiful modern stores and malls there are areas called souks which are old world markets. We went to the Deira Old Souk which is split up into sections, one for gold, one for fabrics, one for electronics, one for spices, etc. The gold area was a little too ostentatious and definitely too expensive for my do-gooder salary, though it was amazing to see a loose 3.5 karat diamond. The fabric area was beautiful with shops of silks and entire stalls devoted to black gauze, dresses and veils – some with intricate beadworking. My favorite, though, was the spices.

The spice markets were absolutely incredible. Stall after stall filled with exotic aromas and colors. Each shop had bags or boxes or some sort of display of spices outside to lure customers. If you pause to look, almost instantaneously you have a merchant pointing out goods to you - do you know what that is? That is frankincense. Here smell it? You have heard of it yes, where are you from? Ahh then you need to try this…smell this and this… and of course you must taste this date,… no really its ok its for you to try… and all the while he is grabbing handfuls from the various containers, crushing petals, snapping cinnamon sticks, breaking open dried limes and holding them up for us to breathe in the aromas. Inside the shops there are bins of ever spice imaginable. The shopkeeper will proudly explain each and every one and why it is much better and much fresher and much less expensive than anything you can get in the States. Saffron is the big thing and not just any saffron but Iranian saffron. After showing his wares, the merchant watches what our eyes linger on and then starts asking how many grams. For one gram, two grams I give you good price yes but for ten grams then very good price, how much how much do you want. The first price is always too high and then the negotiation begins. This is not my strong suit, I give in to easily, buy my colleague is great. She knows just when to walk away and when to pause and how low to try to go. It is really fun to watch. And each shop is like that row after row in this winding maze of alleyways.

-A. Monkey