Spice up your shopping experience at the Spice Souk
Where do you buy your spices? I'll warrant nearly everybody will say 'the supermarket.' Epicureans among us may buy an exotic spice or two when on holiday, but these end up sitting unopened on the spice rack for years, if truth be told. The fact of the matter is that most of us tend to sprinkle the same old shop bought herbs and spices over everything. Why not spice up your cooking and your food shopping experience with a visit to Dubai's Spice Souk?
The Spice Souk is situated a stone's throw from Dubai Creek in Deira, the heart of 'old' Dubai and it looks exactly like it did centuries ago. You know you are near the Spice Souk when you smell the heady aroma of commingled spices. You then need only follow your nose to locate it precisely, which is a good thing because the Spice Souk isn't big. It barely stretches beyond a couple of dark and musty allies, but my goodness, is there a lot of spices packed into this small space!
The allies in the Spice Souk are lined with small apothecary-like shops. The walls of each shop are covered in shelves that groan under the weight of countless jars and drawers of spices. Yet more spices, in all colours of the rainbow, are piled in huge sacks outside the shops. Whilst providing a delightful photo opportunity, this only leaves a narrow walkway for visitors to wend their way through the Souk. Passing a visiting tour group will consequently involve some fancy footwork and possibly an incursion into your personal space.
'Dubai's Spice Souks' by Mckay Savage, WIkemedia Commons
The shop owners are very much part of the charm and attraction of the Spice Souk. To the western mindset, some of the traders can come across as aggressive and obtrusive, but to be fair, this is just the way business is done in markets in this region. A regretful smile and shake of the head, or a polite 'no thanks' is usually enough to deter further sales patter. Most of the traders however, are extremely friendly and happy, eager even, to impart their encyclopaedic knowledge on all matters spicy. And boy, do they know their onions when it comes to spices. Do you know the medicinal qualities of cinnamon? Or the beautifying effects of turmeric? Have you ever seen fresh turmeric, for that matter, or frankincense or myrrh? You will if you spend half an hour in the Spice Souk.
'Bag of Frankincense at Spice Souk Dubai' by Liz Lawley, Wikimedia Commons
If you decide to make a purchase or two, and it is hard to resist the sight and intoxicating smell of all those spices, bear in mind that the first price the trader quotes to you is merely wishful thinking on his part. Haggling is pretty much mandatory at the Spice Souk, (or indeed any souk,) especially if you are making several purchases. Try to keep haggling light hearted though - it should be a bit of fun for all parties involved. Remember, this is a bag of dried mint we are talking about, not the Treaty of Versailles.
To get the full Spice Souk experience, it is best to visit late afternoon or evening, although it is open all day. If you go earlier, you will probably have the Souk pretty much to yourself, bar the odd tour party. You will therefore be subjected to the full sales pitch of each and every trader there, which can be a bit overwhelming.
Finally, ladies, particularly if travelling alone, please note that the traders of the Spice Souk are predominantly Muslim and male. Conservative dress (covering shoulders and anything above the knee) is recommended to avoid offending cultural sensibilities and attracting unwelcome attention.