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11 March, 2006

Spice up your life

On first coming to Dubai, there was just one must-see place on the list: the spice souq. The very name was redolent of Old Arabia - winding alleyways, exotically robed figures, and rare and exotic goods arriving from faraway places by dhow and camel caravan.

While the spice souq isn't quite the Arabian Nights fantasy of ones imagination, it is still a fascinating place. Exotic aromas may now be adulterated by traffic fumes. Weird and wonderful produce jostles uncomfortably for sack-space with mass-produced tourism trinkets.

But it is still the only place in Dubai to buy dark gold globules of frankincense and myrrh; handfuls of pink and red dried rosebuds; thick bundles of cinnamon bark. It has the cheapest vanilla pods, star anise and cardamom around; and mounds and jars and boxes and sacks of saffron of all qualities and varieties.

But the Spice Souq is dwindling. Another victim of the supermarkets, the traffic, and faux-heritage creations such as the Madinat souq.

How to save the Spice Souq? Recognise its tourism and heritage value, and slash rents - don't view the stall holders simply as commercial traders, but also as ambassadors of Arabian heritage. Clean up the surrounding area, and put in a couple of small, pleasantly-appointed cafes selling fresh fruit juices and traditional street food. Put in clear road signs to help tourists navigate on foot between the gold souq and the spice souq, and the dhow station and spice souq.

The cost will be minimal compared to the value for future generations: not just visitors, but also young emiratis who are otherwise fast losing all the symbols and traditions of their heritage. Anyone can create fake-Arabia, they can do it in Disneyland, in Siberia, on the moon - negating any need for people to actually travel to the sandlands. The real-life, genuine, historic stuff is the only unique selling point Dubai has over a myriad of themepark imitations.

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19 Comments:

Blogger Dubai@Random said...

>While the spice souq isn't quite the Arabian Nights fantasy of ones imagination...

Maybe not your fantasy, but when I first saw the Dubai spice souk, I thought to myself, 'This is imaginably exotic.' (As opposed to the unimaginably exotic, such as Karama, where the reality of cheap but overpriced Chinese trinkets sold from tiny stalls in run-down stucco buildings had absolutely no connection with my imaginings of Arabia.)

The tiny coffee shops hidden in the nooks of the spice souk with their teas, coffees, and snacks are not easily found by tourists, but they're there, and cheaper than the more prominent cafes the municipality has put near the Heritage Village. Faux authentic cafes in the souk wouldn't be as nice.

It has been far too long since my last trip to the spice souk. The souk (with the one dirham round-trip abra ride) remains one of my favourite ways to spend any free time I can muster while working overtime to pay my current rent.

11 March, 2006 19:09  
Blogger secretdubai said...

The tiny coffee shops hidden in the nooks of the spice souk with their teas, coffees, and snacks are not easily found by tourists... Faux authentic cafes in the souk wouldn't be as nice.

Agreed, but this is the necessary compromise if you want to preserve this place. Increasingly, its value is going to be as a tourist attraction not a commercial concern. To get tourists there, it needs to be a bit less grotty (less authentic though this may be).

Then at least the actual commercial sales and tourism can continue in parallel. The alternative as I see it is the place closing down completely, and some Madinat-style utterly fake "ye olde spice souq" cropping up at a five-star hotel.

I envision it being tidied up similar to Bur Dubai fabric souq, that kind of level. Not heritage village level, just a bit prettier and easier to get around.

11 March, 2006 19:18  
Blogger samuraisam said...

I went for a journey in Naif Souq last time I was in Dubai;
It took one trip to find "near" where it was located, it was too late and there were too many people to bother with it;
It took another trip to get "near" the place and not be able to find a car park,
then it took one more trip on a third day to get down there, get a park, and walk quite a bit.

Pity it isn't a tad more accessible /:
Once parked, I asked a first person where it was located and they pointed in one direction, I headed in the general direction, asked another person and they pointed in an entirely different direction; In all, I got 3 seperate directions from 3 seperate people, it appeared no one actually knew where naif souq was.
Once I got into Naif Souq itself, it wasn't really that interesting, the buildings surrounding it were pretty interesting, but only for photographing /:

I must remember to go through as many of the old school parts of Dubai next time I visit. I doubt they will be there for many more years.

11 March, 2006 19:38  
Blogger DubaiBuy said...

i have a solution..

spice city

:O)

11 March, 2006 19:44  
Blogger Dani said...

I've never been there..nobody told me of spice souq before till I read it here!!

11 March, 2006 21:31  
Blogger OrientalPearl said...

SD, your suggestion to preserve the spice souq sounds like a good idea.

You probably already know about this but there's a municipality 'have your say' scheme going on right now where you can actually go online or go to the municipality and make your suggestion on improving things around town. (I read it in one of the dailies) Seems like depending on how efective the scheme is and how much you save the municipality, you can even be rewarded up to 30,000AED...

I just think the idea is so simple, so easy and will definitely make the munipality money...they'd have to be mentally challenged not to see this is good.

11 March, 2006 22:59  
Blogger Destitute Rebel said...

This is more of a concern for DTCM (department of tourism and commerce marketing). I agree this country is loosing its heritage and thing of this sort need to be preserved.

12 March, 2006 01:41  
Blogger John B. Chilton said...

SD,

Not to change the topic, but on your main page as I see here at the Emirates Economist command center/centre, the right column of your page is creating a strange overlap with the main body column. Perhaps it's just me, but if others are having the same experience you may need to tinker with your template.

12 March, 2006 07:56  
Blogger al-republican said...

Ah, this smiley looks really familiar -> :O)

I know what you did last summer... :P

12 March, 2006 08:47  
Blogger Jin said...

I used to go to the 'authentic' souks in The Magic Kingdom & found them so rewarding, compared to the other more 'well known' souks that offered the plastic specials & cheap glitzy trinkets. The traders were friendly & welcoming in a genuine way. I thought I'd take a wander around the Old Souk here in AD............until I found that it wasn't there any more! More tower blocks are being built on the old & new souk sites & I'm told a new/bigger/better souk will be on the ground level of these buildings. It's such a shame.
P.S. John B has got a point......the overlap makes difficult reading sometimes :-)

12 March, 2006 09:42  
Blogger Balushi said...

when i was a kid and one day it was my birthday So i went to my dad to tell him that! He was very happy and he gave me 5 dirhams and said Go to the souq and buy yourself something!


I bought my myself a new game for my Family game console!!

In olden days we use to have all the latest fake games and movies all over the souq!!! But these days not anymore.

12 March, 2006 10:00  
Blogger MuFi101 said...

SPiCe BaLuSHi SPiCe, nOT PS2 GaMeZ,

BTW SPiCe CiTY, aiNT a BaD IDea, aDDs tO oUR 'ReaL' cuLTuRe!!

NiCe BLoG SD, goNa ViSiT tHe sOUQ iN tHe eVeNiN

:-)

12 March, 2006 10:22  
Blogger Harsha said...

Nice read SD
lol@ Dubaibuy

12 March, 2006 11:08  
Blogger the shadow said...

The Abu Dhabi souq was one of my first experiences of this country and one of the best parts of growing up here...shame it's gone now but it wasn't the same since the fire anyhow.

Ultimately, I totally agree that it's vital to preserve these old authentic pieces of the country's history...but what is 'authentic' anyway? I'm maybe overly picky but to me the minute something is 'restored' a good portion of its authenticity is immediately lost.

The best thing is to just get out there and see it before it's gone.

12 March, 2006 12:54  
Blogger Gautam said...

Spice City...HAHAHAHA..!!!

Nice go SD!

Gautam

12 March, 2006 12:58  
Blogger Seabee said...

>But it is still the only place in Dubai to buy dark gold globules of frankincense and myrrh; handfuls of pink and red dried rosebuds; thick bundles of cinnamon bark. It has the cheapest vanilla pods, star anise and cardamom around; and mounds and jars and boxes and sacks of saffron of all qualities and varieties.<

Nonono...go to Satwa. In particular, there's a great shop selling all this stuff, and more, at cheaper prices than the spice souk. Ghiasi Plants & Medical Herbs on Al Satwa Road.
I still love to wander around the old souk, but I buy most of my stuff in Satwa.

12 March, 2006 16:45  
Blogger wallah?! said...

thanks for the tip seabee! sorry to change this to a shopping question thread but do you know where I can get a silver moroccan teapot (other than the AED 400 ones at Souk Madinat Jumeirah) there must be some moroccan store around

12 March, 2006 19:09  
Blogger Bill said...

Interesting to read about the Dubai and Abu Dhabi souks - I lived in both places in the late 80s early 90s and enjoyed using them a lot.

As for silver Moroccan teapots, Wallah, can't tell you where to get one in UAE now, although I have a very nice one I got when I lived in Casablanca in the 70s - probably the best solution is to give yourself a holiday in Morocco next vacation time and take yourself on a trip to Fez when you're there; it's a lovely place in the Spring :)

ba'asalaama (that's the Moroccan way of saying it)!

13 March, 2006 03:48  
Blogger Ruc said...

great information.... :-)
know more about
Dubai Spice Souk

01 February, 2007 10:48  

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