Tuesday, March 18, 2014

day 2: souk to nuts

On Monday morning we headed back across the Dubai creek to explore the spice and gold souks. The souks (Arab markets) date back to the 1940s when traders from India & Iran literally set up shop in this area. Today, they mostly serve as tourist destinations - many locals shop elsewhere - but since we were definitely tourists, we couldn't resist.

We spent the morning browsing the spice souk - our favorite of the two. Since this was our first visit to the Middle East, the souk experience was completely new to us. I enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of all the delicious spices. We did more browsing than buying, but we did come home with some saffron. Saffron is one of the world's most expensive spices, and it's definitely pricey here in the U.S. In Dubai, it's imported from nearby Iran and is much, much cheaper. I think there is some saffron risotto in my future.

The sellers in the souks had two techniques they used to entice us to buy their spices. They loved thrusting spices in our faces and asking us to guess which spice was which. I aced these pop quizzes because I own a spice rack so I'm basically an expert. Their other technique was to guess where we were from. This was always a little entertaining. Australia? English? England? We got that a lot (until we opened our mouths, of course) - I think it must have been Jon's red hair and my albino skin.

I can't blame them for thinking we were from the mother ship. While there are a lot of European tourists in Dubai, we ran into very few American visitors. Most of the Americans we met were there for work - banking, engineering, etc. I suspect this is because Dubai is far away, expensive, and mostly viewed as an add-on destination or layover stop. For Europeans or Russians, however, Dubai isn't nearly as far. They have been the ones to put Dubai on the map as a true resort location.

When we told the sellers we were form the U.S., we got two general responses: Obama (understandable) and Florida (please, no).

We bartered for 2 scarves. I hate bartering. I wanted to buy a Persian rug, but most of them are woven in Iran, and it's illegal to bring them back to the U.S. Of course my risk-averse lawyer husband wasn't willing to take the chance of having them confiscated at customs. Trade embargoes are dumb.


The gold souk wasn't nearly as fun. It was so over the top that I couldn't really enjoy it. I had reached sensory overload at this point. It was also starting to get more crowded as the morning wore on.

We had plans to go to an Iranian restaurant for lunch, but when we got there, it was closed. Oops! It took a little while to come up with another game plan, and to find a taxi - we were kind of in the middle of nowhere at this point. Our backup plan ended up being pretty awesome. If there is one thing we research extensively before traveling, it's food. We love to eat, and we really love to eat on vacation. Calories don't count on vacation, right?

Bu Qtair was a spot we heard about before arriving in Dubai. It wasn't much to look at - just a trailer sitting in the middle of a dirt parking lot, but the food was amazing. We were the only gringos in the restaurant, and it took us a few minutes to figure the place out. They have a catch of the day, and that's what you eat. To this day, I still have no idea what fish we were eating. It was served with rice and curry sauce. They graciously gave us plastic silverware even though everyone else was eating with their hands. [We learned how to properly eat with our hands later in the week]. Yum.

lunch. would you eat this?
i would!

After that, we strolled down to the beach and walked along the water until we hit the Jumeirah Beach Club. We had drinks by the pool, and reached that wonderful point in a vacation when the stress of home melts away and you feel completely relaxed. If I could figure out a way to bottle that moment, I'd probably be rich.

pimm's cup - an ode to everyone who thought we were English
This is what I loved so much about Dubai. In the morning we were wandering through traditional Arab souks, and in the afternoon, we were enjoying fruity drinks by the beach. I still can't wrap my head around the diverse experiences we had all in the same destination. It's not what I expected. I love being pleasantly surprised.

That evening we walked across the street with Rob to eat at Ravi, a local Pakistani chain. Rob was such a good foodie host because he always knew what to order. He hooked us up with a fantastic spread of traditional Pakistani food. I was the most enamored with the simplest thing on the menu - the tea. Turns out it's just lipton, milk & sugar, but it was delightful.

Rob specializes in candid photography.

Pakistan, where has your tea been all my life? 
Day two was in the books. At this point we were mostly over our jet lag and just settling into the destination. On Tuesday & Wednesday, we would really hit the ground running.


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