Your shopping guide to Spice Souk
There’s quite a bit of history to be found in Dubai if you scratch the surface – and there’s no better place to start than Deira Spice Souk, a traditional market in the heart of the old town that dates back more than 50 years. Thanks to our centuries-old trading past, which made Dubai a hub on the prized spice route, almost every kind of spice and herb imaginable is available at this atmospheric souk, a must-visit for any tourist.
To get there, catch an inexpensive Abra (water taxi) ride across Dubai Creek from Bur Dubai for just AED 1. The covered market, designed in a traditional wind-tower style, is made up of narrow alleys replete with wooden arches and hanging Arabesque lanterns. Breathe in the market’s frankincense-infused aroma as you browse row upon row of small stores displaying colourful aromatic wares in burlap or plastic sacks for visitors to see, touch, smell and buy.
The spices to buy
There’s twisted, yellow turmeric root, chillies, ginger, turmeric, and paprika, and rarer spices such as sunflower extract, mace and nutmeg. And – one of the most expensive spices in the world – saffron, perfect for adding a rich yet subtle flavour to curries, biryani (flavoured rice) and desserts. The spices are sold whole and dried as well as in powdered form.
Spices that give Middle Eastern cooking its distinctiveness include cardamom, cumin, cinnamon and cloves. There’s also sumac, the dried and ground powder of a red berry used across Levantine cuisines, which imparts a tangy, lemon flavour and is great as a barbecue rub or sprinkled over salads.
Equally appealing are the powdered spice mixes: ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice mix, used in tagines and marinade, and baharat, an all-purpose Arabic spice mix, whose composition varies from region to region, and household to household. A staple of any Emirati kitchen, it usually includes cumin, coriander, pepper and cinnamon.
The Spice Souk also sells Oud (agarwood) perfumes, nuts and dried fruits, and other quintessentially Arabian souvenirs such as pashminas and embroidered artifacts. The shopkeepers are friendly and chatty, and more than happy to introduce the different, lesser-known spices to you even while you haggle – remember, bargaining is not only acceptable, but practically expected here!