|St. George Hotel - in the distance|
After roaming around a few alleyways, I find the GPS store. The young Emirati gentleman is quite patient with me. I have discovered this is a national trait when dealing with dazed and confused older American women. He quickly – how embarrassing – downloads the map and reprograms the GPS to work in this part of the world. Next, he sets me up with the coordinates for the Gold Souq and finally, sends me on my way telling me it is only a 5 - 10 minute walk. By the way, no charge for this service! Can you imagine this in the USA?
I think the Emirati concept of time and distance is different from ours, perhaps it was all those years roaming around the desert, because after walking quite some time in 103 degree heat, I give up and hail a taxi that graciously drops me off at the Gold Souq’s front door. I had envisioned the Souq as dusty alleyways of rustic stalls filled with gold at irresistible prices. NOT!
Well, it is time to move on and purchase food for dinner. I hail yet another taxi and arrive at the front door of the Fish and Vegetable Souq. Upon exiting the taxi, it becomes obvious we are truly at a fish market--imagine the aroma of fresh fish in 103 degree heat!
I am “greeted” by a very nice Pakistani man named Nassar with a green wheelbarrow who immediately attaches himself to my side. I find out later he is my “coolie.”
At the first vegetable stall, I inquire about the direction of the fish market only to be told it is closed until 5 PM. Traditional Arabian merchants close during the mid-day hours, but they stay open very late!. Once again I am tripped up by local custom. Undeterred, “Mr. Coolie” says to me “Fish! Fish! Fish!” and points up ahead.
Being the trusting woman I am, and having spent a great deal of energy getting here, I follow. We pass by stalls of beautiful vegetables and fruits to another section of the market filled with white troughs and hanging scales. I assume this is where fish is laid out on ice and offered for sale. At this moment, only Indian and Pakistani laborers in their blue jumpsuits are laying in the troughs taking a quick snooze! Note: workers in Dubai all wear jumpsuits of varying colors depending on their job. I guess it makes it easier to see who should be doing what job.
At this point, I am getting a bit nervous since I'm not certain where we are going nor do I see anyone else but me and the ever increasing number of guys in blue. We proceed to a large area behind the fish stall that has what looks to me like above ground septic tanks, or more ominously, the above ground tombs in a New Orleans cemetery.
I focus on Mr. Fish Monger and tell him I want Hamour – a local fish similar to grouper – Roger’s favorite! Mr. Fish Monger produces a large whole fish, and eventually I figure out he is asking me how many fish I wish to purchase. He really doesn’t want to accept my request for one, and it takes some time for him to understand that ONE is my “final answer.”
I try to appease him with a request for 4 of the very large shrimp. He beckons to a compatriot--“Mr. Shrimp.” My attempts to purchase only 4 shrimps do not work, but what the hell! Since I didn’t get all the gold I wanted, let's go for shrimp.
OK, next step is getting the fish cleaned. Well don’t you know, there is another enterprising young man who proudly steps through the crowd and announces he is the fish-cleaner! But first, I must pay up: dhs 100 for the fish and dhs 130 for the shrimp.
Doing the math to convert from dhs to $US so I know what I am paying is difficult with all the men pressing around me so I just pay the bill as is. Later in the taxi ride home I realize I paid $63 for the seafood, but I console myself knowing it will be a wonderful entree for Roger’s dinner.
closer we get to the vegetable market, but Mr. Snapper pursues me to the bitter end!
Post Script . . Dinner was marvelous. I used the recipe “Fish in a Hot Saffron and Ginger Tomato Sauce” (pg 186) from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Many thanks to my best friend and head chef Anne Platt for gifting me with this wonderful cookbook when I left for Dubai.