Feature: Deira Fish Market
Its easy to be consumed by the glitz and glamour that are Dubai, convenience and luxury swallow you right up the minute you relocate, but once you scratch the surface of this burgeoning metropolis you are sure to find delicious dives, charming markets and the character of a city that so many of us yearn for. It’s not often that I venture into the depths of Deira or Bur Dubai but when I do I always find little treasures and come away with memories to rival any of the skyscrapers on Sheikh Zayed Road. A few weeks ago I found myself on an unforeseen adventure at the bustling Deira Fish Market, a monumental adventure in fact, with a very special guest whose name I can only reveal in in a couple months’ time.
The vast market sits at the edge of the city on the Deira Corniche, past the colorful wooden dhows floating through Dubai Creek and around the corner from the Gold Souk storefronts draped in gold, copper and silver jewelry. The Deira Fish Market isn’t just for fishmongers, chefs and home cooks, it happens to be a huge tourist attraction and glimpse into local life in the old city. And although the market is considerably clean it is not for the squeamish, the floors are covered in melted ice from the styrofoam coolers, the air is thick with scent of the sea and fish guts are in plain sight. The humidity is negated only slightly by rusty propeller fans mounted above and there is no such thing as personal space. The chaos serves as the jolt of energy needed to wind yourself through the stalls as fishmongers incessantly attempt to sell you pristine Canadian Lobster and Omani Prawns.
I was memorized by the colorful assortment of creatures, the parrot fish looked as if it were hand painted in tones of orange and yellow, just opposite a pile of crabs were dusted in hues of silver blue and a family of opaque octopus awaited their demise in a ceramic bowl. I quickly scanned a massive selection of dried fish, the only area which really made me wince, trying to image how the rancid smell would later be converted into a delicious chutney. We were greeted by fresh fish from the shores of the Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Turkey and even Canada but the most prevalent critters of Emirati waters seemed to be Hammour, Sea Bass and Red Snapper so naturally we snatched up one of each.
Weaving our way out of the warehouse I peered through strip curtains to find a butchery and passing through double doors revealed a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of the fish emporium. The smell of fish was quickly replaced with the fragrant scent of fresh cilantro and mint, a stark contrast. I quickly snapped up half kilo of Khidri dates as we made our way over to the Al Ras Complex next door to cook up our fish.
Grill and Shark, minus the shark in our case, is a 10 year old Egyptian institution which earned its reputation previously in Cairo and then in Dubai among fish market enthusiasts. Shaker, the owner of the small restaurant, greeted us at the window counter and confidently promised to prepare our fish, we left him with only one request, ‘grilled please.’ We scouted ventilation and plastic furniture at the Keralan restaurant next door where we settled among a sea of fishmongers devouring curry and fresh paratha sans utensils.
Shaker reappeared minutes later with our fish which was dressed generously in herbs of chili and garlic, butterflied wide open served with onion-soaked rice. Shaker joined us as we devoured his masterpiece, enthralled in chatter of Egyptian delicacies, ending our afternoon on a high note.
Dubai was a fisherman’s village just a few decades ago, our excursion was a glimpse into this rich history and a chance to see how our little fishing village has come full circle. Pair an afternoon at the fish market with coffee at my favorite waterfront cafe Creekside and a stroll through the nearby Spice Souk to stock up on some Iranian saffron for an enchanting weekend and a reminder of the character that is Dubai.