Dubai Creekside, Al Fahidi and a cultural lunch at SMCCU
Despite Dubai’s changing landscape, the historic district of Al Shidagha, the traditional Textile Souq along the Bur Dubai side of the creek, the continuing Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (formerly Bastakiya), the Spice Souq and Gold Souq across the creek in the Deira side… all these places have managed to retained their original charm and sanctity.
Bukhoor or Bakhoor, scented bricks soaked in fragrant oils
Today’s post is in celebration of my brother’s birthday. A designer by profession, he’s an artist, a creative soul and capable of capturing the eclectic in things that others would find most ordinary and random. This is a creative and a foodie day out in my favourite places of Dubai, along with two of my most creative buddies with whom I have shared many a creative travel moments – long before lockdown and travel bans. Here’s to Neil, my little brother (not so little anymore) and Rupa, my artist friend and a talented amateur photographer!
Dubai is a city where the landscape is changing by the minute. Despite all the changes, reconstructions and restorations that I have witnessed in almost two decades of living here, there are still a few places which retain their original charm and sanctity. These are the select places in Dubai that I would love any creative person (or any person) to visit… Al Shidagha, the traditional Textile Souq along the Bur Dubai side of the creek, the continuing Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood or (formerly Bastakiya), the Spice Souq and Gold Souq across the creek in the Deira side. All these places can be traced to the 1890s, reflecting the humble beginning of Dubai making the evolution of the city even more breathtaking.
We’ve spent almost two decades in Dubai – the Z-Sisters have been born and brought up here. For me, the kaleidoscopic charm of traditional souqs of Dubai supersede the impressive shopping malls, so does the traditional houses with its’ alluring wind-towers over the glitzy skyscrapers. Hoping that it’s the same for you too!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
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Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, nor are there any affiliated links for any of the brands that may have been mentioned in this blogpost. We paid for all our meals at Blue Barjeel, XVA Cafe while SMCCU kindly hosted us our FoodeMag team. The subject, story, opinions and views stated here are my own and all images are from my personal album. While you enjoy reading my posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from these posts.
Bin Zayed Mosque in Al Shindagha constructed in 1964
Historic district of Al Shidagha
I always like to start my itinerary by parking near the Al Ghudaiba Metro station before exploring the traditional houses of Al Shindagha. Some of these houses are converted into museums and spaces for special exhibits – for example, the Architecture Museum (read in my Hidden Gems column) or the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, the historic building and former residential quarters of former ruler of Dubai. For me, the kaleidoscopic charm of traditional souqs supersede the impressive shopping malls any day. The mishmash of items sold at small kiosks or established retail outlets in the old Textile Souq range from expensive regional antiques and artefacts to embroidered cushions, clothing and footwear from the subcontinent, attars or aromatic Arabic perfumes to bukhour or oudhs, incenses and scented bricks soaked in fragrant natural oils, local spices and many such interesting things. Added impetus are always the fresh coconut water or freshly squeezed sugar cane juices to keep one hydrated during the mini breaks! The original plan was to stop at Barjeel Guest House for breakfast but it wasn’t open. Instead, we halted at Blue Barjeel Restaurant by the creek side – another casual eatery that I like to take our guests to. A masala omelette with parathas, a plate of crispy fried falafels and fresh coconut water fuelled us up adequately until our next meal halt – lunch at SMCCU.
Intricately designed traditional doors in Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House, est. in 1896
Traditional wooden windows in Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House
Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House is vast and occupies around 3600 sqm and now a houses a museum
The rooms inside Sheikh Saeed Al Makhtoum House are decorated in a traditional way
Apart from artefacts, the museum also has many images of old Dubai from the 1940s and 1950s
Another intricate wooden door in the Traditional Architecture Museum
A typical of a traditional Emirati house in the historical districts of Al Shindagha and Al Fahidi
Dubai creek, the focal point in Dubai’s trading history. It is a natural sea-water inlet that cuts the city into two parts – Deira and Bur Dubai
Blue Barjeel restaurant offers a spectacular view of Dubai creekside
Breakfast at Blue Barjeel – falafels, parathas and eggs
Vendors setting up their shops in Textile Souq
Juttis or Nagrais, traditional embroidered footwear in the Textile Souq
A spice shop selling exotic spices, extracts and dried herbs
A window display with artefacts and antiques
A shop in the temple alley in selling fresh flower garlands and other puja ingredients
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood or Bastakiya as it was known earlier
The Al Fahidi district, on the other hand is a riot of colours and a stimulation for any art lover. Galleries hidden in nooks and sikkas or alleys, traditional houses restored and transformed into cool cafes and eateries, museums showcasing specific interests – the options are far too many along the cobbled winding sikkas of Al Fahidi. After our lunch break with a cultural meal at SMCCU, we briefly visited the Coffee Museum, the Calligraphy House, Majlis Gallery, XVA Art Hotel and Café and a few other villas in this heritage quarter. The SMCCU or the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) offers a range of cultural and culinary activities and initiates both the expats and tourists into Emirati culture. Fathayah Younis, our lovely presenter at SMCCU welcomed us with Qahwa, the traditional Arabic coffee followed by an elaborate lunch spread that comprised of Chicken Biryani, Lamb Machboos, Lamb Margooba, Vegetable Saloona and the divine Leqaimat – the crispy fried golden dough balls coated with date syrup and sesame seeds!
Qahwa, the traditional Arabic coffee made from green coffee beans and cardamom | cultural meal at SMCCU
Chicken Machboos at our cultural lunch at SMCCU
Fathayah Younis, our presenter at SMCCU pours date syrup over Leqaimats, the crispy fried golden dough balls
Fathayah explains the local clothing etiquette and the use of niqab
A display in SMCCU of an old type writer with Arabic fonts
A traditional majlis arrangement in front of Arabian Tea House
An impromptu photo session in progress in Al Fahidi
An exhibit in front of Mawaheb from Beautiful People, a Dubai-based art studio for ‘determined’ adults
The courtyard inside Majlis Gallery, set up in 1976 by expatriate Alison Collins who fell in love with the unique architecture of Al Fahidi houses
The legendary mint lemonade in XVA Gallery Art Hotel & Cafe
The interiors of XVA Café has art exhibits and specialises in contemporary art from the Arab world and the sub-continent
MAKE Art Cafe is in partnership with the creative Alserkal Cultural Foundation
Pretty knick knacks in a souvenir shop in Al Fahidi
Related links (none of the below are affiliated links): www.cultures.ae www.coffeemuseum.ae www.mawaheb-dubai.com www.themajlisgallery.com