Archive for the ‘Dubai / UAE’ Category

Guide to the Global Village

November 6th, 2013 8 comments

Dubai's Global Village, canal ride

As an expat, one day I will eventually leave Dubai. One of the things I will miss most will be the Global Village, a shopping extravaganza out in the desert with pavilions representing 31 countries and one continent. The Global Village has both a global feel and a State Fair feel. For me, it’s about the shopping—unique handmade global items—but also the multicultural entertainment and cheap street food.

Yes, the Global Village has seen many changes over the years. It originally started as a small fair on the Creek in 1997, lasting one month & launched with the Dubai Shopping Festival. Now a separate entity, the Global Village is permanently located in Dubai Land on Emirates Road.

This year the Global Village is better than ever in terms of facilities, entertainment, organization, and quality of goods.

Global Village, entertainment

Guide to the Global Village

1. Go early. Gates open at 4:00; arrive near opening time for good parking and no lines. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a sweater for those chilly winter nights. Also, bring a heavy-duty shopping bag to haul your goods.

2. Get a map inside near the entrance and plan your strategy. For the most authentic experience, I suggest starting with pavilions representing countries from the region.

3. Don’t plan to visit all the pavilions in one go. Be selective and take your time. Also, give yourself time for the multicultural entertainment, food from the region, and maybe amusement rides.

4. Keep an open mind. Pavilions change from year to year. If the Egypt and Turkey pavilions were disappointing in past years, it doesn’t mean it’s the case this year. In fact, these pavilions are currently very worthwhile.

5. Shop, shop, shop. Bring lots of cash, preferably in small bills. Also, bring your bank card as an ATM backup in case you see something unexpectedly amazing.

6. For objects with prices of more than twenty or thirty dirhams, it’s a good idea to bargain—but do so with a smile.

7. In addition to trinkets, handmade items, carpets and textiles, think food. Among the unique foodstuff on offer: honey from Yemen, saffron from Iran, zataar from Lebanon, olive oil from Palestine, tea from Morocco, and baklava from Turkey.

8. When the vendors hand out food samples, try them. This will provide sustenance for more shopping. One stroll through the Palestine pavilion can add up to a light meal.

9. When your feet start to hurt, it’s time to eat an actual meal. Have Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian “street food” and watch the world go by. You’ll even a find a few proper restaurants this year, such as Reem Al Bawadi. After a good rest, look at your map and strategize your next round of shopping.  

10. The Global Village saw 500,000 visitors over the past Eid Al-Adha break. If you dislike crowds, avoid the weekend and national holidays. Arrive super-early.

Favorite Pavilions

With so many pavilions, it’s hard to choose, but here are my favorites:

YEMEN PAVILION: Sample and buy delicious honey from Yemen, as well as spices and nuts. Other unique items are antiques and jewelry. You can even pick up a curved dagger here. Stalls are manned by chatty Yemeni men in traditional dress—including the required dagger at the belt.

Dubai Global Village, Yemen Pavilion, jewelry antiques

AFRICA PAVILION For me, this is the must-see pavilion, as it overflows with unique hand-crafted items from Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. Find items such jewelry, drums, African art, hand-woven baskets, crocheted items, coffee beans as well as carved wooden items of all kinds, including bowls, bookends and African figures.

Dubai Global Village, Africa Pavilion, wooden bowls

TURKEY PAVILION This is a fantastic place to stop for a sweet snack—either Turkish delight, baklava, Turkish ice cream—or all three! For something savory, try the fried potato swirls on a stick. Find exquisite items for the home, such as colorful Turkish pottery, samovars, as well as Ottoman and mosaic lamps.

Dubai Global Village, Turkey Pavilion, pottery

PALESTINE PAVILION Buy foodstuff from Palestine: olive oil, zataar, sumac, olives, flavored cheeses and more. Also find the iconic Palestinian embroidery, as well as items carved from olive wood: ornaments, rosary beads, and nativity scenes—the typical items from Bethlehem and Jerusalem. While you are there, you might catch the debbke dancers.

Global Village, Dubai, Palestine Pavilion Thobs

MOROCCO PAVILION This is the place to create your Moroccan lair. Get a silver Moroccan teapot, as well as colorful tea glasses, a tea tray and a box of tea to go with. Also find Moroccan clothing, pointy leather slippers and the gorgeous pottery of Morocco. Discover cooking items such as clay tagines and couscous cooking pots, foodstuff such as harisa—as well as decorative hands of Fatima.

Global Village, Dubai, Morocco Pavilion, Tea shop

More Pavilions to See

It’s so hard to narrow the list down. Here are more pavilions I’m enjoying this year:

AFGHANISTAN Explore rare antique items. Pick out some colorful Afghan clothing or a winter coat. Take home a carpet or a kilim. Or simply buy foodstuff and nuts. 

TUNISIA Discover food-related items such as wooden cooking utensils, pottery, decorative tagines, olive oil and Tunisian foodstuff. Try on some leather sandals or hand-painted jewelry. Take home a kilim.

INDIA At the largest pavilion explore textiles galore, as well as footwear, jewelry, kitchen items, and more. 

SPAIN Experience Andalucía! Find Spanish saffron, olive oil, colorful clothing, jewelry, espadrilles footwear, as well as tapas and other foodstuff.

EGYPT Bring home some Egyptian cotton underwear, pajamas and traditional Egyptian clothing. Find papyrus prints, cat statues and heads of Nefertiti. And don’t forget the belly dance gear!

IRAN Stock up on Iranian saffron, as well as tablecloths, Persian carpets, jewelry, and traditional art. Find nuts and Iranian food; listen to some Iranian music.

JORDAN Buy some pottery or an embroidered thob. Sample food and bring home olives and zataar. 

PAKISTAN Pick out a leather jacket for yourself—or maybe a leather purse. Find colorful fabrics and other textiles.

Global Village, Dubai, Debke dancing

Basic Facts

1. The Global Village runs from October 5th, 2013 to March 1st, 2014.

2. Timings: Weekdays 4:00pm to midnight; Fridays 4:00pm to 1:00am

3. The entry cost is 15 dirhams.

4. The Global Village is located in Dubai Land on Emirates Road, Exit 37.

5. The Global Village is in its 18th season, running since 1997. In recent years, the Global Village received 4.5 million visitors per season.

6. You’ll find more than 28 pavilions from around the world, as well as canal boat rides and amusement rides in the newly launched Fantasy Island Funfair.

What’s your favorite item or pavilion at theGlobal Village?

Sheikh Zayed Mosque ~ Floral & Exquisite

April 18th, 2013 13 comments

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I finally made it to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque—the most exquisite mosque I’ve ever visited. I had not expected to be dazzled, but I was.

What impressed me first was the striking white of the mosque and its grand scale. Next, it was the gorgeous floral motifs and overwhelmingly feminine style. Meanwhile, the various architectural accents—domes, columns and archways—were amazing, too.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The mosque, which opened in 2007 in Abu Dhabi, was the vision of Sheikh Zayed, the founding father and first ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The tomb of Sheikh Zayed is located nearby the mosque.

The Design

The mosque is one of the largest in the world and accommodates over 40,000 worshippers. Stunning white with gold accents, the mosque is surrounding by reflective pools and features 1000 columns and 82 domes.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

A fusion of Arab, Moorish, and Mughal elements, the design of the mosque was directly influenced by mosques in Morocco and Pakistan, as well as the Taj Mahal in India. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

More than 3,000 people took part in the building of the mosque, which included artisans and materials from many countries, including Italy, Morocco, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, Greece, UK, Germany, New Zealand, and the UAE.

The archways are quintessentially Moorish.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Courtyard

The courtyard is massive and the floral design in the marble floor is not only spectacular, but also the largest example of a marble mosaic in the world.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The four minarets, placed in the four corners of the courtyard, are classically Arab in design.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Garden Foyer

Before entering the prayer area, one passes through the garden foyer, which echoes the flower motifs of the courtyard.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Main Prayer Hall

The Main Prayer Hall, which can accommodate 7,000 worshippers, is the heart of the mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Qibla Wall (direction wall) features the 99 names of God written in Kufic calligraphy and designed by an Emirati calligrapher.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abi Dhabi

The prayer niche is made of gold leaf. 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Carpet

Inside the hall is the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. Made of wool, the carpet is Iranian designed and made. It was crafted by 1,200 women and took two years to complete. The lines marked in the carpet tell the worshippers where to line up.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The Women’s Prayer Hall

Without a doubt, this is the most beautiful women’s prayer area I’ve ever seen. Built to accommodate 1,500 women, the area is spacious and bright.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The ceiling, which was designed in Morocco, is made to match the carpet, which was designed in Malaysia. The two patterns mirror each other.  

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhbai

The mosque also houses a library with classic books on Islamic subjects relating to science, calligraphy, art, and civilization. The collection features a broad range of languages and includes rare and historic publications. Click here to find out more about the Sheikh Zayed Mosque Library.

Visiting the mosque

Opening hours and tour times vary slightly throughout the year. Currently, the mosque is open to visitors daily from 9:00am to 10:00pm and Fridays from 4:30pm to 10pm. I advise morning or evening visits during the hot months.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

I highly recommend the guided tours. Our tour guide Khadija was very knowledgeable and well-spoken. Free tours are currently given daily at 10:00am, 11:00am and 5:00pm. Additional tours on Saturday are 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Friday tours are 5:00pm and 7:00pm. See website for up-to-date visiting hours and tour schedule.

What to wear

Of course, women must cover their hair. The mosque offers unique abayas for female visitors. The abaya comes with an attached hood with a tie. You can select either a long abaya (floor length) or short (shin-length), depending on what you are wearing underneath.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Alternatively, you can wear your own modest clothing: a loose-fitting tunic over a long skirt or wide-leg trousers (what I wore).

Sheikh Zayed Mosque - What to wear

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Men must be modest, too—long trousers and shirt with sleeves. See the website sidebar for more information on mosque manners.

Did you know?

In Abu Dhabi, there is only one muatheen—that is, the man who calls the worshipers to prayer five times per day.  Yes, just one. His athan (call to prayer) is not recorded, but is projected live from all mosques in Abu Dhabi.

Question: Have you been to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque? What were your impressions?

Dubai Food Adventure ~ Tastes of North Africa!

February 24th, 2013 16 comments

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Morocco Bastilla

Oh, how I had been waiting and counting the days. Finally, the day arrived: my food tour with Frying Pan Adventures.

We were eight eager participants with six North African eateries to explore. Our enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable tour guide was Arva Ahmed, who writes the ‘Food Obsession’ column in The National newspaper. Arva is also the food explorer behind the popular blog I Live in a Frying Pan, its tagline: “sizzling up hole-in-the-wall ethnic eats of Old Dubai.”

And that’s what we came to explore—the hole-in-the-wall secrets in Deira, more specifically HorAl Anz East, an old Dubai neighborhood with an enclave of North African shops & eateries. Here are the highlights from our tour:

Our First Stop: Egypt

The tour began at an Egyptian place called Al Amour, a humble restaurant brimming with hungry Egyptians and offering a brisk takeout business.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Egyptian Felafal

Our starter was Egyptian falafel made from fava beans (broad beans)—a type of falafel I had only heard of but never tasted. Naturally, Egyptians believe their falafel is superior to the usual kind made of chickpeas. I was eager to find out.

This ancient Egyptian falafel—called ta’amiya—is larger, flatter and topped with sesame seeds. I must admit it was just as delicious as the chickpea version—even more moist and seasoned perfectly. 

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Egyptian Felafel

Next, we ate koshari, a popular street-food snack in Cairo, made of rice and macaroni, which one generously tops with lentils, chickpeas, lots of red sauce and even more fried onions.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Egyptian Koshari

At first, the look of this “fusion” comfort carb dish didn’t appeal to me, but I ended up inhaling a plate of it. And we still had 5 more eateries to go!

Next Stop: Tunisia

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Tunisia

At the next restaurant, Taste Tunisia, we sampled brik, a crisp pastry and a Tunisian specialty. Made out of paper-thin ‘warqa,’ this pastry is stuffed with a variety of fillings.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Tunisian Brik

We sampled brik stuffed with egg—runny egg to be precise. I ignored the mental alarm bells warning me of salmonella and dug in. It was not the time to be a fussy eater.  Frying Pan Adventures ~ Tunisian Brik pastry

My Favorite Stop: Morocco

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Morocco, Tajeen Al Fasi

Next was my favorite, a Moroccan restaurant called Tajeen Alfassi. With only three tables, it was truly a hole-in-the-wall, but it did kinda feel like Morocco. Frying Pan Adventures ~ Moroccan Tajeen

The staff was friendly and gracious as they welcomed us into the kitchen.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Moroccan Chef

I ate one of my absolute favorite Moroccan dishes—bastilla, a Moroccan pie from the city of Fez, stuffed with chicken or pigeon, flavored with almonds and garnished with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Yes, it’s true—savory and sweet together. Fortunately for me, Arva ordered the chicken bastilla and not pigeon. (I do have limits.)

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Moroccan bastilla

I have tried this exact dish around Dubai at high-end Moroccan restaurants, and the bastilla served at this hole-in-the-wall was just as good in taste and presentation. I plan to find my way back by heading to back to Hor Al Anz East and calling their number: 04 297 8287. (Since there are no proper addresses in Dubai, we locate places by obtaining some vague directions over the phone.)

Of course, we also tried a few dishes cooked in a tajine, a half-glazed earthenware dish with a pointed, conical lid. Dishes prepared in a tajine are delightfully aromatic and flavorsome. This place had their tajines displayed up front.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Moroccan Tajines

We tried the Lamb Tajine with Prunes, as well as the Tajine of Kofta with Egg (below).

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Moroccon Meatball Tajeen

We finished this lovely stop with some Moroccan mint tea, the most minty I’ve ever had, the tea glasses overflowing with mint leaves.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Moroccan Mint Tea

Most Memorable: Ethiopia

This next stop was truly an adventure. The sign outside the Ethiopian Restaurant Al Habasha commanded us to “Eat today. Diet tomorrow.” 

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Al Habasha_

Inside the first thing we saw were traditional hand-woven colorful wicker things that I quickly learned were the communal dining tables. Each mesob has a conical lid that is removed before the food is served.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Al Habasha Mesob

On our mesob, we were served injera, the flatbread of Ethiopia, topped with doro watt, an onion-based chicken stew seasoned with berere, a traditional spice mix. Arva explained that this dish is a special occasion dish and also the national dish of Ethiopia.

As we ate this bread/stew combination communally and with our hands, I was impressed by the eager willingness of my tour mates (more adventuresome that I).  

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Al Habasha Injera

Meanwhile, I glanced around at the other eaters in the restaurant, which was nearly full on that Thursday evening. I suspected we were the only non-Ethiopians in the place. I also became aware of the many, many subgroups and subcultures in Dubai, many of whom are seeking a taste of home on their weekend off.

We finished off our stop with some very strong Ethiopian coffee.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Al Habasha Ethiopian coffee

While I can’t say I found the Ethiopian doro watt stew tasty, I did find this stop the most memorable, a scene I won’t forget anytime soon.

For Something Sweet: Morocco

Enough with the savory! Next we headed to a roastery and sweet shop selling all sorts of Arab sweets and nuts.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Arab sweets

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Arabic sweets

We were there for one thing: Moroccan pastry. My favorite was the corne de gazelle (gazelle hoofs), filled with almond paste, shaped into crescent “hooves” and topped with powdered sugar. Not the best I’ve tried, but they were still yummy. 

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Arab sweets,,

Finally: Back to Egypt

We ended our tour back at Al Amour, a different branch of the restaurant where we started. It was 11:00pm and the place was packed. We had to wait for plastic chairs to sit on.Frying Pan Adventures ~ Egyptian sweets

The specialty here is feteer meshaltet, an Egyptian pastry stuffed with a variety of fillings and baked in a wood-fired oven. First, the baker tosses and twirls the dough.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Egyptian sweet fatayer

We were there to try a sweet pastry filled with Kraft processed cheese (in other words, a lowbrow fatayer “dessert”). As we waited on the sidewalk, some of us balked at the idea of processed cheese. Finally, we brought the sticky pastry to our lips, and we all agreed it was pretty good. To read a more detailed description of this Egyptian street food, see Arva’s food obsession column.

Other Stops on the Way:

In between these six stops, Arva couldn’t resist pulling us into an Omani sweet shop, an Iraqi fish restaurant, and a Moroccan dry goods shop. We also observed a tiny Iranian bakery (below).  In case you’re wondering, those large brown slabs hanging on the wall are bread. The baker sliced up some bread for us to try.

Frying Pan Adventures ~ Iranian Bread

Frying Pan Food Adventures

Arva offers multiple tours per week. Tour themes include “Arabian Foodie Pilgrimage” and “Little India on a Plate.” To find out specifics, visit Frying Pan Adventures, where you can book a tour online.  Also, read reviews of Frying Pan Food Adventures on Trip Advisor, as well as in The Telegraph.

To see Arva in action, click on the video below. In this clip from Dubai One, Arva (in orange) visits Al Habasha Ethiopian restaurant and then tries some Moroccan specialties, including my beloved bastilla.

The North African tour cost 350 dirhams ($95) and is loaded with Arva’s vast culinary knowledge and expertise. Plus, all the logistics are taken care of, including transportation to and from the Mall of the Emirates. More importantly, a tour like this gets one out of the mall and into the overlooked neighborhoods. Now I’m wondering which tour to try next: Indian or Arabian?

Question: Have you tasted these foods before? Or had your own food adventure?