Aptly known as a shoppers paradise, there is something for everyone in the UAE.
A visit to any of the gold souqs or gold centres is a delightful experience. All cities have dedicated gold souqs as well as an assortment of individual stores in upmarket malls. The range is largest in the souqs and many exclusive jewellery boutiques are based in souqs. Row upon row of shops with dazzling displays of gold jewellery in every conceivable design and purity line the corridors: 18- and 22-carat are common, but 24-karat is also popular, although the deep yellow hue of this high-carat jewellery is not to everyones taste. Kilo bars, ten tola bars, small minted bars and gold bullion bars are also available for purchase. The basic cost of the gold is set by weight daily. But the quoted price does not include making changes, the cost of which varies according to shop and style of jewellery.
Precious gems and pearls, along with a wide selection of costume jewellery, are also readily available.
In the spice souqs, sacks of exotic spices spill out into the narrow alleyways, filling the area with a heady aroma.
Try some of the following:
Bezar – a mix of Arabian spices
Coriander(jiljalan) can be fresh greenleaves, seeds or ground.
Cardamom (hal) pick pods that are pale brown or green in colour. Good for flavouring gahwa (Arab coffee)
Saffron(zaffran), considered to be the most expensive spice in the world, is actually a crocus stigma. An important flavouring agent in Arabic cookery.
Rosewater and orange blossom water (myeward wa mye al-zahr) distilled from flower petals are a traditional Arab flavouring for deserts, pastries and salads.
Chilli powder(filfil ahmar ) used in moderation in Arabic cookery.
Ginger (zanjabeel) a popular ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes; it is also served infused in milk as a night-time drink.
Pine nuts (sanobar)
Perfume and Incense
Every conceivable perfume is available in the UAE. Large perfume stores sell global brands at very good prices. Smaller shops in the souqs stock local perfumes, a fragrant mix of Arabian oil blended to suit individual taste.
Sacks of frankincense line most alleyways in spice souqs. Frankincense was once more valuable than gold and the worlds most expensive fragrance, Amouage, contains the finest frankincense from Oman. The clearer the crystals the better the frankincense. Most shops also sell traditional burners. Oud, the rare scented wood is also available in perfume shops. It can be mixed with frankincense to waft a wonderful scent when burnt.
Fabrics and Textiles
Some of the finest silks from the Far East are to be found in the UAE. Fabrics are normally good value and high quality. Pashminas are a popular purchase, although they can vary hugely in quality and price.
There are carpet outlets in most shopping centres but a visit to a carpet souq is by far the most rewarding. The Blue Souq in Sharjah, offers the widest range of carpets at some of the keenest prices. Most carpet souqs will carry an assortment of ancient and modern carpets, some of which are not of the highest quality.
The finest carpets come from Iran the traditional Persian carpets. Handmade from silk, an authentic carpet will bear the signature of its creator woven into the design. The designs are many, each individual and usually specific to particular families or tribes.
Persian carpets are at the top of the price scale and many are so exquisite that putting them on the floor is practically unthinkable. There are cheaper options and most are just as hard wearing. India, Kashmir, Pakistan and to a lesser degree Afghanistan all produce high quality carpets. Most carpet traders are knowledgeable about their wares and will be happy to explain the difference between a machine-made or handwoven carpet, as well as describe in detail how carpets are made and from which villages they originate.
Most traders will buy carpets back or swap them for similar products. Traditionally, carpets are intended to last a lifetime and many on sale are far older.
Souqs and antique shops stock wonderful old oriental carpets, exotic wall hangings, elegant Arabic coffeepots made of hand-beaten copper, carved wooden chests, ornamental khanjars (traditional daggers), chunky silver jewellery, shishas, intricate jewellery boxes, woven camel-hair goods, worry beads and brass. Some good quality antique goods are available but many items are reproductions.
Asian tapestries are popular and make superb wall-hangings and table runners. Embroidered Syrian cushions add a touch of luxury to all sofas and many come with matching tablecloths.
Fresh Vegetables and Fish
Souqs specializing in vegetables and fish are well worth a visit to view the enormous selection of produce and drink in the atmosphere of the bustling marketplace.
Fresh fish from local waters are landed in the early morning and late at night and are on display alongside imported fish and seafood. The fish souqs are busiest on Thursdays, Fridays, and on public holidays. For a small fee a helper will carry your bags, bargain for you if you wish to purchase a fish and even arrange to have your fish filleted and scaled.
Fruit and vegetables are mainly imported but some are home-grown and organic fruit and vegetables from the UAE are also available.