Sharjah Market

coconuts

I have a really dumb habit of always wearing flip-flops, or similar sandal-style shoes, then discovering that I have to do something really precarious a little while later. I remember scaling down rocky cliffs at beaches and almost killing myself, as well as assorted other idiocies attempted with rubber-clad feet. Really, it’s amazing I’m still alive.

market in Sharjah ripening dates

Like the flowing robes, sandals are part of the uniform in many Middle Eastern counties, so I took advantage of the warm weather (and freedom from packing all those socks), and donned sandals when we headed towards the market in the Emirate of Sharjah.

Of course, I’d forgotten that the market included a live animal market, which I got a quick reminder of when I stepped out of the car and was surrounded by stalls of bleating goats, all competing with each other apparently to see who could shout at the highest volume. The loudest was a poor little fellow getting a shot of medicine, that reminded me of me at that age when I saw a hypodermic needle.

pomegranite goat horns

I was in the United Arab Emirates to do a cooking demonstration at the Sharjah Book Fair and was thrilled when my time there overlapped with Middle Eastern food expert Anissa Helou. And it wasn’t just that she was an expert in cooking, but she was also smart about visiting markets as she had slipped out of the swanky sandals she was wearing earlier that day and had on sensible, closed shoes while I dodged dubious brown puddles in my unencumbered glory.

“Really, they’re the oldest shoes I have.” Anissa said, as she sidestepped the puddles and earth as we headed toward stalls with live goats, sheep, and assorted other animals for sale. Obviously she’s been navigating a lot more live animal markets than I have.

animal tail goat market

After we saw all the animals eating and doing what animals seem to do best, we headed over to the butcher stalls, which were amazingly clean. Each stall owner has his own little ‘store’ about the size of six phone booths pushed together, and each was outfitted with a massive marble table, air-conditioning (temperatures in the summer in the Emirates can climb to 60ºC, or 140ºF, and they told me going outside was pretty impossible), and each butcher’s space was crowded with all sorts of slabs of meat and hanging carcasses.

Sharjah market

I’d never been to a fully Arabic country, and it was a somewhat gloriously surreal adventure; men and women in long robes and headscarves, a swirl of cultures and religions passing around you, a genteel politeness, and the beautiful cursive writing of a language that I swear I’m going to try to learn at least a little of before I meet whatever maker you believe will take of us in our afterlives.

vegetables

In Paris, there is a large Arabic community, and I’m one-quarter Arabic as well. But to be immersed in a place that you just see snippets of on television or in magazines, is quite a cultural eye-opener. It really is a very different place and it took me a few days to adjust to the differences in culture. Plus Sharjah is a “dry” city so I had to make do with drinking fresh carrot juice or mint-infused lemonade instead of wine, which to be honest, was something I could get used to.

The market isn’t far from where I was staying but when I asked how to go on foot anywhere in the city, people were incredulous that I wanted to walk anywhere. But I like to move around that way to get the feel of places. And I noticed a lot of small supermarkets, and I love going into them, as well as going to the outdoor markets, in foreign countries.

sweet potatoes

Plus I have a slightly irrational fear of getting in taxis or having drivers take me places. It might be a loss-of-control issue perhaps? Or maybe it was getting stuck listening to too many rants by drivers or stepping off a plane after eleven hours and getting grilled on my life, and my opinions. And worse, listening to theirs. So unless I have heavy suitcases, walking is my preferred way to see a place.

fish at market

Although I was glad when I stepped outside into the fierce midday heat that Hussein, my driver who was actually quite the pal and took me everywhere I wanted to go, had the AC going. Plus with the dust, the heat, the pounding sunshine, and someone telling me, “I am here to take you wherever you want to go and to do whatever you want, Mister David” well, maybe it was time to conquer my fear of drivers. (But if they stopped addressing me as if I was a hairdresser, that would be great.)

goats in UAE

Like the meat market, the outdoor live animal market pens were scrupulously clean. And it doesn’t get more local than this.

ostrich metal container

There were lots of little lambs and sheep—Anissa, who speaks Arabic, asked the price and they were around $200. She told me when they have camels, they go for about $1000, which seems a bit expensive to me. So if you get one, don’t throw away that hump.

To be honest, though, we weren’t really in the market for any live animals (and I’m not sure I want camel hump), plus my sandal-clad feet has stepped in a few dubious brown puddles, so we marched over the fish market.

sharks

There was a lot of small fishes, which had come off the decorative wooden boats moored just across the way. They were all sparkly, wet, and fresh, but I didn’t recognize a lot of them. And I was more concerned with not wiping out on the wet floor rather than taking notes, which I’m sure you can understand.

crabs

The blue-legged crabs were gorgeous though, and I’m going to add them to the short list of foods that are naturally blue, since that’s always something that stumps me when I see blue-colored anything. (Blue foods, unless naturally that color, scare me.) Small sharks were lined up, something that looked like bonito were on offer, and there was a kind of fish with an ugly mug and catfish-style whiskers that were like steel tubes with fins.

fish market

I did love the thin wire baskets the smaller fish were stacked up in but I didn’t know what I’d do with the twenty to thirty fish inside, so like the camel hump, I unfortunately passed. And we headed in to the arched fruit and vegetable market.

watermelon

The relaxed politeness of the city permeated the atmosphere of the market as well and instead of being hassled to death so much that you never want to return, like in other countries (Morocco, I’m looking at you…), the vendors were cheerful and friendly, offering tastes and even asked me if I could take their photo.

market vendors

There were plenty of greens that I had never seen and lots of parsley, Arabic thyme (which resembles tarragon but has the elixir-like taste of concentrated herbs), fresh mint, feathery dill, and basil leaves. If you’ve not had real تبولة‎, go to an Arabic country. Instead of being a heavy mound of bulgur with a few herbs flecked in here and there, tabbouleh is meant to be an herb salad, and I mean lots and lots of herbs with just a few bits of tomato and maybe some nubbins of cucumber poking around in there.

anissa helou corn

I loved the giant coconuts, which came in green and orange, and for a few dirham (about $1) they’d take out the machete and hack the top off a young coconut, stick in a few straws and hand it over, which made a refreshing drink. Did you know that coconut water apparently is sterile, at least until it’s opened? Even more interesting was the date market outside and I’ve never seen so many dates piled up on platters anywhere.

dates packed

My only regret was that if one is going to be sitting on an airplane for seven-plus hours later than evening, eating a couple of dozen dates probably wasn’t such a great idea.

date market

But they were hard to resist: the dates were so different—and so good! Some were sweet, others had a slightly burnt coffee-like flavor, and others were spicy and sticky, or as rich as creamy toffee. They kept handing us samples to try and it was very hard not to pop yet another one in our mouths when offered.

dates UAE

Amongst all the dates was a stand with sugar cane that they’d feed into a machine which pressed out the juices into a cup.

sugar cane for juice

It sounds sweeter than it is, believe me. But is quite tasty and not any sweeter than various kinds of tropical fruit juices you’re used to drinking. It’s probably best served over ice, which they offered, but we weren’t certain where it was from so we took a pass on that. (Suspicious water after eating too many dates isn’t a wise combination, I think.)

sugar cane press

Afterward we went into Dubai to Shabestan for a lovely Persian meal which Anissa recommended and I was happy to take her advice.

And even though Hussein was quite sweet, it was nice to know that men everywhere don’t want to stop and ask for directions when they’re lost. And after a few choice words passed in Arabic between them, we finally made it to the large, modern hotel where the restaurant was located.

Iranian bread herbed persian rice

I often avoid hotel restaurants, especially if they’re part of a giant hotel chain, as was this one. But Anissa explained to me that people in the Emirates like eating in hotels (perhaps because most of the new buildings seem to be housing banks in the lobby and restaurants aren’t the natural accompaniment to ATMs) and we ate splendidly.

I saw a lot of charred kabobs going by and really wanted one, but considering I was with a Middle Eastern food expert, I decided to follow her lead and order something that I couldn’t get elsewhere or wouldn’t even know what it was if I saw it on a menu.

Persian rice

We had Halim Bdjm and Mirza Ghasemi, two eggplant-based appetizers, then had two stews: Ghormeh Sabzi and Fesenjan. And the only reason I can recall the names so accurately is because of the check.

Handmade Iranian flatbread with sesame seeds and yogurt, cucumber, and fresh garlic dip is the Iranian version of bread & butter to eat before the meal, and dip into every once in a while when the mood hits, and every bite made me think what a much better alternative to bread & butter this Arabic combination is. But what was the most memorable were the mounds of rice.

herbed persian rice

Each pile of rice was like a dream; so light, fluffy, and the grains so perfectly separate it made me think there was a team in the kitchen polishing each one individually. One mound was colorful and verdant green, with fresh dill tinting the rice and a flurry of saffron-orange grains scattered over the top added for striking contrast. But my favorite, which is now officially The Best Thing I Ever Had in My Life was the tah-deeg (or tahdig), which are the crisp rice shards that forms at the bottom of the pot when the rice is cooked to just the right point.

crispy iranian rice

When they brought the first platter of plain rice, which had one measly chard leaning against the side of it, sensing upcoming sparring between the two of us, Anissa immediately told them we needed a very big dish of it. And within seconds, out came a plate of them that made me want to push just about everything else aside on the table and focus on that. Like Socca, tah-deeg is one of those things you can eat and eat and eat and eat, no matter how full you are. Which we did.


79 comments

  • Sharjah is wonderful. We lived in the UAE for 3 years and loved it and still miss the food and people. Sharjah is a bit archaic in its ways – it’s backed by Saudi Arabian money, so it’s less relaxed than Dubai. David – I hope that you weren’t wearing shorts, as they are illegal in Sharjah, but I think that they’re more relaxed about that rule than they are about bare shoulders!

  • I don’t even know where to begin! The rice!! The tahdig! And the cane sugar juice!! I loove that, they sell cane here on the roads often, I love crunching bits of it, probably not good for my teeth but soo tasty

  • Fascinating David! Do you know the reason for the different essences in the dates? Is it the way the dates are treated or are they getting the flavor from the area in which they are grown?

  • Oh, that crunchy rice crust looks heavenly!

  • David, you just made me trip-sick for Kuwait. The food, the markets, the people. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

    Oh and learning Arabic isn’t horribly difficult. I’m learning!

  • Amazing visit and food. That shot of the ostrich is priceless.

  • The crab and the shark look awesome! Thanks for getting out of the apartment, if only for the time of a read…

  • We are lucky enough to grow dates here in CA as well and the big SaMo Farmer’s Market has a date vendor with several varieties. The range in flavor is amazing from a honey-like flavor to dark and molasses-y

    Just google date varieties for more info..

  • if you’re looking to learn arabic from a book, check out ‘alif ba’, a really great book written for english speakers. will walk you through the alphabet & script. arabic is both the most challenging & rewarding language i’ve ever learned! you’ll love it. :)

  • Thank you for sharing your travels– that’s a part of the world I really want to see. And isn’t tadig the best?! mmm with some yogurt on top… yum yum. I love Persian rice dishes, so glad you shared it on your blog– not enough people know how wonderful they are!

  • The trip sounds so interesting. A real departure from the Ireland trip! The foods look great and the dates..omg, the dates! I love them so.

  • David, the food looks wonderful! I am very lucky to work with a very special Iranian woman who cooks all these yummy things and feels compelled to share them with me from time to time. I am sad though to see the sharks being sold, I have a strange affection for them and I am always a little heartbroken to see them in markets. I think that you’re post has inspired me to break out this wonderful spice blend a dear friend brought me from Jordan, lots of cardamom……I think will be very yummy with lamb. Looks like a lovely trip!

  • Hi there!
    I lived in the UAE and I enjoyed the cultural blend which makes of the country what it is now… every cuisine is well represented..
    I just want to mention that having had persian food that has been adopted by gulf people does not make of it arabic food as mentioned in the article since persians are not arabs..
    I agree that the persian food is awesome..they cook rice in different ways and to perfection..and again, this is one of the good things UAE offers: discovering other cultures..
    And your website is amazing :)

  • I absolutely love middle eastern food. The rice, the breads, so tasty and yummy.

    I have looked for some good middle eastern restaurant in San Francisco without much luck.

  • Michele: It was interesting (and I didn’t bring shorts because I figured they weren’t appropriate wear) because I asked Hussein if he ever wore a robe and he said “No” because you had to wear them with sandals and he didn’t like wearing those. He did say that he wore sandals with shorts, which surprised me too, but said that all the folks his age did–if you went to the shopping centers (where they all hang out), everyone wore shorts. So perhaps the rules have changed?

    As for me, I would be very happy wearing a robe and sandals the rest of my life!

    Nana: You’re right but it’s interesting they’re adopted Persian as well as Thai food. I didn’t have any of that, but had some amazing Lebanese food with Anissa as well.

    krista: The city of Paris has low-cost Arabic classes, but whenever I mention to anyone back in France that I want to learn Arabic, they give me this look, as if you say, “Dude, you’d better continue to work on your French…” ; )

    Arturo: They also had date syrup, which I thought about buying. But it was really liquid and not packed well so I was afraid I would have a disaster in my suitcase. But as I’ve learned traveling: you don’t have to buy everything, just enjoy it while you’re there.

  • Wow! That all looks amazing. There’s a Persian restaurant near my place that I’ve always thought looked interesting because of the rice in the pictures in the window, and now I definitely have to go try it.

    Speaking of wearing sandals to inappropriate places, I wore flip-flops the day I walked up the 400+ (ancient, steep, ladder-like in places) steps in the Duomo in Florence.

  • Tahdig – - la religieuse of the rice world. Sounds tasty!

  • David!! You’re here!!! =) when i saw this in my reader, at first glance I thought “…oh there’s a Sharjah in France too ?? ” Then I saw the coconuts and the very Indian looking man and I was like hmmm that’s funny… and then I saw the emirate of UAE line. Oh my god!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I cannot believe you’re here!!

    I live in Dubai myself =) . So here are spots I think you shouldn’t miss:
    Iranian food in a lil mom pop store called Special Ostadi in Burdubai near the Creek.
    YOU MUST GO TO THE SPICE SOUK near the creek as well. Do not miss it!!!!!!!!!
    Also there is this Fish fry place under the open sky (read cheap ) that Mr. Bourdain covered whilst he was here. Its quite nice if you like greasy fried fresh fish… =D

  • Also i think u should take some tahini paste back. One of the stores in Dubai mall actually make macarons wth a Tahiti/ chocolate fillling… Being the creative person that you are , i have no doubt in my mind you ll be able to come up with som very creative uses for that lil jar of nutty goodness =) So happy to know u re here david! Also just thought id mention it. There s a sweets and snack exhibition thats been happning in town. Guess tomorrows the last day. It s happening in the trade center in Dubai in case you wanna check it out.. =) Have a great trip!

  • Sounds like the dates were threatening to be a worthy adversary for flying … both the syrup and superfluous quantities! Thanks for the lovely insight.

  • is the arabic writing in your post some kind of joke i’m missing? i only had a year of arabic, but what you have there seems to say something like “translate this page”…?

  • what an incredible journey David! I would love to see those markets, and experience the difference in their foods….what a wonderful way to really see the people and how they live, food tells us so much about a culture. Your images are priceless, thanks so much for taking us along!
    Cheers
    Dennis

  • Wow, so many interesting dishes! I am drooling at the thought of the tahdig, I’ve never had it before, but I can just tell I would be fighting over it too! And the dates! I’m sure your uncomfortable plane ride was worth their caramelly goodness no?

  • That meal looks magnificent! David, I share your love of grocery-store tourism and aversion to blue food! My husband is cajun and in their cooking there is a similar kind of crunchy rice called graton. I used to turn my nose up at the “burned” rice, but I now know the secret and have improved my spoon fighting skills!

  • Is it bad that I know have “Under the Sea” in my head? Hmm. What I wouldn’t give for those dates – all I have access to at the moment are the rock-hard dried kind from the supermarket. Bleurgh!

  • Ah, this brings back wonderful memories of my childhood – was born and raised in Abu Dhabi before moving to Toronto and I would give anything to move back!

    There was this dessert a lot of friends would make back home, it was a combination of warm dates and tea biscuits topped with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup…*drool*.

    Did you try Zaater Manakeesh? Only the best comfort food ever.

    You’ve captured some of the best images that are still so vivid in my mind – thanks David :)

  • Lovely post. Thanks for sharing your experiences :)

  • I, like you, once went about my life not knowing what tahdig was. Then I met a boy who introduced me to it. The boy is now gone but the tahdig is here to stay! I fell instantly in love with it too, best thing ever! And to think a few restaurants around town actually throw it out!! Great post!

  • Like you, we always like to walk everywhere when traveling and it serves two purposes. I think you get to experience far more of a different culture by walking around in it – hearing and smelling everything makes the memories much richer.
    Also, all that walking helps burn off the over-indulgence in food that is always my downfall!
    And those dates – no wonder you couldn’t resist them, but I see your point about the later flight!

  • Is tahdig used in soup, as in Chinese sizzling rice soup?

  • That first photo of the pile of dates looks just like some sort of date cake! It’s like a giant Larabar :O Reading about your travels is really fascinating!

  • But David you missed the Salon du chocolat at the Porte de Versailles!
    How could you!

  • Fyi- where I think you meant to write “tabboule” in Arabic, it just says “translate this page.” Tabboule = تبولة

    You should get Annisa to take you to Beirut sometime :)

  • As an Iranian I’m so glad/proud you like Persian food and especially tahdig! That stuff is like crack and not so hard to prepare at home, as long as you have a good heavy non stick pot and are willing to experiment a bit. I just recently (sort of) learned how to make the version with potatoes and that is so so good too —you should try it!

  • I have never been to the Middle East but your photgraphs are so familiar because this is what our markets in India look like (except for the variety of dates and the goats), even the rice which we call biryani.

    I can never have enough of the colours, aroma of spices and the smiling faces of the stall owners at the matket.

  • Thank you for bringing a beautiful part of the world to life in this post!

  • I live in Dubai (and sadly was not aware that you were here before for the fantastic lit fest). Our newly formed food blogger group has a visit to the Dubai fish, fruit and vegetable market next week – your post is well timed to provide some great inspiration for our trip.

  • hi david,

    I live in Dubai too and wish I had known you were coming for a food demonstration at the book fair…. would have loved to be there! Will you be doing any more demonstrations here?

  • I can feel the heat and smell the markets then suddenely last summer feeling . I love your blog. The fluidity of the cursive writing makes me reconsider how I will forever view this part of the world. .You’re one of the best things I have found in years on the internet. enyoy the journey and post again soon …..

  • ANISSA!!!!!!!
    O, I am so so so glad you’ve met her!! She is one of my most favoritest people on earth and I want everyone to buy her books! stunning photos, David. this post is the highlight of my 15th hour today. Merci.

  • Lydia: I think I was also wearing them when I had to climb the almost-vertical steps of the pyramid at Chichen Itza.

    Shuna: I’ve known Anissa for a while as we used to have the same editor. Glad you like her as much as I do.

    Mercedes: She does tours of Syria and I’ve always wanted to go on one. This mini-tour was great and I would image the week-long ones are spectacular, too.

    (And I have extremely poor access to the internet in the Emirates and the translation tool wasn’t working, but it’s been fixed.)

    ninu, anu, Sally: I think I have to come back for longer–as long as Hussein is willing to drive me around! : )

  • Drooling right now. At 1:23 am. I think I have my next vacation planned out.

  • Before my parents moved to Jumeirah in Dubai 2 years ago they lived for 15 years, walking distance to the market. I loved visiting it on my visits there. David you brought back some great memories with this post! Thanks!

  • So that’s where you were David?!
    :)
    What a treat… I watched the two videos – so impressing. Then all the info you so generously share with us! And I absolutely adore the close-up of the bird (forgot the name for a moment) through the fence….

    I am glad that it’s not lunch or suppe time; or I might eat a camel…. – it all looks so interesting! And combined with your talent as a story teller; it’s just about the ultimate travel experience without actually travelling… Thank You so much!

  • Amazing and beautiful spread! What a place!

  • I like the name Anissa. It’s so nice to be able to travel with an expert!
    I’ve never been to the Arab world but feel related to them when i see the sugar cane juice which in Puerto Rico we call guarapo, fresh coconut we call coco frio, and crusty rice we call pegao. Warm countries are similar.
    Thanks for sharing, David.

  • Next time you visit, let us know and we will organise a “non-hotel” tweetup, best if we include @daddybird the master of such things.

    A truly superb post, and thank you, so very much, for sharing your time with us at #shjibf

  • I can agree with you on the wearing of sandals, which I love as well. But on my first vacation with my wife a few years ago I broke two toes on the first day of a three-week trip! Thank goodness the pain wasn’t bad, but now I like to pack another pair of shoes when traveling.
    We spent some time in Dubai on our way back from South Africa this Easter and were a bit disappointed. Your Sharjah sounds much nicer. Getting around by walking was also difficult and we ended up taking the taxi too.
    Thanks again for a wonderful account of your travels. May your life continue to be so rich.
    Adrian

  • This place looks like a dream: gorgeous food with no seller hassling you all the time. And that rice is going to hunt me..
    The dates look really yummy and I am intrigued by the different flavour descriptions that you gave, but (incredibly) I can only eat a couple of them before feeling full for the rest of the day. My sister on the other hand is able to make a dozen of dates disappear before I have finished paying for them. And I am the one who eats more, usually!

  • I love Persian cusisine…and you can make tahdig yourself easily…and potato slices in the bottom of the pan will be nice and golden and taste good too! ;)

  • You are so wonderful! You and your posts!!
    I just discovered you via GOOP and I am so delighted!!

    I used to go and stay in SHARJAH for 4-5 nights for more than 20 years. My last visit was summer 2003. And with this post I am planning on going pretty soon.
    A big thanks for everything!!!–keep up the great work.
    Lots of my love,

    alexandra margaroni
    Athens, Greece

  • This was a great posting David! Sharjah is indeed more conservative than it’s neighbor Dubai, Sharjah has a small, but more shopper friendly market. Vegetables are imported as well.I enjoyed the large country of origin signs above each fruit and vegetable in many markets. Turned my grocery shopping into an International experience. Persian food in the UAE is as good as it gets, as is Lebanese and Indian, French and Italian. A feast for the eyes and the taste buds. I lived there and NEVER had a bad meal in any of the Emirates. It’s a fascinating place to live or visit. When will you go to Jordan? Another beautifully intriguing food and culture destination. Keep Traveling David, rewarding us with your discoveries.

  • If I could cook rice that looked like that in your photos, I consider myself a three-star chef — unfortunately, whatever method I try seems to defy that light, separate grain.
    The ‘shards’ look delicious, and yet they, too have a light look about them.

    Sharjah a ‘dry’ place -ahhhhhhhhh, you must not know— but there are places!

    Been there, had a gin-and-tonic (what else do you drink when it is 110F) – and
    je suis est une femme, aussi! Though our host, in full robe, headpiece and sandals
    only drank coffee. He did teach us to shake our cup to indicate no more refills.

    Hmmmmm, wonder should I have done that with my drink glass? Just had one ;-)

  • I have to defend Morocco! I’ve been three times (I had a friend working for the Peace Corps there) and every place I went was lovely, with nice people. EXCEPT MARRAKESH. I will never return to Marrakesh because the vendors were so awful in the main square. (One guy said, “F— you” after I declined to eat in his restaurant.) But in Fez, Rabat, Essouiara, and the smaller towns we visited, it was just fine.

  • Just curious. What Lebanese dishes did you have? Thanks for the gorgeous pix.

  • Great article! I love ethnic markets. In Southern California we have many Persian and Middle Eastern markets (no they are not the same) to which I have become addicted and shop in regularly. Did you learn how to make the crispy rice? I have tried a couple of times and it does not look like the one in your pictures. Can you get a recipe from your friend and let us in on the secret. I love the green rice they sell it here in Markets in the food to go section. Thanks for letting us tag along…Wear Shoes!! Pam

  • Great Article David. Thanks for sharing! I love Sharjah!

  • Sharjah Book Fair: Thank you for inviting me. It was truly a pleasure meeting you and seeing your country. You’re food is so delicious there-hopefully one day I will be back

    Pamela les: I linked to a seemingly simple recipe in the post. Do try it and let me know how it comes out.

    class factotum: I traveling through Morocco and while I loved Fez (the market is astounding) I did get hassled quite a bit. So much so that I just wanted to say, “Look, I do want to buy something from you. But because you’re being such a pest, I can’t even look at anything you have to offer.” I don’t know why they haven’t figured out that if you don’t look at people as ‘marks’, but as potential customers, you’ll probably have more business.

    Marlene; Being a ‘dry’ city, I didn’t feel right if I sneaked any alcohol. And curiously, when Anissa and I had lunch in Dubai (where wine and liquor aren’t prohibited), neither of us felt like having any. It was nice to adapt to the local culture (although a good gin & tonic, well, I understand that sometimes you just have to bend the rules!)

  • Wow., great post, great experience & how I’d love to wander through those market places (with the right shoes of course); Love the dates & the tahdig and the cane sugar juice!! All of it, sounds incredible.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • David, maybe my pest meter is calibrated higher than yours. :) I lived in South America for two years and learned to harden my cold, Peace Corps volunteer, no money heart to vendors. Gosh, it was nice to get back to the US where nobody hassled me to buy and where they didn’t try to charge me a gringo tax!

  • Hi David! This post makes me want to go to an arabic country at some point in my life. I agree about the tahdig, we have the same thing in the Philippines. It’s also everyone’s favorite and we all fight over who gets that part from the rice pot. We also eat a lot of sugar cane. I get to drink the squeezed ones in Bangkok, we unfortunately don’t squeeze and make it into juice in the Philippines.

    ~Leah

  • David, I’m sad to have missed you here, as I live in Sharjah on the Corniche. If you have an opportunity to come in late August/early September, the date market is considerably different. They have fresh dates – ones that have just come off the trees. You can purchase these at various stages of ripeness. The unripe dates are considerably crisp/hard and more astringent – but still very tasty. Keep us up to date if you head this way again.

  • I’m so excited that you tried Gormeh Sabzi and Tadigh! In Iran, we sit around and dip tadigh in mast-eh-kheyar (the cucumber yogurt dip you had) all night! Next time you’re in the Washington DC area, shoot me an e-mail and I will point you to the best place for homemade Iranian food.

  • Fascinating post, I enjoyed the tour of Sharjah Market very much. I would love to try all those dates.

  • Visiting Sharjah was a dream come true for me…It was a divine experience which I relived now…

  • David, you shouldn’t bother learning Arabic. After spending many years on it and knowing I will be working on it for the rest of my life, I try to warn everyone I can away from it! It’s one of those things that requires a huge investment to get any return, and then you’re sucked in for life because you’ve already invested so much, and on and on the vicious cycle goes….

    And unfortunately I live in Cairo, where the food is terrible. If only I could move to Beirut or Damascus…

  • To Kristen,
    Arabic is a very beautiful language, but as any other language you have to love it first to be able to learn it. Egyptian food is almost identical to Turkish food; Tasty with plenty of garlic with few spices (cumin,coriander and nutmeg), both tasty and delicious. So please don’t blame the Egyptian food for your lack of taste buds as I am sure if you moved to Beirut, Damascus, Italy or France you are going to have hard time learning the language or even find any taste to their food.

    To David,
    Thank you very much for this lovely post. Please consider visiting us in Istanbul, Turkey-I am sure you are going to like both the country and its food.

  • Fascinating post David!
    merci
    My Persian brother-in-law makes tah-dig and I love it.
    Persian cuisine is one of the best-
    miam miam!

  • @Heather — Having lived in both Cairo and Beirut and visited Turkey many times, I can say that Turkish and Lebanese food blow Egyptian food out of the water. Egypt is known in the region for having bad food. Compared to Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, or Turkish food, it falls way behind. Such a pity. (And yes, I have lived in Beirut, and visited Damascus and France and I had no trouble finding the food tasty and delicious!)

    I do think Arabic is beautiful, and I am not a beginner — have spoken it for years.
    My somewhat facetious comment to David was born out of the love-hate relationship that many people who study Arabic develop with it and that we like to joke about. People deserve a warning before they study Arabic that it won’t pay off as quickly as learning French or Spanish does! Oh well, so much for the joke.

  • David!

    I wish you had said you were coming to the UAE! Plus, my mother works not far from where the Sharjah Book Fair was happening :(

    Tell me the next time you’re coming to the UAE. Or I’ll just go to Paris lol.

  • Hi Nida: I did put out the message on my Twitter stream (which is in the sidebar here, too), so perhaps next time…

    Heather & Kristen: I think everyone can agree that there’s good and bad food everywhere, even in Paris. As for learning a language, Arabic involved learning a new alphabet and way to read so I am sure it’s not easy. (Neither is French!) But I think it’d be fun and interesting to give it a try.

  • To David,
    I totaly agree to your opinion on both Food & language.

    To Kristen,
    I agree to your second post about Arabic. It is not an easy language to learn, but what I don’t agree with is scaring people off learning new language because it frustrates you, as we all know that people’s ability to learn languages is different.

    In regards to your comment that Egyptian food falls way behind other regional cuisine. Of course your entitled to your opinion, however there hasn’t been a prominent figure yet who has visited and eaten of the Egyptian cuisine and not raved about it. Centuries of cultural and religious ties with the other nations you mentioned, have brought a shared commonality among their respective cuisines. For example, falafel, kabobs, dolma, lentil soups, hummus, seafood, baklava, etc. can all be found within each nation’s cuisine with specific geographic flares. I suggest you try some more upscale dining establishments rather than eating from donkey-cart vendors only. Good luck!

  • I don’t know if it works (I gave it away as a gift), but I once bought a device at a Korean housewares store whose sole purpose was to make those crispy/chewy rice bits- like tahdig- or in this case the bottom of a stone pot bi bim bap. Next time you’re in California you should look for one!

  • Ok following you! Glad to know you had a good time in Sharjah :)

  • ahh david, you made me smile!

    im from london, and just finished law at university. i need a break now, so iv randomly decided that im going to live in sharjah for a few months. i must say, i was a little worried at 1st with my decision…but now im ok :D

    thanks a lot, and you really did great with the fab pictures you took.

  • David, this was such a lovely post to read. I was able to armchair travel for some time tonight while reading your culinary adventure in Sharjah. Thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of us.
    I say go for the Arabic classes- you’ll be surprised at how easy it’ll come to you, especially if you’re already speaking a foreign language.

  • Instead of being a heavy mound of bulgur with a few herbs flecked in here and there, tabbouleh is meant to be an herb salad, and I mean lots and lots of herbs with just a few bits of tomato and maybe some nubbins of cucumber poking around in there.

    Absolutely! I hate what is often sold as tabbouleh. Of course, growing up in the Detroit area, I had access to the real deal.

  • Oh David! I grew up in Sharjah but have made my home in Texas for the last 20 years. You made me so nostalgic for the town where I lived in the 1970s and 1980s and it’s so nice ot know that the markets haven’t changed much. Thank you for that lovely trip down memory lane!

  • You should have most definitely tried the kebabs. They are delicate and yet so flavorful. Also next time try Ajwa dates because they’re my favorite ;) , they are smaller and stubbier than most dates but are really complex in flavor. I loved the way you described dates as toffee and brunt coffee!
    I will have to visit this market since I live a few countries away but no one who lives there has every taken us at all. It’s always ‘Ooo movie theater, aaah shopping mall!’ And I grew up in NY, so this rich cultural market is more my thing plus food is my only thing!