Dubai is a melting pot of different nationalities and religions and is a great place to learn more about Arabic and Emirati cultures. We started the day with a traditional Emirati breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Their motto is “Open Doors. Open Minds” and it was a brilliant opportunity to ask our Emirati host any questions we had and she helped demystify many common misconceptions.
Women never serve coffee in Bedouin culture, it’s always the men. This is the opposite of the northern Middle East, which is more influenced by European culture.
To start our meal we were served coffee brewed with cardamom and saffron. It’s quite bitter and is served with sweet dates.
There were a huge array of traditional Emirati breakfast options laid out on the floor and we served ourselves buffet style. There was scrambled eggs with sautéed tomatoes.
Flat bread, boiled chickpeas with chilli and lemon, pancakes and noodles sweetened with sugar and scrambled eggs.
And to finish off the meal, donuts with date syrup! These were heavenly and I may have eaten 5.
While we feasted we asked questions and learnt a lot:
- While there is no strict dress code in Dubai, dress modestly out of respect, especially when visiting mosques.
- During Ramadan, don’t eat, drink or smoke in public from sunrise to sunset
- Five times every day you will hear the Adhan, or call to prayer, being broadcast over speakers throughout Dubai. Keep going about your business. It’s actually quite beautiful to listen to.
- The weekend in Dubai is now Friday and Saturday, which is a compromise between Friday’s holiness to Muslims and the standard Western weekend of Saturday-Sunday.
There were quite a few questions regarding the traditional dress, the Abaya (black robe). Women have been wearing black since the 1950s. Previously they wore colour but it would get dirty in the desert. Women are not pressured to wear the Abaya, but enjoy its simplicity and modesty, plus the loose flowing fabric is suited to the harsh desert environment.
If you’re planning a visit to Dubai, I highly recommend a visit to SMCCU and you can easily book online at the SMCCU website.
After our delicious breakfast we explored the Al Bastakiya trading village, located in the Al Fahidi Historic District, which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Bur Dubai.
Dubai street art by Ruben Sanchez.
The Iranian Mosque, a Shia mosque, is truly stunning. I loved the colours, patterns and intricate tile work.
We soon arrived at Dubai Creek and hopped on an Abra (small traditional boat) across the water to the souks!
Souks are traditional Arabian markets and Dubai has a number of them scattered all over the city. The most well known market is the Gold Souk, which features hundreds of stores selling an array of gold, silver and other precious stones in Arabic designs.
The Spice Souk is a mesmerising experience of smell and colour. Cardamom, saffron, turmeric, chilli and cinnamon are just some of the spices sold from great barrels scattered throughout the marketplace.
The Old Souk/Textile Souk is filled with an assortment of colourful textiles such as cashmere and silk, traditional dress, shoes, souvenirs and much much more. You can even buy your favourite fabric and pop over to one of the surrounding tailors to have a dress made!
I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about the fascinating Emirati culture and cuisine, it’s truly something you need to experience!