It’s Friday morning. I’ve been in Dubai long enough now that I don’t accidentally call it Saturday any more. To my right is the aroma of fresh cut herbs and earthy vine ripened tomatoes. To my right, the alluring nutty aroma of artisinal bread. I can’t stop myself from running my fingertips across the tops of outstanding and upstanding chives – a welcome change to the droopy, supermarket-refrigerated version. And I am staring at the Holy Grail. The highly sought after and seldom found, local free range egg. It’s hard not to break into song.

I’m at the “farmers market“, a weekly affair organized by and held next to Baker and Spice at Souk al Bahar. It’s small – only a few stalls – a far cry from the whole-oval affair at the St Kilda Peanut Farm back in Melbourne. The buskers, the chai brewer and the gourmet hotdog man are missing – but it is, nonetheless, an excellent attempt to help Dubians to understand the possibilities of the region, and give them the ability to purchase food that has a carbon footprint smaller than the shadow of a blue whale.

The peppers are the first to grab my attention – a visual smorgasbord of waxy colour – red, green, purple and orange, and some finger-chillies that pop like fire crackers – all 5 dirhams a packet, very good value. The scent of the tomatoes transports me to Granny’s back yard in West Rosebud, and I buy them by the bucketload with swathes of purple basil and a thought of combining them with something magical and goaty from the Galeries Lafayette cheese-room. The cauliflowers are grapefruit sized and pink tinged, and I recall a Suzanne Husseini recipe for fritters I have been meaning to try out…. “two please”.

I linger at the central stall and speak with the happy honey-man. He sells three varieties – different flowers, flavors and prices, all helpful in building immunity and defending against allergies to local pollens, because they are, of course, local. I buy the middle one – not for the health benefits, but because I suspect the deep brown goo might just be ambrosia. He also sells fresh labne in re-fillable bottles.

The stall holders are talkative, which is lucky – everyone has questions: Organic? Location of the farm? Irrigation techniques? Home delivery? The answers vary from stall to stall, but there is one constant – Everybody here loves fresh food.

Just like back in Melbourne, a morning’s shop can be rewarded with a cooked breakfast nearby, and we follow our noses to the coffee at Baker and Spice, hoping they will do a better job at the machine than the effort we received at Dean and Deluca next-door a few weeks back…. Unfortunately not. A sole barista toils at the $20,000 machine turning out expensive but average slop at about 2 coffees a minute – not appropriate for a restaurant with over 100 patrons. As is common for the region, although we ordered them first, our coffees arrive after our food. It’s not the coffee-maker’s fault – poor systems and training again turn what should be easy into unhappy labour. The waiters also have a bizarre pecking order which keeps four very busy and the others simply looking busy. I think I need to start consulting in restaurant service techniques – it’s a debacle, but a calamity that is far from rare in this town.

The breakfast however is superb. My husband and I shared a local egg dish (meant for two), which came with deliciously crunchy bread. It’s an oven-baked concoction of rich and spicy chunky tomato sauce, with the eggs baked into it. We nearly licked the pan. The kids’ hot chocolate was Mexican style, thick and intense – requiring extra milk for them, much to my horror at the adulteration of something so wonderful.

So – home with my pretty peppers and splendid assortment to make my own recipe for ratatouille, Suzanne Husseini’s cauliflower fritters and to imitate Baker and Spice’s superb egg dish. Happy days…

The farmers market runs every Friday from 10am. There was still plenty of good produce available at midday. I’m not sure what tha plan is when it warms up in a month or two – hopefully it will move inside. There is easy covered parking at souk al Bahar, entry next to the Palace Hotel.

You can find the recipe for my Ratatouille here

7 thoughts on “The good, the bad and the eggly”

  1. Love this post! I think the farmer's market only runs until April so better get our goodies while we can. Two weeks ago I picked out some gorgeous beets with the greens still on! You ordered the shakshuka (sp?) which is also my favorite thing to order there. You should definitely start a consultancy! We have all had some appalling experiences here, we could easily draw up a potential client list. 😉

  2. excellent post .."and give them the opportunity to purchase food that has a carbon footprint smaller than the shadow of a blue whale." Bon appetit!

  3. Sounds delicious but small carbon footprint???? Hardly… The water tables in the UAE are utterly depleted. A friend who works for Oman's water ministry despairs that UAE demand has even sucked away the Oman water tables in the Hajar mountains. The ridiculous increase in demand for water over the past 10 years has come during a prolonged dry period. Any rural local will tell you about the gushing wadis of their childhood that now never run at any time of year. So where does the water for this lcoally produced temperate climate food come from? It's all desalinated of course and has a massive carbon footprint, as does the fertiliser that is needed to grow it in the desert (whether organic or synthetic). I care a lot about the environment (haven't eaten mammals for 20 years because of this) but I am driven nuts by the lazy unscientific approach of so many that claim the green mantle. Seriously, I would bet that a proper analysis of the environmental impact will demonstrate that it is MUCH less harmful to the environment to grow vegetables in their natural environment and fly them in here than to coax foreign species to grow in this arid climate with limited fertility. As I said, I'm sure it tastes delicious and feels good but let's not delude ourselves that it is somehow environmentally friendly. Oganic food with lower yields and greater energy and material input required is not good for the environment, just for middle class notions of lost "natural" living.Still, I will be getting down to that market..

  4. Why are the argumentative comments always anonymous? I said "smaller than the shadow of a blue whale" not "small". Surely it is better to eat vegetables grown using bore and desalinated water than the ones that have been flown in and refrigerated from holland. Besides, eating locally grown food is not only benefiting the planet, but benefits you. Fresh fruit and vegetables lose their nutrients with time. Have you ever realised how quickly they go off in the fridge? That shows how old they were when you bought them. You will also find that the produce at this market is tailored to the area – with a heavy presence of tomatoes, zucchini, capsicum (central America) eggplant (India) and roka (southern Italy). All arid climate natives – and none likely to grow unaided in places like Holland.

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