Sunday, 22 November 2009
Shopping in the souk in Abu Dhabi is an intoxicating experience after the hermetically-sealed, sterile supermarkets on offer back in the UK. I love it. The vibrant colours, pungent smells and colourful people, a rich sensual blend and heady stuff.
It's monsoon season, the roads are badly flooded. In some parts we wade through 6" of sewage infested water – there is no drainage system in place yet. But it doesn't detract somehow from the joy.
The traders all genuinely love children, this comes as a pleasant surprise after the hysteria at home and suspicion of any man taking an interest, in the UK our first love is dogs. Toby and Celia love it too. They are constantly spoilt by everyone. And they do stand out, Toby with his golden curls and sparkling sapphire blue eyes and Celia with her long strawberry blonde hair and devilishly pretty green eyes. As well as their gleeful, lively disposition.
First stop, the fish souk. What an assault on the senses, though as there appears to be no refrigeration apart from blocks of ice, primarily on the nose? I've never seen so many different kinds of fish before. And so many colours, some quite scary looking. I buy Hamour, a beautiful fish that tastes sweetish almost like scampi. A little man appears from nowhere beside me with a large cardboard box and motions for me to put the fish in. A bit non-plussed I do. He tags along behind us.
If the fish souk was amazing it was as nothing compared to the vegetable souk. What a feast of colour and shapes for the eyes. Toby and Celia are immediately proffered all kinds of exotic looking fruit, which they eagerly bite into, some of which are spat straight out again, much to the stallholders amusement. I smile to myself wondering what the reaction would be in Sainsburys?
Our man is still following us, the box is getting fuller and heavier but he seems very happy. I keep asking him if he's OK. His smiles and nods confirm this. I'm new to this, used to lugging my own shopping along with pushchairs etc. but reckon I could get used to it.
We enter the butchers, where instantly they're asked what they would like to drink. Someone reappears with potent cocktails of e-numbers and doubtless banned colourants, thoughtful none the less. And very welcome.
I'm bid to take a seat and offered one of a dozen different brands of cigarettes neatly stacked on the glass chiller cabinet counter directly above the food. Along with several ashtrays. Tea, coffee, cold drink?' I'm very impressed with the service already and we haven't even started on the meat buying. For all they knew I could have just wanted to buy a pack of sausages.
The butcher produces a photo of his son and asks Celia if he likes him. She said it was no good, she couldn't marry him because he was six. To much laughter.
The butcher asks me what I would like and what I'm going to be cooking. I tell him Kofta. He asks for the fresh coriander that's in my shopping along with garlic cloves and proceeds to mince them all together with the lamb I've bought, so I'll have little work to do when I get home. I buy a leg of lamb also, he bones it then cuts all the fat off first, before weighing it. All of this takes a good half hour along with good-natured bantering.
As I'm completely ignorant of tipping, ask the butcher how much I should give the Baluchi who is waiting patiently outside. He suggests 2-3 dirhams. I pay the butcher 136 dirhams, inadvertently giving him a 50 dirham note instead of 5 dirham note which he tells me about straight away.
As we go to leave they ask how I was getting home, and said they had a car waiting, and true enough there was. Door open ready. Extraordinary. I thank them for their kindness but insist on getting a taxi. Explain that I'm a married woman and my husband wouldn't like it at all and that I'm sure they understood. To which they responded, 'no problem, OK your husband doesn't like our car, we come round to see you in a taxi'. Oh God!!
Safely outside, I survey the scene, roll up my trousers, lift Celia onto my shoulders and wade through 6 day old noxious-looking grey flooding to look for a taxi. Baluchi still in tow. After bundling them into a taxi and unloading my shopping I nervously offer the Baluchi 3 dirhams. There is a momentary pause, then his expression darkens and he starts jumping up and down on the spot and shouting furiously. I take it that wasn't enough. A crowd starts to gather, within a few seconds there are hundreds gathering round. I start to panic and hurriedly offer another dirham and tell the taxi driver 'Hamdan St – fast.'