Set on the water’s edge, overlooking the shimmering creek where the evening sky takes on an orange glow, the beautiful promenade at the Waterfront Market in Deira is a fitting locale to enjoy the panoramic views of the spectacular Corniche. Here you can cherish the gentle pace of life as you watch the abras go past, soak in the sights of the up and coming Deira Islands in the distance or cross paths with fishermen who go about their daily routine. And as the late evening breeze wafts through, it carries with it the delicious aroma of spices and herbs and the smoky flavour of freshly grilled seafood.
Located at the intersection of Al Khaleej and Abu Hail streets on the Deira Corniche in Dubai, the tranquil, serene surroundings of the Waterfront Market belie the frenzy and brisk pace of business that goes on behind its swanky, glass doors. A far cry from the largely non air-conditioned, warehouse-style old Deira Fish Market, this new market is more glitzy, state-of-the-art and mall-like both in appearance and shopping experience.
A large chandelier with hanging fish sculptures dominates the atrium, where you are greeted by the sight of coffee shops, mobile phone kiosks and a range of street shopping options from faux jewellery and hair accessories to fluffy slippers, night wear and tees and pants selling from as little as Dh10. There are pharmacies, money exchange houses, specialty stores, incense shops, and even gold jewellery showrooms to enhance shopping options for visitors.
An imposing 120,000 square metre purpose-built facility, ‘the Waterfront Market builds on from the iconic status of the six-decade-old Deira Fish Market that was shut down last year and has been conceived as a community-friendly venue and shopping destination for the whole family,’ says Sami Eid, marketing lead, Ithra Dubai, which operates the Waterfront Market. ‘So while we have fresh produce in the form of fish, meat, vegetables and fruits, we also have retail shops and leading food and beverage outlets and a soon-to-be-opened leading hypermarket to offer a plethora of choices for consumers habituated to an all-in-one shopping destination.’
A further attraction, he adds, is the presence of an Amer centre on the first floor – a one-stop point for all visa services in Dubai.
Wedged between two metro stations, Al Ras and Palm Deira, and with the availability of water taxis on the waterfront and plans for an RTA bus stop within its premises, the Waterfront Market sits in a convenient, accessible location with ample public transportation facilities.
When the Waterfront Market opened for business in August 2017, it more than raised the stakes on all fronts by placing a premium on customer satisfaction, quality, cleanliness and service. The beautifully designed market with its airconditioned retail space also ranks high in odour control and adheres to stringent hygiene regulations. Walking through the alleyway of coffee shops and fancy stores, no one can tell that just a few feet away lies the largest fish market in Dubai.
How fresh is fresh?
Nothing can beat picking up plump, fresh fish, with their trademark ‘fresh’ characteristics of clear eyes, red gills and a hint of the smell of the sea. With over 500 fish stations neatly laid out with an incredible array of fresh catch in all shapes, sizes and colours, Dubai residents are clearly spoilt for choice for as many as 350 species of fish find their way here during the course of a year. On average, says Sami, 200 tonnes of fish and seafood are circulated daily in the market in peak season.
We are talking of large blue crabs stacked atop each other — their pincers spread out on their sides — local favourites such as hammour, spangled emperor and golden trevally, humongous kingfish neatly sliced to perfection, even tiny anchovies and heaps of sardines, and an assorted variety of crustaceans including clams, cuttlefish, squid, and gigantic lobsters.
Fish caught off the waters of the UAE are brought in by fishing vessels on the waterfront area where they are sorted and readied for auction in the wee hours of the morning. Trucks bring in fish from other regions including Oman and India.
Anthony and Juanith, from the coastal Indian state of Goa, are here for the kingfish, shark, prawns, lady fish and pomfret. ‘We were regulars at the old Deira market and our loyalty continues as we shop here at least twice a week,’ says Juanith. ‘There is so much variety, we can enjoy a different fish every day of the week at affordable rates and at such great quality.’
For Yosef Al Naber from Jordan, it is the cleanliness of the place that has bowled him over. ‘There is no stench, no fishy smell, you don’t see the blood and open guts spilling all over – it is a very good place to bring children too as it is very hygienic.’
A young Ukrainian couple seem to have brought their young daughter precisely for this reason, and the little girl makes for a pretty picture as she poses happily with a large catch in her hands.
The fish cutting and cleaning area, adjacent to the market, is where for a small fee, sometimes as low as Dh2, you can get your choice scaled, chopped, filleted or sliced as per your requirement. You can relax in the seating area until your token number pops up on the digital screen, or wander off to the other markets for more shopping.
Deep cleaning of the fish market takes place for two hours each day to ensure that hygiene standards are maintained at all times. ‘In addition, Dubai Municipality officials and an external consultant body also monitor the hygiene and safety standards of the place. They also ensure that what is sold here adheres to the UAE’s sustainable fishing guidelines,’ says Sami.
Of prime cuts and prepped offerings
The neatly-laid-out meat market displays heads of lambs, kidneys, brains, intestines, tripe, tongue, liver and a horde of other offal cuts, or everything from nose to tail, and is clearly a carnivore’s delight. A wide selection of fresh beef, lamb and poultry — from the UAE and other countries including Australia — ooze freshness in a rich red colour. Get these custom cut or opt for mince, cubes or strips as you desire. ‘What the customer wants, the customer gets,’ says Mostafa, smiling, as he cubes a super fresh chunky slab of beef in just a few seconds.
Feel the crunch, taste the flavour
A riot of colours meet the eye as you enter the vegetable and fruits section at the Waterfront Market. This is where you can find the season’s freshest produce including locally grown and sourced products straight from UAE farms.
A veritable tasting haven, juicy oranges, crunchy apples and mouthwatering grapes vie for attention alongside a range of exotic fruits from around the globe such as physalis, soursop, kiwano, snake fruit, durian and loquat, amongst others. Here, ‘more’ packs greater value – so go for larger quantities as they hardly dent the wallet.
Taste, and pick up an assorted array of the choicest dates from medjool and halawi to khadrawy and khalas while also grabbing handfuls of fresh-from-the-farm leafy vegetables and herbs.
‘Some of the items may be cheaper in supermarkets but you won’t get the same quality and freshness that you find here,’ says Tintin, a young Filipino mother while doing her weekly shopping. ‘There is a huge difference in flavour and texture.’
She has some favourite stalls here, she adds, as her husband and 5-year-old son relax comfortably on one of the many seating arrangements inside the vegetable market area. ‘The price for the quality and nutrition I get for the produce in this market cannot be compared with what is available on supermarket shelves.’
Spice it up!
Head to the dry goods and spices section to spruce up your dishes with a hint of Middle Eastern flavour. From the basic cumin, tahini, dried lime and zaatar, this is also a place to pick homemade pickles, chutneys and date sauces. Raw mangoes and pineapples in brine are a hit with consumers as well as masala-laced ghee and fish oil, says Ibrahim, who handles three stalls. ‘But our number one selling item is locally sourced organic hen, duck and quail eggs. Our stocks run out by evening every day.’
In the dry foods section, you can buy essentials such as rice, a variety of dals and spices either in bulk or smaller quantities. From an African store selling a choice of traditional fresh and packaged products such as yam, fufu, red oil, tapioca powder and palm cream to another retailer whose heavenly French chocolate truffles are a treat like no other, there is an abundance of choice for everyone in this section.
Hotpack, a Dubai-based food packaging manufacturer, has opened their latest outlet here and presents an impressive range of biodegradable products made from sugarcane waste, bamboo toothpicks and cutlery, flexible wooden bowls from China and the soon-to-be-introduced paper straws to combat the scourge of single-use plastic. According to Abdul Jebbar, MD, ‘Our customers come from across Asia, Africa and the Arab regions and sales peak here from Thursday to Saturday. What is interesting is that we are getting a lot of repeat customers who first try our products and then place bulk orders.’
Will the presence of a hypermarket in the same venue eat into the business? ‘No,’ he says. ‘This is a bargain market; our prices are far better than what’s available at listed price stores, and value for money will continue to drive sales here.’
While on weekdays, the average footfall at the venue tends to hover around 22,000, it is on weekends — when more entertainment options spring up — that the visitor numbers cross the 40,000 to 45,000 mark. On weekends, the Waterfront Market buzzes with energy and takes on a festive atmosphere as bazaar-style shops fill up the main areas, taking up the shopping experience a notch higher.
The air is resonant with the haggling and the bargaining, and the loud voices of vendors enticing customers with their best deals of the day. Expect to score great prices for a leather purse, a novelty item or even leather pants. Family events including workshops and competitions to keep the little ones enthralled add to the community-friendly feel of the venue.
Mohammed Mubash, Showroom-in-charge at Dubai Gold & Diamonds Jewellery, also looks forward to the weekends as apart from residents, tourists throng the area. ‘We are therefore planning to increase our collection of light weight, 18-carat Spanish jewellery featuring clean lines and simple designs to cater to the tastes of the western tourists.’
He is eagerly awaiting the opening of the hypermarket ‘as this will definitely bring in families and boost our sales’.
According to Ahmad, an elderly vendor at the Waterfront Market, ‘Gone are the days when people asked specifically for what they wanted at a store, like a kilo of rice, a toothpaste or soap. Today, we walk between rows of well stocked aisles, picking up whatever catches our fancy, not having to ever ask for anything.
‘Products with attractive labels go into the shopping cart but here at the Waterfront Front market, what remains the key attraction for a large number of people is the opportunity to build a rapport with the vendor, rely on his judgment at times and when the produce passes hands, along with it also comes a bit of trust and loyalty. That alone will keep markets like this thriving for years to come.’
The fish section is open for 24 hours but closed for deep cleaning from 2pm to 4pm (Saturday to Thursday) and 12pm to 1.30pm on Fridays. The Meat & Poultry/Fruit & Vegetables/Dry Goods & Spices section is open daily from 6am to 1am.
CELEBRITY CHEFS FLOCK TO WATERFRONT MARKET
It is not just residents and tourists who are attracted by the vast range of fresh offerings at the Waterfront Market. Celebrity chefs too have begun making a pit stop at what is undoubtedly the largest integrated fresh food destination in the emirate. Recently, multi-Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsay visited the market while in Dubai. As a chef who gives premium value to sourcing and serving fresh food in his numerous restaurants around the world, Chef Ramsay expressed a pleasant surprise at the diversity of the choicest fresh ingredients available in the market. It won’t be long before produce from the Waterfront Market makes its way onto the tables at his Bread Street Kitchen & Bar at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai.
Early last month, Noboyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa, globally known as Chef Nobu, took a recent tour of the Waterfront Market in search of some fresh fish. ‘I am very impressed with the diversity of fresh fish as well as fruit and vegetables on offer at the Waterfront Market,’ he said, after having surveyed the fresh produce here. ‘Having opened Nobu Dubai at Atlantis, The Palm, 10 years ago, I can see such a notable improvement on the range of fresh seasonal produce now available in Dubai. There are so many items here that you just couldn’t find 10 years ago.’
The market has also hosted other chefs including Chef Barza, chef Boy Logro and Chef Levant Karahan from Pullman Hotel. The Waterfront Market seems to be rising in popularity as an ideal and convenient source for fresh food.
WHAT NOT TO MISS
Experience the diversity and culture of Iran with a treasure trove of traditional handicraft items such as mosaic lamps, enamel wall plates, wooden jewellery boxes, trinkets, coffee pot sets and other curios at the Craft House. A smaller collection of Turkish and Indian handicraft items are also available here.
For an organic range of Japanese tea including the famed matcha powder and Genmaicha, head to the Sencha Green Tea store. You can also find rose, grapes and white peach flavoured green tea. Handcrafted Japanese teapots in prices ranging from Dh110 to Dh260 make for a great buy.
If all that shopping makes you feel peckish, head straight to Paluto Restaurant by Chef Boy Logro or Yahya Seafood where you can hand over your cleaned seafood and have it grilled or fried and served with your marinade of choice. The lemon-herb sauce at Paluto is highly recommended. Alternatively, you can also choose from an a-la-carte menu. Or is it tea that you crave for a quick perk up? Or coffee? Cannot make up your mind? Then, the signature half coffee and half tea drink at CoffeeTea Fusion Café is what you need. Drink the top layer of tea first followed by the coffee at the base, or swirl up the concoction to savour the heavenly blend.
Catch the scene at a spirited lively auction from 11pm to 5am where restaurants, supermarkets and fish vendors vie for best prices for the day’s fresh offerings.