At Dubai’s Gold, Textile and Spice Markets

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Dubai is known for massive malls housing luxury outlets but the souks in Deira mean it’s a shopping destination with something for everyone, writes Demola Ojo…

Another Dubai Shopping Festival just ended. The annual event that offers amazing discounts and exclusive deals was another opportunity for shoppers the world over to converge on the city that has taken advantage of its geographical location to become a hub connecting the world; east to west, north and south.

The Dubai Mall in Downtown Dubai was a magnet for shoppers as usual. At various times, Dubai Mall has been the most visited location in the world. The largest mall in the world with over 1,200 shops was filled with those looking for quality products at discounted prices. Paris Gallery with its collection of jewelry, wristwatches, perfumes, eyewear, leather goods and accessories was one of these shops with a steady stream of buyers.

A leading luxury retailer in the Middle East, the store offers a premium collection of over 650 international brands across several product categories. It’s opulent shopping environments, innovative retail concepts, service standards and signature Arabic hospitality practices were apparent when this writer passed through.

After I pick up an Armani Oud, an attendant walks up, leads me to a glass table with leather seats and offers me coffee. He’s Iranian and has been living in Dubai for seven years. He wants me to buy a bottle of Music de Parfum exclusive to Paris Gallery. “You will not find this anywhere else in the world,” he assures. It comes at a steeper price than the earlier purchase, but that’s what you get for exclusivity.

I deflect. I’ll be back tomorrow, certainly. But there’s a burly African at the counter with his teenage son. He cuts the figure of a likely buyer. He’s worth a try. “He bought already,” the shop attendant says. “He’s Nigerian. A lot of them come here because our items are unique. And they can get the best deals.”

This was just one of the many indications of Nigerians being regular shoppers in Dubai. But it doesn’t just stop at the Dubai Mall and its luxury outlets. The great thing about the shopping festival, and Dubai in general, there are different places to shop.

The Souks

A Souk or souq is Arabic for a traditional open-air marketplace. The vibrant Deira area in Dubai has a few famous souks; the spice souk, gold souk and textile souk are a few of them.

The shopping festival wasn’t restricted to the Dubai Mall; at the souks, the sellers were willing to listen to offers and good-natured bargaining.

The Spice Souk has spices from all around the world. The souk comprises several narrow lanes which are lined with open and closed-roof stores. There are bursting bags rare and common spices; saffron which apparently costs about $40,000 per kilogramme, ginger, mint, turmeric, frankincense and many herbs used in Arabic and South Asian food.

Adjacent to the Spice souk is the gold souk. Dubai and gold go together and many visitors to Dubai are there for the gold that can be found at this market. Many Nigerians too, and for generations apparently. The tell-tale sign? The Arab traders after finding out you’re Nigerian astonishingly start speaking Yoruba. “Ba wo ni?” “Kilonshele?” “So wa pa?” There is a Nigerian outlet too, with a mannequin decked in traditional Nigerian attire with ‘Papa Nigeria’ boldly written on it.

The souk consists of over 300 retailers that trade almost exclusively in jewellery. Retailers in the souk include both well established global brands as well as smaller stores that operate mainly in the gold souk. By some estimates, approximately 10 tons of gold is present at any given time in the souk.

The Gold Souk is a visual wonder. All forms and sizes of gold; rings, bracelets, chains… 21 carats, 24 carats. Again, from all around the world, with majority from Italy. And not surprisingly with Dubai, the biggest ring in the world, with an estimated cost of $3 Million.

Unlike the Gold and Spice Souks that are close to each other, the Textile Souk is a five to ten minute abra cruise (boat ride) away via the Dubai Creek. The cruise is a great opportunity to see some of Dubai’s skyscrapers, while also drawing breath for another round of haggling.

This is because the Textile Souk is one of the few places in the world where an array of colours, textures, weaves and embroidery from around the world can be found. Thte good news again is the pricing.

It dawned on this writer why Nigerian traders have flocked to Dubai for years; for gold, textiles, luxury goods and more. The choices are wide, the quality good, the prices right. The souks on one hand and the malls on the other mean Dubai is a well-placed market that has something for everyone.