When you live in the UAE long enough, and you’ve been through enough summer, winter and shopping festivals, they slowly start losing their charm. And this doesn’t happen overnight. You realize it through the little things, like when someone mentions fireworks and you go ‘meh..’, or when you actively ignore all posts related to the Global Village. It’s those Chinese products & Nutella crepes everywhere, you grumble to yourself, disillusioned by the claims of authentic ethnic discoveries.
It is that exact sentiment (and the insane traffic) which kept us away for the last couple of years. And we had no intention of visiting this year either. But this Friday, we set out to visit the new season of the Dubai Miracle Garden, and because we’re so used to doing things the Arab way, despite our 3 pm start, we watched the sun set on the Dubailand road at a cool 7 pm.
The Miracle Garden having lost its appeal (what good is a visit with no natural lighting to take pretty pictures for instagram?), and with the Global Village pin bobbing about on our Google maps, we decided to give it a shot, if only for the food and rides. Atleast dinner’s sorted, we thought, with no real expectations of much else.
And, surprisingly, unexpectedly, we had such a stuff-your-face and buy-more-than-you-can-carry brilliant time, that it was only the sight of grumpy, sleepy stall vendors and packed up stalls at 2 am which made us finally leave.
Trying to find parking at 7 pm…
Leaving at 2 am with the stall vendors. How distractingly pretty are those lights?
Now, we’re not saying you won’t find your share of mobile case vendors peppered across the pavilions. Or that popcorn & nachos won’t be sold as an ethnic delicacy in Saudi Arabia. But, for every cheap makeup stall, you will find another which will surprise and delight you, and make you furiously click away on your camera in a bid to share your excitement over your discoveries.
As proof, here are our excited clicks.
The Indian pavilion was the closest one to our gate, calling to us with beautiful bright lanterns and the vibrancy of a market in the heart of Mumbai. Vendors and customers haggling away enthusiastically (okay half your price half my price okay bas now this is the ek dum final price), pretty Indian shoes (called ‘mojris’) resembling blinged up pointy ballet flats and a guy selling the most beautiful patchwork giant elephant rug we have seen (pictured above). If we were slightly disgruntled and apathetic before, we now felt rejuvenated and ready to explore.
If you’ve been here before, you know that around every pavilion there are food stalls, enticing you with their flashy signboards and wafts of freshly cooked street style food (and in the case of the self-proclaimed Kings of Egyptian Fatayer (pictured above), with their lofty claims).
After picking up some standard karak at inflated prices, some warm sticky luqeimat seemed like the way to go. But with the crowds thronging the Heritage Cooking stall (several elbowy bruises were suffered to get that blurry picture above), we decided to pass up, and make do with visually gratifying ourselves (didn’t work).
Mentally making a note to try out the strangely named Control restaurant after reading Arva’s poetic description of their food, we decided to settle on some Turkish icecream for the time. It had a line acceptable enough to give it credibility.
.. but it wasn’t anything to write home (or blog) about. It was acceptable, but tasted pretty generic, if slightly creamier and milkier than regular ice cream. It slightly dampened our spirit of discovery, but we believe in second chances, so we decided to give the Turkish another chance to make up for it. Let’s see what you can do with a baked potato, we challenged our Turkish friend Ekram at the counter.
“What would you like in your potato? Some veggies? A dollop of burghul?” “Everything, please.”
Best. Decision. Ever. If you go to Global Village for nothing else, go for this golden, yogurty, over-stuffed, mis-matched explosion of awesomeness. Your tastebuds will thank you forever. The creamy, perfectly seasoned yogurt sauce, mixed with the gloriously spicy chili paste, flirting with some corn and olives here, a little mushroomy burghul there; we were in a state of starchy nirvana.
At this point we should add a disclaimer. Everything now seemed beautiful and delightful through our Turkish potato tinted glasses; we’re not sure if that actually was the case.
Case in point? The pavilion we visited right after our little carbfest was Saudi Arabia. And we loved it.
Yes that’s our awesome new iPhone cover. And yes, those are Kahwa cups. Can’t get over how amazing it looks. Also, how cute are these little karak & friends tags? But there was something far more awesome, and no amount of 5 year old style kicking and screaming would get the family to agree to buy it.
…A giant karak teapot!
We need someone to buy it because it just needs to be bought. If you’re that someone, please send us a picture so we can move on with our lives.
While sulking and wandering about, we heard some catchy upbeat music, and followed the beat to the Pakistani pavilion, where, would you believe it, an entire fake wedding was being staged! It was like watching a Bollywood song-and-dance routine live, with all the wedding traditions being performed with gusto. There was even a male/female dance-off! We found ourselves cheering them on, swaying to the music, and when things became emotional and the songs got mellow, the drama got too intense so we distracted ourselves by haggling for some marbled ornaments.
As we left, we could see the rides glittering and calling to us in the distance. We resolved to go after a couple of pavilions.
On our way to the Chinese pavilion (which used to be the only redeeming part of Global Village in our previous visits), we weren’t going to stop by Yemen. But there was a giant spice shop right by the entrance. Well played, Yemeni landscapers. Walking in, inhaling the heady aroma of fresh spices, a lazy half hour was spent being educated by the Yemeni in awkward sign language about the spices of their country.
Ofcourse, a stop at Yemen isn’t complete without checking out their famous pure honey. But forget about replenishing your sidr supply here, the new honey on the block is ONLY FOR MARRIED, an extra strength honey to help you deal with your spouse. Says a lot about what the Yemenis think about the institution of marriage 😉
In our Turkish food daze, and in need of something savory after our interesting honey tasting session, it didn’t take much convincing on the part of the friendly Borek man to stuff our faces with freshly baked Turkish cheese layered with crispy flaky pastry, melting into each other in a union of guilty pleasure. Which is why we came here right? No point holding back now, we argued with our healthy inner voice. I mean, look at that gorgeous Borek.
Now that sufficient amounts of grease and calories had been consumed, we felt ready to take on the mammoth pavilion of China. Be warned though, once you enter, not only do you get lost in the labyrinth of quirky stalls, but in between excited squealing and aggressive picture taking, you lose track of time and suddenly it’s 1 am, and you’re torn between the overwhelming panic over the many pavilions you still need to visit, and not wanting to leave because where else can our inner narcissist make our own creepy doll (or buy a creepier one of Steve Jobs whispering ‘my preciousss’ to the iPad)?
There was one stall in particular that was a quirky little foodie haven. Manned by a disinterested old Chinese man who had gone a little crazy with a sharpie (No Bargain! Fixed Price Only! being the wall decor) this stall had cute & well-made kitchen tools and ornaments, at extremely reasonable prices!
At 1 am we trudged out of the Chinese pavilion, exhausted, hungry but determined to fit another country into our day’s travels. And found it fitting that the next pavilion we found was none other than Turkey. And after delighting us with its delicious homey authentic food, we wanted to pay our respects. So we trudged on.
And we’re so glad we did. There were beautiful handcrafted bags, enough to put a lot of designers to shame. Other Turkish handicrafts were stunning too. Each one so intricately detailed, and well-designed. And the best part was the humility of the vendors. Such friendly, smiling faces, always welcoming, no fake sales tactics, just pure pride in their country and their work, and that shone through everything they did. More than anything else, we were glad to have met such a community, and shared in their culture and heritage.
And their marshmallow filled Turkish Delight in so many unique flavors (our favorite was the chocolate coconut), provided the sweetest ending to an unexpectedly amazing, culturally enriching night at the Global Village.
And we lived happily ever after.. except we stopped outside the gate for some karak chai, which was over (always thought that pot was bottomless, but it was a cold winter night). So the guy offered to make us some karak coffee instead. Never, ever take up a malbari karak vendor on an offer to make coffee. Unless you’d like to experience the slow death of your tastebuds with a sweet, sorry, rainbow-milk-thickened excuse for coffee.