For the freshest catch in Dubai
Dubai’s fishing trade has existed since the earliest days of the emirate – long before the likes of the Burj Khalifa and Palm Jumeirah were even ideas. Nowhere is it more evident than at the Deira Fish Market in the historic heart of Dubai.
A bustling hive of activity, the market is best experienced early in the morning when the fishermen have just hauled in their catch. It may not be exactly pretty, but it’s tremendously atmospheric. The smell of freshly caught fish and the sound of loud chatter fill the air as you navigate your way around the white-tiled platforms, which display a wide array of fish and seafood caught locally and from nearby regions, such as Oman and India.
While chaotic on the surface, there is a method to the madness here. Not only are the prices far cheaper than anywhere else (haggling is expected), but it is one of the best places to find sustainable seafood. Although more endangered species like hammour (Arabia’s most popular fish), kingfish, and baby shark are sold, it isn’t difficult to steer towards the more sustainable, yet equally delicious local fish options such as shari (pink ear emperor), faskar (two-bar seabream), and jesh (yellow bar angelfish). Large, plump Omani prawns are also a highlight of the offering.
A lot of the seafood available at the Deira Fish Market is hard to come by elsewhere in the city, which is why you’ll find many of Dubai’s chefs here in the mornings. The traders are chatty and always ready to hustle, with typical bargain basement-style shout-outs of the different types of fish and “best price” claims. The smartest way to navigate your way around the market is with a few key Arabic phrases in your back pocket. Politely refuse a sale with the phrase “La, shukran” (“No, thank you” in Arabic) until you find something suitable, and if purchasing, bargain your price down – it’s part of the experience. Hustlers also walk around offering help, but it is best to avoid them, opting for a certified Dubai Municipality porter (identifiable by their uniforms) instead.
There is a large vegetable, meat and spice souk adjacent to the fish market, so for those shopping for their kitchens this is a one-stop shop. There’s also a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Grill and Shark, right next door, where customers have their seafood cooked on the spot. Plans are also afoot to build a brand new fish market to replace the existing one, in a traditional architectural style but with enhanced facilities for tourists.
Opening hours: The market is open from 5am every morning, and starts closing around lunchtime. Auctions take place in the mornings.
Getting there: Travelling by Dubai Metro is your best bet as Deira traffic can be congested. The closest station is Palm Deira.
When it comes to picking up gourmet gifts for seafood-loving friends, we’d suggest Arabian caviar – a relatively new product in the UAE. It’s available under the brand name Yasa, and is also served at various leading restaurants in Dubai.
For an even more authentic option, try malleh. A traditional form of salted, cured fish usually eaten with rice, malleh is available in smart, travel-worthy packaging from Malleh Gourmet, a specialty food store located in Jumeirah that offers traditional Emirati delicacies made by local ladies. As well as malleh, they also specialise in sehnah and mehyawah - sauces made from cured fish and traditional spices.