Al Fahidi Historic District — The real Dubai

Sand dune bashing, dinner while watching belly dance in desert or a tacky pic in dish dash. If that’s not all, usual selfie atop the tallest tower in the world or images of partying at one of the many clubs. Most of us reduce our Dubai trip to partying, eating out, shopping or other such similar and done to death experiences. From the best club in the city, which eatery offered the best view of the city, which restaurant was a dream beach dining destination to which mall offered what brands, almost everyone seems to stick to hotels and malls and have no other experience to boast of.
Little are they to be blamed as well, as the weather for most part of the year in this Emirate forces you to be indoors. But we were determined to explore the Emirati culture beyond the usual. Emiratis make roughly 20 per cent of local population. Yet, most we see them are driving their fancy cars along the JBR area or La Mer. It has always been an enigma that the interaction between the locals and expats is so limited that even after years of Indians touring or living there, no one ever talks of any knowledge or experience of local culture or cuisine.
With October to March being a good time to be outdoors and explore life beyond giant ultramodern steel and glass structures that dot the city, we didn’t mind getting off the usual grid.

al fahidi district dubai

Al Fahidi Historic District — The real Dubai
The best way to set it correct for us was to start at Al Fahidi Historic District. The heritage area that has been restored was and till today is also popularly known as Bastakiya Quarter. Rather than exploring your district on your own, it is best to reach Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. That is an ideal place to learn about Emirati culture, cuisine and the history of the Emirate. It turned out to be a perfect start with an Emirati breakfast.

As breakfast staples balaleet (sweetened vermicelli with strong rose and cardamom fragrance topped with an omelette) and dango or boiled chickpeas were being served, our guide explained how Maktoum dynasty transformed a fishing village that consisted of town of Dubai and a nearby village named Jumeirah into a bustling port town that became a global attraction for trade, tourism and financial service. It was a full meal with local bread regag, Emirati crepes muhala or pancake chabab.

There are a few restaurants that let you enjoy a feast like an Emirati

Having widened our culinary lexicon with these local staples, we embarked on a local tour of the district. The entire space is a calm journey back in time where sand couloured houses with natural air conditioning through wind towers housed the locals. Out of the original 60 or so houses in the area, most have made way for places such as Arabian Tea House and Make Art cafes, Coffee museum, Mawaheb art gallery, Alserkal Cultural foundation and a cinema. We were told merchants had settled there to take advantage of tax breaks that Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum introduced in 1901. The entire area was to be redeveloped but got restored as a heritage district.

The coffee culture is one of the least explored aspects of Dubai. Set it right here.
Creek Course
As the Creekside walking tour took us from Al Bastakiya to Diwan mosque to textile souq and then aboard the traditional way of commuting, an abra boat to Deira, the English speaking Emirati guide bombarded with questions commented how it is very normal for people to ask so many questions as not many tourists make the effort to know the history and culture of the place.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is a great place to know more about the Emirati culture and traditions

The market to shop for spices and local aretfacts is very popular with tourists
After a day of living and breathing original space, we wanted to explore more of the same on the second day of our trip. It was to be a day to enjoy the ‘Birds of prey’ that turned out to be an interactive session about locals tradition of petting the birds through ages and other tour named ‘Desert friends’ that educated us about the history of camel and its importance in the region.
The tours usually started with enjoying Arabic tea with dates and post it we would find ourselves places serving local main course dishes thareed, a chicken and vegetable stew and kabsa or ‘Emirati biryani’ that would have whole pieces of meat of your choice. Each of those meals were rounded with the Arabic version of our gulab jamun named luqaimat.
A typical two day, three night trip of Dubai package will not mention any of these activities. While it is perfect to post images against glitzy backdrops, these experiences will set your trip apart from others.

For details: Al Fahidi District 

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  1. The culture of the emirates is truly diverse. Here we can find absolutely any things and entertainment just by visiting the old part of the city

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