All that is Arab
All that is Arab Aisha Tariq
Visitors return to the Arab Market every year for items, and an experience, that can’t be had anywhere else in Abu DhabiEven in the middle of the week, the Arab Market hums with activity like a mall on a Friday night. At the end of the quiet, cavernous corridors of Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec), a bright, noisy, fragrant scene beckons.
“It’s good to come here when you want to change your mood,” says Abdulrahman, who is capping off the workday with a visit to the Arab Market. His wife, who has accompanied him, has other things on her mind. “Here you can find things you don’t see in the malls,” she says. “Traditional foods, good deals on clothes — there are many different kinds of items to buy here.”
Whether it’s the atmosphere or the shopping, Abu Dhabi’s annual Arab Market habitually outsells similar events that are staged throughout the year. “We have a Ramadan show, an Eid Al Adha show. But if you ask the exhibitors, the Arab Market is number one. Every year, people wait for this event,” says Qussai of Excon Middle East, which organises the market.
The Arab Market, this year running from May 1 to 12, usually takes place at the end of April or the beginning of May. More than 350 exhibitors display products running the gamut from crockery to jewellery, from sweets to home furnishings. While some vendors and goods come from outside the Arab Middle East (notably, Iran, India and China), the market focuses on Arab products.
“More than 50 per cent of the goods are imported from outside, especially for this event. Most are from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, Morocco, Egypt. If you go to the local market, you will not find the same things,” says Qussai.
Indeed, a stroll through the stalls of the Arab Market may yield some unfamiliar sights. In a stall brimming with metalwork, clayware and a variety of other useful and decorative items, Moroccan exhibitor Maryam helpfully explains a large, pink velvet cone sitting atop a golden tray. “This is a Moroccan design, used to cover food,” she says. “The small ones are for sweets or chocolate. The big ones are used in parties, to cover dishes of rice or meat.”
Her company, Atlas Maghreb, specialises in Moroccan products, some of which tie into unique cultural customs of the North African region. The clay pots can be used to cook food in underground ovens — a traditional culinary practice of the Berber people. A knee-high metal stand crowned with a shallow bowl and a teapot, says Maryam, is carried around at mealtimes for guests to wash their hands.
To complement the cooking and serving accessories widely available in the Arab Market, visitors will also find an abundance of food and vendors eager to give them a taste of it. At the “All Fruits Yemeni Honey” stall, large glass jars of honey sit on both outward-facing counters, in hues ranging from gold to deep brown. The jars are hexagon-shaped like the cells of honeycomb, which can also be purchased there. The vendors dip small plastic spoons into the jars, lifting them out with a twirl to break from the sticky mass below. Shoppers linger around with spoons in mouth, savoring the honey.
A little further down, vendors at the Palestinian “Olive Branch” step about at a quicker pace, alternating between containers of olives, pickles and other foodstuff imported from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. While serving customers, they also entice passersby with generous bites of pita bread dunked in flavored labneh (strained yogurt) or olive oil and za’atar (a mix of herbs and spice). “This is how we do it in our country,” insists one of the vendors, who won’t let anyone stand empty-handed near his stall.
Those exhibitors who can’t offer free food find other ways to draw in potential customers. Elegantly dressed salesladies hover near the stall belonging to clothing company “Assala Morocco Quftan”, modelling the dresses for sale behind them. “The exhibition makes people remember our name,” says designer Kassemi Intissar, describing how the same customers will return to her stall every year. The handmade garments are one of kind, she explains, pointing out a richly embroidered bridal dress of turquoise and pink that took a full 15 days to complete.
In contrast, vendors at the fragrance stall “Yasmin Sham” try to attract customers with the instantly recognisable rather than the unique. Next to identical bottles filled with clear to champagne-colored perfumes, glamorous ads for designer scents compete for attention. The Syrian company takes imported oils from France to its factory back home, where expensive, well-known fragrances are replicated and sold for a fraction of the cost, says exhibitor Molham. “People ask for what they see on TV or in the malls, because the smell is exactly the same. If you go to the mall you pay maybe Dh500, but here only Dh30.”
Visitors return to the Arab Market every year for items, and an experience, that can’t be had anywhere else in Abu Dhabi. And because the event is temporary and the products are exceptional, people shop without reserve. “If you look anywhere else, the thing will be different or it will not be the same price,” says organiser Qussai. “So if the customer likes it, she will get it.”