Beyond the glittering malls of Dubai

For travellers looking to explore Dubai once COVID 19 pandemic restrictions are lifted, here are a few places that offer an authentic Emirati experience

For those looking beyond the shopping malls and the gold, the spice and the perfume souks of Dubai, the city has a distinct history and tradition. Though much of old Dubai had to be modernised to match its new cosmopolitan image, it still retains parts where the traditions and the past have been preserved.

As the UAE is set to open to Indian tourists, here are three aspects of Emirati culture that a visitor can experience in Dubai.

Serving Arabic coffee, gahwa, is an important part of Emirati hospitality

The Gahwah

Arabic coffee, known as gahwah, is a vital component of Emirati hospitality. “Serving Arabic coffee, the gahwa, is customary. It is a ceremony in its own right. You are served only a quarter cup and if you need more, you have to ask for it,” says Ahmed Sowaidan Al Jafflah, protocol manager of Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), which organises heritage tours to educate tourists on the history and culture of UAE. “If you don’t want more coffee, you have to shake the cup,” he adds. Though the beans come from different parts of the world, the coffee is a unique concoction made of coffee, rose water, cardamom and saffron. It is usually bitter, but those who wish can add sugar. Traditionally, it is hadwith dates. An Emirati family receives guests in the Majlis (a seating area for socialisingwhere guests are entertained).

You can taste this at the Coffee Museum at Al Fahidi district in Bur Dubai.

The Barjeel

The Barjeel is the Arabic name for a wind tower. Built above the master bedroom in a traditional Emirati home, these were the official air coolers before the advent of the AC. They served as natural air coolers, cooling down the air at least by 10 degrees Celsius. Most houses had these structures and their walls were made of coral and mud. Some of them were also made of wood. A few of these ancient structures have been restored.

The Majlis Gallery, a 70-year-old home-turned-exhibition space, at Al Fahidi district, has a wind tower.

The historic Dubai pearls

Before the UAE stumbled upon oil, the chief driving force of its economy was pearl-diving. Pearl divers spent five summer months at sea, diving to retrieve oysters. They would set out in large dhows and had traditional diving gear. The men would apply coconut oil to soothe their skin. By the 1960s, once UAE discovered oil and artificial Japanese pearls took over the world, the pearl diving tradition came to an end. However, its pearl diving past has been preserved in The Pearl Museum, at Deira. The museum contains Sultan Ali Al Owais’s (former chairman of the National Bank of Dubai) collection of marine pearls and a collection of coins. The museum also displays a few of the diving gear early divers used. The museum is temporarily closed.

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