Friday, May 13, 2011

Sharjah Blue Souk

On Thursday I went with a women's group on a bus trip to the Blue Souk in Sharjah. Actually, I think the proper name is the Central Market, but as you'll see by the pictures, the outside of the buildings are done in beautiful blue tile, so everyone calls it the Blue Souk. It's about a 2 hour bus ride from Abu Dhabi.

Sharjah itself is really beautiful - somehow seems a little cleaner than AD, but that may have just been the first impression or a result of the bright sunny skies. The souk is made up of two huge buildings, one on either side of a small street. The buildings are then connected over the road in two places by large bridges that have shops in them as well. I'm not sure what makes one shopping complex a 'souk' and another a 'mall', but to me, the Blue Souk was just a large mall with a higher proportion of antique, gold, pashmina and carpet shops. Don't get me wrong, it's very nice and has some unique items and shops that you don't find much in Abu Dhabi, but if I had to do it all over again, I'm not sure it was worth 4 hours on the bus. I think what I'd like to do instead is make a weekend of it and find a few other things to do in Sharjah. Here are a few shots of the outside of the souk.

We arrived about 10:15 or so and shopped until about 1:00. My favorite places were the small antique shops crammed with all kinds of Arabic looking items. And I am not exaggerating when I say crammed - floor to ceiling and everything in between. I had to hold my purse close to my body while walking through for fear I'd knock something off the shelves. Bronze sculptures of camels (and reclining frogs - not sure what that's about), glass lamps, silver jewelry, wood carvings, antique coffee pots, knives and a whole lot more. I've got my eye on some of the glass lanterns, which are so beautiful, but I'm not ready to commit to one quite yet. I almost bought another pashmina in one of the shops, but couldn't get the price low enough to suit me so walked away from it. Pashminas are everywhere and I already have one, which I use all the time, so I'll pick up another one at some point, but I need to be in love with it. Side note: You'd think that with it being so hot, there would be no need for a wrap (pashmina) - the temp is over 100 every day now after all, but the problem is the hotter it gets outside, the colder they set the air conditioning. We were at Starbucks yesterday for a couple of hours while Brian did some work and I read and about 90 minutes in, I had to step outside and walk around the block to warm up (It was 107 yesterday!!) Anyway, I digress ...

After our shopping, we headed to the Sharjah Dhow Restaurant, which is a floating Dhow (boat) that serves traditional Arabic fare and the BEST mixed grill I've had in UAE. Here's a typical Lebanese/Arabic meal. You start with 2-4 cold starters - in this case, it was Houmous (the correct spelling for this part of the world), which is a mixture of chick peas (garbanzo beans), garlic, lemon, oil and sesame paste usually served with warm Arabic bread, which is similar to pitas but a bit thinner. We also had Fatoush salad, which is lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, crispy chip thingies and a light oil & vinegar dressing and I think Moutable, which is houmous with roasted eggplant and pine nuts.  After the starters, we were presented with a plate of mixed grill. This is an assortment of meats served with some roasted tomatoes and onions and often a type of yogurt sauce. It usually includes chunks of lamb, kababs of chicken, skewers of kofta, which is minced beef with spices, chunks of beef and Arayas, which is the kofta beef flattened between two pieces of arabic bread and then grilled (my favorite) - all of it flavored with so much garlic you can taste it the rest of the day. After your mixed grill, you are often presented with a bowl of fruit or an assortment of desserts. We didn't have any fruit or desserts on this trip - maybe because it was lunch or maybe that's just what they arranged. In any case, we were too full to have any anyway! It was a fantastic meal and just what we needed before our 2 hour bus trip back to Abu Dhabi ... ugh! :) Here is a photo of the restaurant and the surrounding park area.

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