If you believe the hype, Dubai is considered to be the shopping capital of the world. With a mall on every street corner, there certainly are a lot of shops to choose from, but is it quality as well as quantity?
I'm not a big shopper and I'm certainly not a big browser. Whether it's clothes, housey stuff or food, I will always have a list and in the BIG Dubai shopping malls I have been known to plot my route on one of the location maps so that I can be in and out as quickly as possible. Sad do you think?
When we moved here 8 years ago, the options for food shopping didn't make my heart sing. It's not that there aren't heaps and heaps of options - plenty of vast supermarkets and a good spread of smaller Spinneys supermarkets (these are the ones where pork is available). And then Waitrose arrived. Now that did make my heart sing - albeit not my purse. And while we're on the subject of Waitrose, would any of you Dubai shoppers agree that the Al Thanya store is most definitely the coldest supermarket in the world? There's an Ice Queen in control of the AC in that place ...
But what I miss are the small independents - the kind of shops that make me want to browse (because if anything is going to make me browse it will be food for sure), the kind of shops where it is all about taste, quality, joy. Over the last few years, these certainly have popped up around Dubai but, to be honest, in order to keep control of our family budget, I haven't become a regular.
When I go the supermarket, most of my trolley seems to be filled with fruit and vegetables - just call us a family of gorillas - and I'm ashamed to say that until a couple of weekends ago I hadn't done any of my fruit and vegetable shopping at Dubai's Ripe Market. Ripe is a long established company in the UAE, supplying seasonal, locally grown, organic produce and their market at Zabeel Park on Friday mornings is a popular destination for a super-chilled morning of wandering, eating, browsing and grabbing a good coffee.
Anyway, there are 2 reasons why I've never done my fruit and veg shopping here -
- Friday morning is always jam packed with swim training - 3 children all swimming at different times and different locations means that there's not much of a super-chilled vibe going on there and instead a requirement for full-on taxi drivers.
- But the other reason, to be honest, is that I had expected the produce to be eye wateringly expensive.
So, with an unusually free Friday morning, I decided to give it a go. One camera, one daughter and one lovely husband in tow, I set out to have a look. There can be no denying that the vibe at the Ripe Market is unique in Dubai - a UK Farmer's Market with some sunshine thrown in. There's plenty of friends getting together, stalls to grab a tasty breakfast ... merging into lunch ... and lots of crafty stalls too (I picked up a gorgeous little dress for my niece and a cushion for the office in our house - hoping it will prove to be the inspiration that I need to make the room 'work'. That inspiration has been a long time coming.)
The produce area takes up a hefty corner of the market, and, I can confirm, it did make my heart sing. Everything is fresh, beautifully presented and (most surprisingly) exceptionally well priced. Pots of herbs nestle up against bundles of kale; bags of onions neighbour with cucumbers and courgettes (zucchini); red and green fat chillies all bagged up and ready to go; cute, baby peppers, perfect radishes and those tomatoes - you know when you only need to touch a tomato to know it will be a taste sensation. And those spring onions too ....
So what did I learn about shopping for fruit and vegetables at RIPE?
- Great value for money - Cheaper produce is available elsewhere for sure, but this is high quality, organically grown and locally sourced - and so it shouldn't be dirt cheap. You absolutely get what you pay for. Compared to Waitrose and Spinneys, I felt it was very competitively priced.
- As fresh as can be - I bought a sizeable box of veggies but didn't get round to using them all until later in the week. Everything was still immaculate. I guess that's the benefit of it not having been shipped halfway round the world.
- A taste sensation - All of my purchases tasted great, but the highlights? The tomatoes for sure. No need to do a thing with them apart from eat and enjoy ... oh and make sure that they are at room temperature. And those eggs ... #1 teenage son and I enjoyed a poached egg breakfast after morning training. Laid with love, cooked with love - and wolfed down barely touching the sides. Oh and also the carrots. More on those later ...
- An impressive range to choose from - I hadn't known how much of a range to expect so had gone without my trusty list. I avoided a meltdown moment and did actually enjoy a bit of a browse and shopping based on what I fancied. It felt good too. In actual fact, the range was impressive and I liked the fact that it will change throughout the year and with the seasons.
- There's other places to buy RIPE as well as the markets - There's a shop too in Al Manara if the markets just aren't convenient for you. And they also deliver. For busy lives, I'm especially liking that option.
- And what about their produce boxes? - You know how it works ... you get a box of veggies / fruits / fruits & veggies delivered to you for the week. It's a mini lottery (in a good way) in terms of what you receive, but I did notice on the RIPE website that there seems to be a guide to what you can expect on that particular week. Seems a shame to spoil the 'What's In The Box?' game. I, for one, like that element of surprise.
- Buying your food from people who care about what they're selling - It means a lot to me to be buying food for my family from people who really care about the produce and where it has come from. There's a lot of that at RIPE and I like it.
So, would I go again? I'm completely in love with the produce but will only make it to the market once in a blue moon so my next stop is the RIPE shop to have a chat about their boxes and the delivery service. Fruit and vegetables are feeling exciting again.
Oh and back to those carrots.
They were my first purchase - quick, quick before they all go - and my most exciting one too. I'd seen an Ottolenghi recipe a while back for Honey Roasted Carrots with tahini yoghurt and these multi-coloured beauties were perfect. You could, of course, use regular orange carrots instead - but if you spot any like these ... pounce on them. And actually, I'm not going to say too much about the dish except that it was so utterly gorgeous that, if we hadn't been going out to dinner that night, I would have found a quiet corner and eaten the whole plate to myself. This is simple cooking, with the freshest of fresh ingredients. Roasting the carrots brings out their natural sweetness and adding a touch of honey and a few spices into the mix transforms an everyday vegetable into a taste sensation.
A perfect dish to serve in a mezze or a gorgeous vegetarian starter - or indeed, a meal for one with a glass of wine and a good book!