It’s that time of the year when outdoor farmer’s markets begin springing up all over the UAE, and along with the fresh produce and healthy food options on hand, local vendors set up stalls to sell just about everything. From organic produce to artisan treasures, we have put together some of the must-visit outdoor food markets, to help you mark your calendar:
The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace
(See picture above) For the ninth year running, The Farmers’ Market on the Terrace by Dubai-based deli Baker & Spice returns to the Bay Avenue at Business Bay, next to the skate park. For six months of the year, up until May and in the shadows of the world’s tallest building, a group of organic UAE farmers sell their best locally grown produce, from tomatoes and cucumbers to cheese and farm-fresh eggs laid that morning. Baker & Spice also sells breads, cakes, jams and other delicious foods.
Organised every Friday and Saturday starting from 8am and running until 1pm, the market stocks aromatic herbs, the region’s sweetest honey, handmade jams and breads, plus vibrant fruits and vegetables sold directly by the farmers themselves.
It’s the definition of what a farmer’s market should be: a support system for local farmers who sell their freshly harvested produce directly to consumers, providing access to fresh goods at low prices. Get there early, as popular ingredients like kale sell out almost immediately.
Organisers say not to be turned off if you can’t always find what you’re looking for. “It’s still early in the season, which is why some produce is not available yet or only in smaller quantities. You can find lots of herbs, zucchini, butternut squash, chillies, radishes and cucumbers at the moment. As every week goes by, more produce and varieties will become available.”
Sally Prosser, a social media specialist from the United Kingdom, is a regular at the weekend market, and says it is her favourite activity in Dubai.
“This would be a great market anywhere in the world but in the middle of a city like Dubai, it’s astonishing. You can buy directly from 11 local organic farmers. The vegetables are so fresh and delicious – they’ve been picked a few hours ago – literally from field to market.
“Such reasonable prices and as a community market the proceeds go direct to the farmers – no middle man, no stall charges, no supermarkets trying to beat down the price for higher margins. It’s a wonderful atmosphere too – the only way to do your weekly shop,” she says.
Bregje Meuwissen, from the Netherlands, says the market has changed alot over the years. “It has grown from just three tables in the Marina years ago into this amazing array of the best, most tasty and freshest vegetables in Dubai. I never go to a grocery store during the winter months in Dubai; I buy all my fresh produce from the weekend farmer’s market.”
Ripe is now officially the reigning king of all markets and has earned its reputation as the region’s premier open-air offering.
It has reinvented weekend living in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The Friday market at Zabeel Park, from 9am to 3pm, attracts hordes of families, healthy eaters and serious shoppers for a perfect day out. It’s the perfect locale for an al fresco breakfast or lunch, and dozens of tables are set up with local designers selling everything from T-shirts made out of bamboo to handmade tutus, authentic Panama hats and movie memorabilia. Then there’s the night market in Al Barsha Pond Park on Saturdays from 10am to 8pm, complete with fitness activities like outdoor yoga, live acoustic music and outdoor film screenings, and this weekend, the market returns to Abu Dhabi’s Umm Al Emarat park tomorrow (28th) and will be held every Saturday afternoon thereafter, from 3pm until 10pm.
There’s even a Ripe market held on the grounds of Le Meridien Mina Seyahi every Wednesday afternoon, with the five-star hotel’s ocean-front outdoor amphitheatre taken over by stalls stocked with artisan crafts, stylish labels, food trucks and fresh produce straight from the Ripe farm.
When shopping for fresh produce at Ripe, make sure you get that out of the way first, and ask the vendors to hold onto your purchases for you, because fruits and veggies sellout fast.
The Market at The Beach
This one is a new, seaside, daily market, and has become almost a permanent fixture on the JBR sidewalk. It runs every day, from 10am until midnight and is filled with all sorts of gifts, food, homewares and apparel.
Even fresh flowers can be purchased there, and there are plenty of street food-style stalls set up by The Beach's resident restaurants, too. It's a great option for a day at the beach; you can pick up freshly cooked meals and snacks packaged to go and ready to be consumed on the sand.
The capital’s La Loupe market returns this weekend to the outdoor promenade at the Eastern Mangroves. It will be the biggest incarnation of the market yet and planned over two days – both Friday and Saturday – with more than 45 vendors, all homegrown in the UAE, scheduled to set up their stalls.
There will be plenty of food to sample – we especially like the fresh shawarma stands and wood burning pizza ovens of yester years – and live music, bouncy castles for the little ones, art classes and more. It starts at 11am and continues until 6pm.
Dubai Flea Market
You never know what you might find when you go flea market hopping, and Dubai’s flea market scene is certainly a growing one.
The next scheduled market will be held today at Al Barsha Pond Park, from 1pm to 6pm. It is usually held three to four times every month in various locations around Dubai, and everything is strictly secondhand.
At times, there are more than 300 stalls selling furniture, clothes, instruments, books, fabrics, toys, home accessories, crafts, ceramics, pottery and even antiques.
Head there armed with patience and your bargaining skills and expect to leave with some unexpected treasures.
Mark your calendars because after this weekend, the next flea market will be on November 4 at Zabeel Park, from 8am to 3pm, then November 10 at Al Nahda Pond Park, from 1pm to 6pm. The flea market will then be held at the JLT park on November 17, from 1pm to 5pm.
Blue Planet, Green People Market
The organic fruit and vegetable store in Jumeirah Lakes Towers hosts a farmers’ market in Cluster U every weekend, featuring farm fresh fruit, veggies, eggs and dairy products.
It’s held on Fridays, from 10.30am to 2pm, opposite the Dubai Marina Metro. And in addition to the fresh produce and delicious food on hand, you can browse clothes, handmade jewellery, art and toys at this market.
Why should you visit a farmer's market?
Nutritionally, educationally, socially and environmentally, there are considerable benefits to shopping for your fruits and vegetables at your local farmer's market. And because the UAE is the one place in the world where anything is possible, organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables in the desert are no longer an unfathomable idea.
"Shopping at farmer's markets makes sense for your wallet and your health," says Supraja Kumar, a Dubai resident who is a regular at farmer's markets and insists that shopping for fresh produce at the market is a far more superior choice than a grocery store.
"You might spend more initially, but the produce will remain fresh for longer and subsequently, last for longer as well, so you end up buying less - and wasting less - in the long run. You'll have access to a lot more organic produce, and hard-to-source super foods, at a reasonable price. Everything is perfectly ripe and ready to be enjoyed, not to mention it will be a lot more flavourable."
Our Favourite Market Finds
Keep an eye out for the #BookHero van, which shows up at various outdoor markets. It stocks used books for Dh10 to Dh20. It's a perfect way to snag your favourite title on a bargain.
Keep hydrated by drinking some fresh coconut water. The Coconut Man has a stand at most markets, and will crack open a king coconut for you for Dh15, or a green coconut for Dh10.
Furniture store Blanc D'Ivoire has started appearing at many of the outdoor markets, and was spotted at the Ripe market in Al Barsha Pond Park last weekend selling many of its home accessories from Bali. We loved the elephant head for Dh595 and the caged light pendants for as little as Dh395.
The Rusty Saw vendor sells Himalayan salt lamps in various sizes. The small, for Dh75, has a USB outlet and plugs into your laptop, while the medium is for Dh100 and the large for Dh150.
Field Roast Grain Meats are a new addition to the outdoor markets this season, stocking delicious, protein-packed vegan products which can also be ordered online. Everything from burger patties and frankfurters to sausages and deli meats, made out of grains and vegetables and packed with flavour. A pack of four apple sage sausages sells for Dh25; four burger patties for Dh30.
If you're looking for cool gift options, check out the Poster World stall, stocked full of movie memorabilia. Everything from printed posters, cufflinks and notebooks to mugs, 3D frames and pencil cases featuring your favourite Marvel super heroes, Harry Potter characters, Game of Thrones scenes and more.