For the tourists visiting Abu Dhabi from around the world, buying dates is a top priority when searching for a taste of the UAE to take back home as gifts for family and friends.
ABU DHABI // Date traders are in their element during the winter months at Mina Dates Market because the influx of tourists means they are doing brisk business.
It seems the little fruit serves as a great gift for family back home wanting a flavour of the Middle East as visitors throng the market between December and March.
The traders say most of their business is from Asians who have travelled from as far afield as China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan and India. Most are on day trips to the capital from Dubai.
“Business during the winter is very good and we earn much profit,” said Basheer Noushad of the Ali Ashoor Dates Company. “Tourists who flock to the market particularly love dry dates and buy in bulk to present to their relatives as gifts.”
He said summer brought different customers, but business remained decent.
“The number of tourists go down but our business remains good because this is the main season for dates in the Emirates,” Mr Noushad said. “At that time, we showcase a variety of ripe dates, which are very popular among locals and Arabs.”
About 20 small date shops in the market offer fresh and dried dates from across the region. There are also figs, date syrup and a selection of other dried fruits such as pineapple and apricot.
According to traders, up to 1,000 people a day visit the market and whenever a tour coach stops by the atmosphere becomes festive.
“Winter is the main season for tourists in the UAE and when they are here visiting the traditional fruit dates market is a must,” said Ismael Ibrahim of Al Raiqa Date Fruit Trading Company.
“When Dubai and Sharjah visitors come to Abu Dhabi a tour guide brings them here and that’s how our business remains good.”
Mr Ibrahim, who has been running his business at Mina for 11 years, insists that the quality of dates at the market is always superior to that in supermarkets and malls. “We offer more fresh dates to buyers”.
Pricing is also something that Mr Ibrahim said he had not changed in the past 10 years.
Dates at the Mina market are from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine and are priced from Dh10 to Dh140 for a kilogram.
Tourists visiting this week were keen to try before they bought and most seemed to enjoy the taste.
Roger Nguyen, who came from Dubai in a group of 20 Vietnamese, said his compatriots were buying cartons of dates to give to friends as presents.
“I love the UAE and don’t want to go back, but I have to as my stay here is only for seven days. But I would come back soon for a longer period,” he said.
“I didn’t know that this country is so open, so welcoming and that people are here from all nationalities. It felt great to see all these high-rise and well-organised cities.”
Another tourist, Peewee Almeda, from the Philippines, was with his wife. He said that he liked Abu Dhabi and its dates.
“This is the first time I have seen these fresh dates. Mostly I have found dried dates in supermarkets,” he said.
“First I visited the Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace Hotel then we came to this market to taste dates, which generally we don’t find in our country.
“We have plenty of lovely fruits but we don’t have dates, because it’s a special cuisine from Arabia.”
Ujjaval Patel, from Gujarat, India, was tasting the different dates at the market. “I thought that if I didn’t come to the UAE I would have been missing something in my life,” he said.