Ajman Fish Market might be less than an hour’s drive from the bright lights and futuristic cityscapes of Dubai, but it feels like it belongs to another world entirely.
The market, situated in the emirate’s creek off Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street, is regarded as one of the main attractions of Ajman. A few minutes spent there will tell you why.
It is every bit the typical marketplace, with customers haggling with fishmongers over the likes of hammour, safi, tuna and kingfish – all of which had been brought ashore that day, in some cases only a matter of minutes ago.
The market, which opens at 7am, is a hive of activity throughout the course of the day but it truly comes alive at 6pm, when the evening auction begins.
People regularly come from all over the UAE to take part in the auction and rub shoulders with Ajman residents, all eager to sample an experience that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
“Other emirates have fish markets but they are nothing like this. Everyone here is local,” said Humaid Khalfan, an auctioneer.
“The auction takes place twice every day. The first auction is in the morning after prayer time and then there is the evening one.”
He did not have time to say anymore as he sprang into action with his loudspeaker, bellowing prices and accepting offers from the crowds pushing against each other in the hope of picking up a bargain.
It is all good-natured, of course, as Mr Khalfan acts as master of ceremonies – one second sharing in the joy of someone having an offer accepted, the next consoling someone who has been outbid at the last moment.
The crowds at the auction are made up of people from all walks of life. Some are local business owners hoping to pick up a bargain they can sell on to other establishments, while others come from other emirates to try and buy produce that none of their rivals will have in stock.
Others peruse the market simply because they want to something fresh and tasty for their dinner.
The market is not just a key driver for the local economy, however. Hiba Aliou, marketing executive for the local Fairmont Ajman hotel, said the fish market is a crucial part of the emirate’s identity.
“Fishing has always been an industry that has been synonymous with Ajman,” said the 32-year-old Algerian, who now calls Ajman her home.
“Focusing on the fishing industry allows Ajman to differentiate itself from other emirates. Dubai identifies with many different lifestyles but Ajman is associated first and foremost with fishing.
“The fish market makes Ajman more distinctive and it shows the region is still in touch with its Emirati roots and history.”
Her colleague, Abdelaziz Lbouir, who works as director of security, agrees that the fish market and auction is intrinsically linked to life in Ajman.
“Why would anyone buy their fish in a supermarket when you can buy it here cheaply and be able to interact with the local community right here who will cook and clean it for you?” said the 38-year-old Egyptian, who lives in Ajman.
“This is the real Ajman. We often bring guests at the hotel here because it shows them a truly authentic example of what life is like for the people of Ajman.
“There is a simplicity of life here that is not artificial.”
Mr Lbouir said the Fairmont hotel also brings guests to the auction because it is an event that is close to the heart of the people of Ajman.
Another business that has reaped the benefits of the fish market is the nearby Al Senyar Restaurant.
“Business is good because of the people that the fish market brings here,” said Mohammad Omur, who works at the restaurant, which is next door to the fish market.
“People come to the market from everywhere in the UAE.”
One of the most common faces at the market is Ahmed Aisa Ahmed Salem, who works as an inspector for the Ajman Fishermen Association.
“The market has been here for over 40 years and people know about it all over the world,” he said.
“You can find fish markets in any emirate but they don’t have what we have. We have fishes that are unique to Ajman like safi.
“People come from all the other emirates. They buy our fish and take it back home because there is nothing like it anywhere else.”
Hany Sailm, 37, from Egypt, lives in Ajman. Like many others in the emirate, he works in nearby Dubai but he makes a point of calling into the fish market each day on his way home from his job at Philadelphia Private School.
“I prefer life here as it is much quieter and you can relax more,” said Mr Sailm, who lives close to the fish market.
“The market brings a lot of people to the area and they can see that we are a community.”
Another local resident is Amirah Hamdy, 36, who decided to move to Ajman because of the quieter pace of life.
“Dubai is amazing but it can be hectic at times,” she said.
“That is why I like it here so much, it is much quieter and people are so friendly. My family loves the fish market because we know the food is always fresh and we see it being brought up from the boats and cleaned for us.”