More Than A Market: Dubai

Occasionally I’ll stop and think about all of the places bodybuilding has taken me. While I’ve been all over Europe, covered some ground in South America, and even gone as far as Australia and New Zealand, I had never been anywhere in the Middle East. When ANIMAL asked me if I’d be interested in traveling to the Dubai Muscle Show, there was no question that I wanted to go. You see, I’ve enjoyed the people, the food, and the culture of every single country I’ve ever visited. Interestingly, although I love my home and the United States, I’ve found that the best cities and countries to visit were those that were most unlike home. Based on what little bit I knew of Dubai, I expected it to be very different from home. It was and it wasn’t. Either way, it was the most memorable place I’ve visited so far.

Big On The Burj Khalifa

Dubai, home to the world’s tallest building, is a city built upon the concept of bigger and better. On the surface, everything is shiny new, cutting edge, and meant to show that Dubai is a progressive city. At the same time, the culture is very much steeped in centuries old tradition. This might just be the most winning combination possible when it comes to food. Flat out, the food I had in Dubai far surpassed the food I have had anywhere else—EASILY. I believe that their long-standing cultural tradition in food preparation combined with access to the freshest and highest quality ingredients results in extraordinary cuisine, especially when it is met with an extremely potent desire to impress the world.

The newly constructed Dubai Waterfront Market is a perfect example of tradition and the future coming together to form a perfect union. The market, massive and modern in its construction and amenities, is packed with high quality local foods first, and then from abroad when necessary. The seafood section of the market, for example, contained an incredible variety of seafood, much of which was caught in local waters only a day or so before being offered for sale. The demand for—and access to—local food is a culinary win because importing highly perishable foods over extreme distances is rarely a good thing.

Nothing Like Fresh Fish

Perhaps one of the greatest things about the market is the fact that the fish you buy can immediately be cleaned and filleted to your liking. You also have the option to have it freshly prepared for you by one of the many restaurants at the rear of the market. There is a certain can-do attitude that exists in Dubai that you do not see in all places. You want fresh fish? No problem, this came in this morning. You want it cleaned? No problem, just tell the guy how you want it done. You want it cooked? No problem, there’s a place around back. Essentially, everything is possible. I love that.

Not only does the market feature an extensive variety of fish, but there are also areas dedicated to meat and poultry, produce, and dried goods and spices. In the dried goods section, I found myself staring at over 50 varieties of dates from all over the Arab world. I left with 10 pounds of dates—a new addiction and a terrible frustration that I’m unable to find anything remotely similar at home.

Bodybuider's Food Haven

The food in Dubai is as close to being perfect for a bodybuilder as I’ve ever seen. There is plenty of protein everywhere; lamb, poultry, and seafood are all abundant. What’s more is the fact that the foods are prepared so perfectly with the liberal use of digestion-friendly spices. I was easily able to eat very large quantities of food without any discomfort. What really impressed me was the variety and unique preparation of vegetable-based salads. Being able to pair proteins with great vegetable sides made me feel as though I could eat almost nonstop. And, of course, in the Middle East, rice is everywhere and it’s steamed to perfection. I have never eaten so much great food and felt so good while traveling before.

Even my hotel featured great food. I was amazed by the spread offered each night for dinner: braised lamb falling off the bone, chicken livers, fresh fish, steamed rice, and a seemingly endless variety of freshly prepared vegetable salads. When I asked the hotel manager to have a list of food prepared and delivered to my room each morning, he responded “This is no problem. Let me get the chef. Tell him what you want him to make for you.” How’s that for accommodating?

In the end, a food market is simply an extension of a culture. What they have to offer and how they offer it is a reflection of their values. I saw people proud to sell a variety of food that was both plentiful and top quality. I found that no reasonable request would be denied and almost all things were possible and accessible. In Dubai, there is an ever-present desire to get things done. This is a rare quality in a person, but even more so in a city.