Earlier this year, I had the chance to work for a project in Dubai, the City of Gold. One of the places I made sure to visit were the traditional markets- the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk.
A friend who now lives there took me to Deira, where the souk is located, via an abra (water taxi) trip across the Dubai Creek. And as things are big in Dubai, the creek is a actually wide river that took us about 5 minutes to cross.
The Spice Souk was a kaleidoscope for the senses. Everywhere you turn, there's something to see, smell and taste. For every every spice you had on your list, the stall owners had two to three variants. Ask for pepper and they'll ask back- "Black, green red or white?" There's also a container for everything- from palm-sized tin cans to sacks of whatever dried herb or fruit you want to bring home. On the side walk, you see Europeans haggling with frankincense vendors.
All I wanted was to buy dates for pasalubong but I ended up buying tea, of all kinds, saffron and even masala, a flavorfoul mix of dry-roasted spices, which I had never used for cooking before. Haggling is a key skill when buying anything. Good thing I used to do my Christmas shopping in Divisoria.
The Gold souk entrance, just a stone's throw away from the Spice Souk, was abuzz with vendors and tourists from all over the world. I swear, we could have held a Mr. and Ms. United nations contest right there and then.
It actually has a Divisoria feel to it except that, here, everything that glitters is gold, real gold. As an iconic destination, the quality of the goods in the Souk is strictly controlled by the government. Established in the 1900s, the Gold Souk boomed in the 40's and 50's after traders from India and Iran set up shop and took advanatge of Dubai’s free trade policies.
After walking around the whole day, lugging all the goodies, I had to energize myself to walk back to the quay. This is where I stumbled upon this non-descript stall selling gelato made with camel's milk.
This is a camel.
If you notice, there isn't much water. So, how can the camel produce enough milk to make gelato?
The answer is they only have enough milk for a few gelato stands and some bottled milk manufacturers. Camel milk remains a growing industry as there aren't as many camels as there are cows. These dromedaries have been domesticated around 3,000 B.C. and somewhere along the way, someone must have gotten curious and wanted to know what camel's milk tastes like.
Well, it tastes like cow's milk infused with butter. It's creamy with a sweet-salty flavor but it is the sweetness that lingers in the palate. I like it but some people might find it too rich for their taste. I had pistachio and saffron flavored gelato and it tasted the same like ice cream made with cow's milk. A tad richer but nothing that changes the basic taste of ice cream. In gelato, the the richness of the milk simply works. I loved the pistachio ice cream because it had real nutty bits that were still crunchy. But it's the saffron ice cream that remains unforgettable. The richness of the camel's milk enhances the aromatic flavor of saffron. Every spoonful just tickles the palate like a soft ray of sunshine on your cheeks early in the morning.