Fujairah’s fish market
Fujairah’s bustling fish market is off the beaten track of the normal tourist trail, but certainly worth the effort
As soon you pop over the top of the Hajar moutains and enter Fujairah, it is easy to see why this emirate is considered by many to be the most picturesque. Rolling red desert gives way to craggy limestone peaks and, in the troughs and dips, ghaf trees grow, resilient to the soaring summer temperatures.
But venture a little further and the horizon begins to glitter – Fujairah is the easternmost emirate and home to the only city on the Arabian sea.
It is for this reason that, on any given morning in the sleepy seaside town, the fish market is thriving. Its proximity to the sea means that the produce here is bigger, fresher and by all accounts, tastier than the fare found in the markets of Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
Although Fujairah’s market is smaller, it is often the first stop for the fishermen, who arrive before sunrise with their catches and sell their stock in a crude auction, where vendors (mostly from the Sub-Continent) jostle for the best deal.
Once secured, the fish are wheeled into the tile-floored market and swiftly passed on to the men who crouch in a central pit descaling and gutting their catch before setting them on ice-filled slabs for sale.
‘Our fish is the best,’ boasts Mohamed, a young fish seller from Bangladesh. ‘It is the freshest. Only a few hours ago, this was in the sea,’ he says while gesturing to a large speckled hammour.
The hammour is one of hundreds of fish waiting to be prepared and consumed as the day ensues. As the customers begin to flow in and the noise level raises, king fish, sultan Ibrahim and piles of shrimp and squid are sliced and shovelled into blue plastic bags. The most popular sale is sardines, which at five dirhams a kilo, are about as cheap a meal as you can find in this neck of the woods. But despite the reasonable prices, no market would be the same without its fair share of haggling. Using silent but forcefully understood hand gestures, local women in niqab are among the best bargainers and the vendors do their best to get their business. Fathers teach their wide-eyed sons about selecting the meatiest-looking catch and older men raise the bottoms of their kandora to avoid it trailing on the blood-stained floor, whilst indicating which fish they would like to buy.
Ahmed, a Palestinian father of four, explains that he comes here once a month ahead of a huge family feast: ‘I buy shrimps and hammour,’ he tells us. ‘It will be for lunch today.’
Situated off the city’s corniche, a stone’s throw from the ocean, the market is also a popular spot for amateur fishermen heading out for a day at sea. Richard Pickup, a Dubai resident from the UK, says that he comes every weekend to stock up on bait. ‘A lot of people never leave the city and get stuck into that routine but there is so much to do in the UAE, it’s a real shame not to come to Fujairah.’
The fish market is part of the larger complex of Al Ghorfa Central Market, which also houses a number of butchers, fruit and vegetable stores and a selection of tailors and clothing shops. Coming to life at 7am, the day’s business is usually over by lunchtime but it is definitely worth getting up early.