x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The Market at Mushrif Mall: Changing the food shopping landscape

The residents of Abu Dhabi will now be able to enjoy an indoor food market that will offer a rewarding shopping experience.

Aquariums -- both ornamental and containing live fish and crustaceans for customers to buy -- are a key feature of The Market at Mushrif Mall. Its fish hall sells seafood from caviar to international catches. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National
Aquariums -- both ornamental and containing live fish and crustaceans for customers to buy -- are a key feature of The Market at Mushrif Mall. Its fish hall sells seafood from caviar to international catches. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National

Entering the doors of The Market, Abu Dhabi’s newest shopping experience, is as much a treat for the eyes as for the taste buds.

The first signs are not promising: the underground car park of Mushrif Mall on Airport Road. But a short ride up the escalator brings customers to something of a foodie paradise, with fresh food from all over the world, including the choicest cuts of meat and fruit and vegetables in abundance.

Best of all is that, as the name suggests, everything comes at street-market prices.

Long anticipated, The Market seems to have been worth the wait. And no one is more relieved to see the indoor food halls finally in business than Mohammed Abdel Kuddus, who worked previously in the old Mina Market. He still remembers how hard it was to cope with the boiling summer heat of the outdoor market.

“This place is nice. Everything is clean and customers don’t have to worry about hygiene or flies sitting over the food items,” says the Bangladeshi, who works in Zuhrat Al Baqa vegetable shop.

While the prices were among the city’s lowest, the outdoor setting of the old markets, in the port, was not for everyone. The new market is designed to attract a wider range of both expat and Emirati customers.

Each of the three halls — fish, meat and fruit and vegetables — features architectural features that reflect the produce that is being sold. Around the meat hall are moulded relief carvings of camels, cattle and sheep.

Grandest of all is the fish hall, featuring real aquariums and soaring pillars that seem more like an old-fashioned, traditional European ­market.

Inside the fish hall, there are sections for local catches and fish from farther afield, including Turkish tilapia, crabs from England and tuna from the Philippines.

Yet nothing is as exotic as fresh Musaffah sturgeon, produced on a fish farm in the industrial centre, as a by-product from Abu Dhabi’s very own industry producing caviar, which is also on sale in the market.

One thing that is missing from the fish hall is the smell — this is an odour-free zone thanks to a state-of-the-art air-extraction system.

At the sturgeon counter, Neil Tantay explains the benefits of caviar to a customer.

“Caviar has many health benefits. It is good for the brain. It is expensive, too,” he admits. “I have only been in Abu Dhabi for eight months, but I am fascinated by this place.”

All the pots of eggs are produced on the 56,000-square-metre Emirates AquaTech caviar farm and come in three grades: premium, excellence and elite. For customers hoping for a free sample, Tantay has bad news. “Sorry sir, we don’t have a taster. You have to buy it.”

Next door in the meat hall, Vincent Titeca is enjoying working in his new technologically advanced surroundings. There’s nothing like it in his home country, Belgium, he says.

Dressed in a clean white apron with a red border, Titeca introduces new customers to his shop, Eat Meat, explaining what’s on offer.

“I came to the UAE six months ago. This place is very nice,” he says with a smile. “The place is clean and there is a segregation between each market, which is a unique quality.”

In his homeland, attracting customers was a challenge. “Where I worked, all meats would be in the same section, such as chicken, meat and fish. We have three shops and the whole is dedicated to meats. I am very happy.”

“My friend Ramadan Barakat is my first Arab friend. We work hand-in-hand, he teaches me everything.”

Among the customers is Riza Santo, who has come down with her husband to check out what is on offer. “We live very close to Mushrif Mall,” she says. “We usually shop in Lulu. This is very impressive, you have a selection of products and it looks great.”

Not all the first-time visitors have come with a shopping list. Some are simply exploring the city’s newest attraction, taking in the intricate architecture and the designs in the floor.

Despite the large number of similar businesses under the same roof, Abdel Kuddus is confident about the prospects for his fruit-and-vegetable shop, which offers produce from Poland to Jordan.

“In Mina, it was the same. You could see a long line of markets. We did well nonetheless,” he says.

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One of the features of the fruit-and-vegetable hall is a central section dedicated only to local farm ­produce.

One of the objectives of the new market is to embrace, elevate and support local farmers, giving them an opportunity to improve their businesses by getting more ­exposure.

Abdullah Al Baloushi, sitting comfortably in his white kandura, cannot wait to meet his new customers at Azzad. Originally from Al Ain, he is delighted to open his first branch and offer customers a variety of dates.

“I have a dates factory in Al Ain that has been operational since 2009,” says the Emirati. Taking out some dates from a shelf, he explains: “These seven dates are especially to break the fast.”

Unlike the caviar shop, Al Baloushi allows his customers to taste whatever dates they find appealing and leaves the final selection to them.

Pointing his finger at Al Dar dates, he says proudly: “This is from the UAE.

“Even though we opened this shop six days ago, every day, I make a profit of around Dh2,000. On Friday, we have more customers. I am grateful to Allah for all the blessings.”

• The Market at Mushrif Mall is open from 7am to 11pm daily.

aalhameli@thenational.ae