x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Produce bargains take some legwork

Canny buyers at the Zafarana Farmers' Market know that the best deals can be found by haggling at stalls at the back of the venue.

"There is a wide selection of produce and merchants, and the prices are almost half that of the Al Ain Co-operative Society's."

AL AIN // Since there were no signs, it was the sweet smell of fruits and vegetables wafting 50 metres out into the car park that hinted the farmers' market was near.

Inside, men in white shirts with orange trim collars and sleeves staffed dozens of stalls. Walking among them, their calls for business mingled in the air. "Come, come, better price here," one of them bellowed in an attempt to win some trade. Welcome to the Zafarana Farmers' Market, a haggler's dream, where produce is fresh and the prices are the best in town. "This is the place to come for fruits and vegetables," said Um Hassan al Muhair. The elderly Emirati woman sat in a white plastic chair and was being attended to by a merchant. Her grandson, Zayed, 13, stood next to her. She brought him along to calculate the totals and carry her bags.

"I have been coming here for years," she said. "There is a wide selection of produce and merchants, and the prices are almost half that of the Al Ain Co-operative Society's. I show up, sit down and the fruits come to me." Mrs al Muhair revealed her secret strategy for tackling the market: she heads straight to the stalls at the back, which she said are the cheapest. "I don't buy from the merchants at the front entrance," she said. "I walk all the way to the back and buy from the merchants there. Their prices are the cheapest of all and their fruits are just as fresh."

Mohammed Helmi, a 29-year-old trader, agreed. The Anwar Mahdah stall he staffs was located at the back of the market, but few people seemed to know about it. "The stalls located in the back pay less rent so we pass on the savings to our customers," he said. "Because people come through the front doors and find everything they need at the front stalls right there in front of them, they don't usually walk to the back where prices are a dirham or two cheaper per kilo."

At Anwar Mahdah, white onions cost Dh4 per kilo, lemons cost Dh6 per kilo, tomatoes Dh2 per kilo and watermelons Dh1 per kilogram. At Al Mashreq Al Arabi, in the front, prices were approximately Dh1.5 higher. "Never accept the price you are given," said Mrs al Muhair. "Cut it by half and start haggling from there. That's another reason I come here, because here I can haggle. It's fun. I tried to haggle at Carrefour and at the Co-operative Society but got nowhere with them."

Unlike other farmers' markets, most of the fruits and vegetables are not grown locally but brought in from around the world. The seedless grapes at Iftikhar Hassam's stand came from California. "A lot of my fruits and vegetables are brought in from other countries," said the 43-year-old trader. "I think it's only the cucumbers that come from farms in Al Ain, while others come from farms across the UAE, Egypt, South Asia and the Gulf and Middle East."

The Zafarana Farmers' Market is located behind the Safir Market, less than a kilometre away from the Civic Centre, down Zayed al Awwal Street towards Shakhboot bin Sultan Street, where the Al Jimi District meets Al Khabisi district. It is open every day of the week. Just follow the fruity smell. ealghalib@thenational.ae