The Hunt for Marzipan

I recently went to Dubai for a week. My predispositions of the city was that it would be mainly an Arab-speaking  city and it would have huge skyscrapers blanketing the whole region. I was right about the big buildings but totally wrong about the main language spoken. In fact, from what I saw, there were more immigrants there from India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Pakistan Australia and even Europeans than there are locals.

Before I left for Dubai, I asked my mom what she wanted me to bring back for her since I thought I could find arabic spices and sweets. Her only wish is to bring back a 7 spice blend Syrians use to marinate their meats as well as cumin as a garnish for hummus. My family is of Armenian descent, but my parents were born in Aleppo Syria after the Armenian genocide. So Syrian and Armenian cultures are somewhat mixed into the foods we eat. Side note: I know we can get cumin in North America but the quality is not the same and just forget about finding the 7 Syrian spice blend in any grocery store.

With her in mind, I visited the spice souk in Dubai. I was surprised to see there were no store owners in the souk who were of Arabic descent. They were all practically Indian or Pakistani. I bought a few items thinking I was straight out of luck on finding exactly what my mom wished for. But a few nights into our trip, my husband and I caught up with our best man and he introduced us to a Syrian couple who moved to Dubai almost a decade ago. I asked them so many questions on where I could possibly find Syrian spices and sweets. The sweets are for myself since my mom would visit Aleppo before the ongoing civil war and bring back the most delicious arabic sweets I have eaten. They provided me with some possible locations and I could not wait to give them a visit.

The next day my husband, our best man and I ventured out to look for what I was looking for. The first location was more our best man’s idea since he insisted we need to try these and bring some back home with is. The store was called Bateel and if you are a date lover then you are in luck. Be aware that Bateel also operates restaurants that do not sell their date products. We tried so many dates stuffed with either almonds, pistachios, walnuts coated in chocolate. The combinations sound odd at first but you gotta try it!

After buying a box of chocolate covered dates, we went to various stores that sell arabic sweets. Finally! the thing I came to Dubai for. What I had in mind to purchase is a particular sweet made from marzipan and stuffed with pistachios. Ever since the box my mom brought back from Aleppo finished, I could not stop thinking about it. Our first stop was a store but we were out of luck.

Second stop was a recommendation we got from the Syrian couple the day before. It was a store called Al Diwan M____. They did not have it either but I did buy a few cookies that reminded me of other things my mom would bring back.

Third stop was in a rougher part of the neighbourhood. We went to a place on the outskirts of town and I was warned by our best man, since he now lives in Dubai, about it. There were 2 shops near each other so we thought if one place did not have it, we will go to the other. And yet again the first one in the strip mall did not carry it so onto the next one. As we were walking there, we hear a man who was sitting on the curb yelling as us specifically me. I did not understand a word and did not even think he was speaking Arabic. Side note: I grew up hearing my parents speak Arabic so I kind of know what is sounds like. Since our best man is fluent in Arabic, he yelled something else back. He then told us that the man was telling me “Don’t you have any respect dressed up like that?” whereas he was replied by a “Just close your eyes”. I was just wearing a romper.

OK so second location on that strip we walk into a store called Al Halab. We start talking to a guy who is from Syria and when I told him my parents are also from there, he was immediately super nice with me. He told me I could try as many things I would like in his store. I ended up purchasing a box of delights I remembered my parents and other family members eating when I was younger.

Once I think I got enough sweets, we went headed to the Syrian spice store called Al ____. But before that we went to get a popular Indian hot drink made with condensed milk. I couldn’t wait to try it and ended up burning the top of my mouth.  Worth it though cause it was really good. When we were done we walked over to the spice guy. He had everything I was looking for and more! I got the spice blend and the cumin but he was also grinding turkish coffee and I also brought some back for my in-laws since they are Turkish Armenian. Unfortunately he did not carry the marzipan sweets I was originally hunting down all over Dubai but he said he could get some in. He claimed that he made the best marzipan in the whole world when he was living in Syria. And again he left his country before the civil war began. So the hunt for marzipan is to be continued until further notice.