Southwest of the Gold Souk stretches the extensive covered souk formerly known as Al Souk al Kabeer (“The Big Souk”), once the largest and most important market in Deira. Now rechristened Grand Souk Deira, the whole area has recently been given a major makeover, with the former mishmash of shopfronts and signs now replaced with uniform facades in traditional-looking stone, similar to those in Bur Dubai’s Textile Souk, across the Creek. Renovation has come at a price, however, largely destroying the area’s former ramshackle charm and quiet, while many of the touts who used to roam the Gold Souk now hang out along the main drag here instead, attempting to lasso passing tourists with the usual offers of copy bags, nice pashminas and genuine fake watches. Most of the shops, meanwhile, remain as unexciting as before, selling a humdrum assortment of household goods and cheap toys.
Tucked into the southeast corner of the Grand Souk, the diminutive Spice Souk (now signed “Herbs Market”) is perhaps the most atmospheric – and certainly the most fragrant – of the city’s many bazaars. Run almost exclusively by Iranian traders, the shops here stock a wide variety of culinary, medicinal and cosmetic products, with tubs of merchandise set out in front of each tiny shopfront. All the usual spices can be found – cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander – along with more unusual offerings such as dried cucumbers and lemons (a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine), incense and heaps of hibiscus and rose petals, used to make a delicately scented tea. The souk is also famous for its frankincense, sold in various different forms and grades – the most common type looks like a kind of reddish, crumbling crystalline rock; frankincense burners can be bought in the souk for a few dirhams. Most stalls also sell natural cosmetic products such as pumice and alum, a clear rock crystal used to soothe the skin after shaving. Male visitors in search of a pick-me-up will also find plentiful supplies of so-called “natural viagra”.