The unpretentious district of Satwa is the southernmost of Dubai’s predominantly low-rise, low-income inner suburbs before you reach the giant skyscrapers of Sheikh Zayed Road and the beginnings of the supersized modern city beyond. It’s also one of the few places in Dubai where the city’s different ethnic groups really rub shoulders, with its mix of Arab, Indian, Filipino and even a few European residents reflected in an unusually eclectic selection of places to eat, from cheap-and-cheerful curry houses to Lebanese shwarma cafes and Western fast-food joints. A massive plan, announced in 2008, to raze the entire suburb and redevelop it with a glamorous new district of parks, artificial islands and hi-tech high-rises – provisionally named Jumeirah Garden City – has gone the way of several similar mega-projects in the wake of the credit crunch, although pictures of some of the planned buildings – fanciful even by Dubai standards – can still be seen online.
At the centre of the district lies Satwa Roundabout, overlooked by the Chelsea Plaza hotel. The streets south of here are mainly occupied by Indian and Pakistani shops and cafés, including the well-known Ravi’s. West from the roundabout stretches Satwa’s principal thoroughfare, the tree-lined 2nd December Street (still widely referred to by its old name, Al Diyafah Street), one of the nicest in Dubai – and one of the few outside the city centre with any real street life – with wide pavements, dozens of cafés and restaurants and an interestingly cosmopolitan atmosphere. It all feels rather Mediterranean, especially after dark, when the cafés get going, the crowds come out, and young men in expensive cars start driving round and round the block in a vain effort to impress.