At the fish market near the port and harbor, Mina, everything is way too easy. A four-pound fish fresh from the morning catch, a half-kilo of calamari, another half pound of shrimp — all for about 80 dirham (22 bucks). And around the side of the market, half a dozen grilling and frying experts wait outside their restaurants to spice and cook everything you’ve just bought right on the spot (25 dirham). Get some minty, spicy arabic salad (from the same guys) and a couple lemons (from next door) and it’s without a doubt the best lunch in the city (priceless).
Abu Dhabi is a city that lacks a middle. There isn’t much of a middle class, or a stable one at least — the kind that spends christmases in the UAE. And there aren’t a whole lot of midrange places to eat where a sandwich might cost eight bucks, coffee would cost two, and everything else would be something else average. Everything is either high or low.
At Red Palace, the Pakistani/Chinese restaurant across from campus, I walk in to order dhal and biryani and anything else I can pronounce, and I meet looks of quiet deference or out-of-placeness. Security guards from our building, construction workers still wearing reflective neon yellow vests, and me — still in a suit because it’s not yet casual Thursday. On the fancier side of the coin, where I barely remember to not wear flip flops, hotel restaurants like to impose arbitrary rules and attitudes just cause.
But the fish market is an awesome spot where prices are on the bright side of normal and the approach of blue-coated fishmongers finds a fun balance between heckling and giving advice. Should you want to grill everything yourself, men in red suits stand at the ready at the far side of the market to gut and clean your catch. The huge floor has hundreds of stands with everything from local Hamour (overfished and facing extinction) to meter-long black-skinned tuna cold and stiff enough to sword fight with. Go crazy — there’s no room for moderation.