A stroll through the Middle Eastern pavilions in the Global Village offers a glimpse into the specialties of the Arab world. In each pavilion, vendors display the best of what their country has to offer — dates from Saudi Arabia, spices and fruit from Iran or honey from Yemen. These local industries have remained immune to the recession, given their strong affiliation to Middle Eastern culture.
Abdul Samad sits behind mounds of dates in the Saudi pavilion. The dates come in different forms — from the pressed pack form of the Khalas Qassim dates to the fresh and dried Sukkari dates. His products are a familiar sight in houses, restaurants and shops across the Middle East.
"A lot of UAE residents and a small number of tourists buy from us. Dates sales will always do well. It's a part of everyday life for people here. It is also a big part of their hospitality, culture and religion," Samad, a storekeeper at Royal Dates, said.
The store showcases one of Saudi Arabia's most important national products. Harvested from date palm trees, dates enjoy a prominence in Islam. The Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) encouraged Muslims to break their fast during Ramadan with dates and water. The fruit is now an intrinsic part of social and religious life. Today, Saudi Arabia, which produces more than 300 types of dates, is the world's second largest producer of the fruit.
Royal Dates outlets in Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah enjoy a steady stream of Emirati and regional customers. According to Samad, a presence at the Global Village helps to promote his products to a wider base of customers.
Meanwhile in the UAE pavilion, Eman Anvari alternates between arranging mounds of dried pomegranate and stacked jars of saffron. His condiments, which have been proving popular with visitors, come in handy for Middle Eastern and Iranian dishes.
"We get customers from all across the region such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and some Indian and Western customers as well. In our office in Sharjah, sales are always good. People always buy condiments even during a downturn. It is an important part of their food," Anvari, a seller at Bahr Al Zafaran, said.
All the products come from Iran, which accounts for 90 per cent of global saffron production and 35 per cent of global pomegranate production.
According to Anvari, the hike in saffron's export price hasn't deterred buyers, both at their stall in the Global Village and their shop in Sharjah.
A stroll into the Yemen pavilion reveals jars of honey of different colours and consistencies. "We sell honey from across Yemen. We have different types according to the regions, type of bees, what they're mixed with, etc.," Abu Hani, co-owner of Al Wanoh, a participant in the Global Village for 12 years, said.
Al Wanoh produces 42 varieties of Yemeni honey. Honey produced in the caves of Yemen's mountainous landscape is exported worldwide. Its quality is considered to be on par with other prized commodities such as the Caspian's black caviar.
Despite reports of customers cutting back on spending, sales continue to do well, Hani insisted.
"At our shop in Sharjah, we have customers pouring in from all the emirates," he said.
The prices start from Dh100 for a litre of honey. The most expensive is the Sidr honey, which can cost up to Dh1,000 per litre. The honey is made by bees that feed on the nectar of the Sidr tree.
This honey can be used to sterilise wounds and for surgical incisions. It also increases haemoglobin, treats redness of the eye, and makes women's skin softer.
As retailers at the Global Village adapt their products to suit shoppers' evolving tastes, local products with an affiliation to Arab culture are guaranteed to enjoy steady sales and a loyal customer base.