You know how in cartoons you can see a smell? Usually represented by a waft of smoke leading a neighbourhood cat to a forbidden pie on a windowsill. That’s how we feel when we catch the scent of Cinnabon café in a Dubai mall. Eyes glaze over and we drift down escalators like leaves falling from a tree. We know all the theories about them putting ovens to the front of the store to accentuate the smell or the one about them having fans to spread the scent through the mall, but we don’t care.
9 A leather handbag
We’re as surprised as anybody that stripping the hide from a dead cow, flattening it, drying it and then making it into a small purse produces such a satisfying smell. But it does. Although, we think that might be something to do with the reassuring musk convincing us that we’re buying a genuine leather bag at a knockdown price, and not a cheap, plastic knock-off.
Forget the cleaning detergent and chandelier polish of an upmarket superclub, the real smell of Dubai nightlife is a haze of shisha smoke. Close your eyes and you can imagine you’re in a backstreet Beirut bar. Actually, open your eyes and you can convince yourself of the same as you strain to stare through the cloud that has enveloped your table. If it didn’t smell so good, you’d probably ask to move.
7 Fish Souk
While we admit we wouldn’t want a date to wear “eau de hammour”, there is something rather invigorating about a good sniff in the fish market. As unbelievable as this may sound, it doesn’t really smell fishy in the way you may expect. Fresh fish shouldn’t have that eye-watering pong that cats, and nothing else, seem to enjoy. This is more of an ocean undercurrent and fills us with a sense of adventure. As well as a yearning to talk like a pirate.
6 The spa
The massages, pan pipe music and dim lighting you can keep, but that fresh-out-of-the-treatment-room smell of a luxury spa is what we want our house to smell like. It doesn’t matter how many scented candles and aromatherapy oils we burn, there is just no way we’ll ever get the blend of coconut, sandalwood, jasmine, lavender and smugness just right.
5 Spice Souk
We remember watching a tour guide play a “guess the scent” game in the Spice Souk. As inventive as the challenge was, it seemed close to impossible considering the olfactory overdose that is this marvellous corner of town. Frankincense, turmeric, chilli, saffron, dried limes and countless herbs all mingle together. A true symphony of smell, you owe it to your nose to make a visit here. After all, you did treat eyes to that gallery and ears to that concert.
4 Cheese room
Not everybody is with us on this one, but we’re enormous fans of the cheese room at select brunches. Airtight chambers crammed with dozens of varieties of curdled milk and bacteria may be torture to some, but the presence of enough cheese to make a small asteroid is enough to make us wish we could get locked in.
3 Al Reef Bakery
Baking hot carb parcels flow out of this Al Wasl pit stop’s oven with alarming speed. One of the great late-night snack shacks, we’ve queued here well after dark many a time and have been hypnotised by the smell. The only problem with the little pillows of warm bread is we never know whether to eat them or just lay down our head on them and drift off to a manakeesh-scented dream.
Blended with swimming pool chlorine and charring meat on a barbecue, nothing transports us back to long, lazy afternoons in Dubai like a dab of factor 50 on our face.
1 Dubai Metro
After a full day of work and a sweaty walk from the office to the Metro station we admit to being at our most pungent on the commute home. It seems the same goes for the other 50 people clambering into a single carriage. Now, if we could all just agree to carry a couple of Cinnabons in our coat pockets…
Will Milner is a regular contributor. Apparently he sniffs people on trains.