If you’ve driven over Garhoud Bridge or visited Creek Park, you will have seen the village. It’s a six-hectare enclave that comprises an authentic Emirati cuisine restaurant, rebranded as Zaman Awal, a themed village retail area designed around the Freej cartoon characters popular with Emirati families, and a small maritime museum featuring regional artifacts collected by the Harib family.
They have owned the site for 34 years, initially as the location for wedding halls popular with large Dubai family ceremonies.
An idyllic and, no doubt, sought-after plot beside a placid stretch of Dubai Creek and a short boat hop from Festival City, it has re-emerged after a two-year renovation.
Still, she is keen to encourage more Western residents and tourists to visit and learn a little more about Emirati art, food and culture.
“Those who come here tell me it is a hidden gem,” she says. “We want to attract more local people, because our family loves heritage.”
She highlights a restored wooden boat. Named Arif, it is 80 years old and now on dry land in the village where it operates as The Sketch Cafe.
“My grandfather built it by his own hand. He used to take products from Dubai to India to Iraq, from Iraq to Dubai.”
Dubai’s waterways have long coloured the Harib family’s activities along the Creek.
At first they had a boat moored at Al Seef; a floating restaurant that hosted events such as weddings.
Hamama says that until about 15 years ago it was the number one place to get married in Dubai, but with other venues emerging two years ago they set about updating the place.
“My father planned to do a restaurant and some attractions. Every month he had a new idea. It was very risky, but in Dubai, if you don’t change…”
Now the venue boasts new cabana-style seating beside the river and a frequent a waiting list to grab prime outlooks.
“We never thought people would come this much. Now they come they are amazed. Now it is a tourist village.”
“One guy came here and he was one of the survivors. My father was surprised that not everyone knows about it.”
A fish market is planned for another boat moored nearby, cooked fresh once you have chosen your supper, and the opening of the new canal will give greater access.
For now, fish is among many items on a varied menu in the Zaman Awal restaurant.
Plenty of local food and fusions populate the lunchtime buffet with familiar Arabic items adjacent to the likes of Emirati cuisine gems such as Lamb Salona stew, spicy Maleh Rice, the imposing-sounding but rather tasty Foga Fish, the goat and rice special occasion dish Aish Laham and a spicy minced shark highlight – for these tastebuds, at least – Gasheed.
“When you come in the evening you will see my father, my brother, uncles, son and daughter of my uncle. People like that, even if they don’t come to talk to us.”
And it is around 5pm that the Freej element of the village comes to life; shops open and the characters from the popular Emirati cartoon series begin wandering through the wonky village, word has it quite often the parents waiting in anticipation for the characters more than the kids.
Hamama said her uncle -much respected Emirati artist and photographer Mattar Bin Lahej -curates the space. Residents may recall his stunning stainless steel sculpture Encyclopedia – a huge but highly detailed piece engraved with Arabic patterns and excerpts of the Quran – drew wide acclaim when exhibited in the Waterfall Atrium of The Dubai Mall in summer 2014.
“Marsam means drawing or sketch,” says Hamama. “It was a trademark of my uncle. Marsam is a place where you draw.”
The gallery could prove a useful shop window for emerging artists with the heavy footfall of Zaman Awal supplying both dedicated and coincidental potential art buyers.
Word of mouth certainly seems to have got around that Al Boom Tourist Village is back in action.
And after the kitchens were initially overwhelmed by the demand, business continues to, well, boom, as a mix of UAE nationals and Westerners get the message.
This is heritage-fired tourist gem is no longer quite as hidden as it once was.
TO find out more, visit: www.alboomtouristvillage.ae