THE MINA FISH MARKET 101
Mina Zayed opened in 1972 and has served as the major port in Abu Dhabi ever since, supplying many of the city’s restaurants with fresh fish for nearly 50 years. It was decided in 2020 that the original ad hoc structures should be replaced, and a new redevelopment scheme was set in motion. Gone are the days of sloshing around in fish guts: the new Mina fish market opened last year and for this fish-market-slightly-nervous-novice, it proved to be a surprisingly pleasant experience.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The new Mina Fish Market (conveniently located right next to the old one) contains 8 restaurants, 44 fish cleaning stations, commercial spaces, and 104 fresh fish stalls (though currently not all in use).
With outside parking nearby, there’s even a handy little golf buggy taxiiing you from the car park to the entrance, but if you would prefer to walk it’s a 5 minute jaunt.
Entering the building itself can feel pretty overwhelming, but confidence is key here (read our top tips to navigate like a pro), so get stuck in and enjoy the experience. This is a great place to bring visitors to, showing a glimpse of working Abu Dhabi.
The new fish market is clean and presentable, the walking aisles are thankfully fishy-water free so no need for wellies, and the daily catch is clear and visible as you wander. There is definitely a permeable fish-tang in the air, but it's not completely overpowering (and doesn’t really stick to your clothes/hair/skin as one might expect). And as a bonus, the bathrooms were perfectly kept and clean!
PURCHASING YOUR FISH
You have 4 main options to choose from:
1. Select fish (cleaning if desired) and take it home to cook.
2. Select fish, have it cleaned, and have it cooked at one of the kiosks to take home.
3. Select fish, have it cleaned, and take it to one of the restaurants to cook.
4. Order a la carte from the restaurants.
Wander the stalls to see the large range of fish and seafood on offer. The sellers may seem a little pushy at first, especially if you’re feeling a little nervous, but we found a warm smile and a firm “just looking, thanks” was enough to get the point across. If you have stopped at a stall and asked about prices you have no obligation to buy, and don’t be afraid to try a little haggling (the sellers are expecting to move a little on price). We found the catch is mostly the same on all of the stalls and the price is pretty similar too (but stall number 3 Al Sabah Corner had everyone beat by about AED10 per kg).
Some places will take card, but most are cash only – don’t worry there are a couple of ATMs at the entrance.
There is a large cleaning section at the left end of the market. Be warned, this can be pretty manic on a busy day: queues can be 1 hour + on a Saturday, but on our quiet Wednesday morning it was easy going. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, we found the team was helpful and willing to give cooking suggestions depending on the type we had purchased (such as the parrot fish would be fried, so needed to be filleted, red snapper would be best butterflied and then grilled etc).
There are different prices depending on the way the catch is prepared, but it is cheap. We paid AED16 for about 3kg of different catch and in total it took about 15 minutes.
It should be noted that you can have your fish cleaned and prepared in the individual restaurants, and the going rate is around AED15 per kg, which is obviously about 3 times the price but could be worth it if the cleaning section has a long queue.
· SHOP AROUND – don’t buy at the first place you see, and get a feel for the going rate ... then try a bit of bartering. Don’t be ridiculous though, it will be a waste of yours and the seller’s time. Stall 3 was the cheapest for us.
· BE ADVENTUROUS – we'd never tried parrot fish, but it ended up being one of our favourites.
· GO EARLY/ON A WEEKDAY – Let us be straight with you: weekends are going to be mental. Do yourself a favour and choose a weekday morning where the stalls, cleaning section, and restaurants will be less busy, and you can have a more enjoyable experience.
· CHECK YOUR FISH IS FRESH – look out for clear eyes (in a whole fish), firm flesh that springs back when pressed, and a fresh mild scent. Gills should be bright.
· CLEAN AT THE COUNTER – you will save money, but not necessarily time. Decide at that point what is more valuable to you.
· RESTAURANTS – don’t just go into the first restaurant you see. Some of the better restaurants are slightly hidden as you can see from our thoughts below ...
CHOOSING A RESTAURANT
If you have decided to eat at the fish market, you can either take your fish to one of the kiosks at the front of the market for a more cafeteria-esque experience, or head to the back for the more sit-down type restaurants. Be aware that some stalls have direct links to the restaurants so might try and push you towards a certain one.
In the name of all things Best Bites, we tried 3 restaurants to find you the best!
If you're bringing your fish from the market outside, there is a standardised table charge of AED25 and it is around the AED15 (per kg) mark for the cooking fee. It's fair to say that you don’t get a huge amount of choice in sauce if you are bringing your fish from outside; the main sauces are garlic butter and the ambiguously named “red sauce” (a tomato base with chili and ginger) that's pretty similar in all restaurants. Ordering a la carte will get you more choice.
This feels like a restaurant you would expect to find in a fish market; nautical theming, blue walls, and a fun-fresh-fishy type vibe. Super casual, it’s no surprise that this often comes up on the Best Bites community suggestions. Here we had grilled red snapper and calamari, which were cooked well – especially the calamari which we lapped up! There is real cutlery here which is a big plus for us, but food was a little slow coming out of the kitchen.
This was a bit of a risk as we had never heard of this one before - it's new-ish for the new fish market (though they were present in the old one). Atmosphere was good because this was one of the busier restaurants on the strip, but lacked the finesse of the other two places we ate at: providing only plastic cutlery and polystyrene plates, it felt a bit more like a cafeteria.
Here we had lobster, shrimp, and the parrot fish. The parrot fish was beautiful and flaky, but the shellfish felt a little overdone and the flavour from the sauces wasn't coming through. Special mention however needs to be made for the complementary aubergine dip which was scrummy!
We saved the best for last. This is for more of an upscale fish market experience in terms of the beautiful interiors, tasteful crockery, the fresh fish display in the restaurant and hummus and fresh Arabic bread, baked in-house and served piping hot to your table.
We ordered fresh mussels a la carte at AED42 for ½ kg which were well cooked with red onion, a mixture of peppers and a generous helping of garlic. It is slightly more expensive for certain items, but only by about AED5 so nothing extreme. We all agreed this would be one to take guests back to.
Did we enjoy our experience? One hundred percent yes.
Was it the best fish we 've had in Abu Dhabi? Probably not.
Well prepared? Mostly yes, but the lack of sauce options let it down.
The service? Certainly not the best we've had in Abu Dhabi, but not the worst either. We found there was a language barrier at some points but a bit of pointing and rephrasing often worked. Manage your expectations and don't expect 5* service.
Would we go back? Yes, this will definitely appear on our list of places to take (seafood-loving) visitors, and next time we'll walk in with all the confidence in the world! However, we would certainly come again on a weekday as we don't necessarily have the patience or presence of mind for a busy weekend!
If you enjoyed your fish market experience then make sure to let us know!