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I came to Dubai full of excitement. I knew that it was the new capitol of glitzy luxury and indulgence, but I had gleaned from various sources that the city's souks (markets) were vibrant crossroads, redolent with the character of old Arabia, where one could procure just about anything.

I was certain I would find all sorts of interesting and unfamiliar regional bits and pieces for kitchen and table. Unfortunately, after visiting nearly every souk on the Dubai map and all the narrow shop-lined streets in between, aside from a few chintzy mass-produced Arabian-coffee pots, I found little exceeding the inventory of any Chinatown or flea market back home.

Then, just as I was reaching my threshold for oppressive heat and aggressive sales tactics, I came upon a row of chubby stainless steel sentinels (above). Were they juicers? Blenders? Novel rice steamers? I snapped a quick photo and tentatively moved on, hoping to unravel the mystery without inviting the attention of vendor hungry for a sale.

20071019mixerbox.jpgRounding the next corner, I found a clue: a box bearing an image of one of the unknown contraptions, replete with bovine embellishments, held the description "Elec. Milk Mixer." Recalling the remarkable quantity of powdered milk I had encountered for sale throughout my wanderings, I thought that perhaps this was a machine devoted to agitating and dissolving milk powder in water—a task that, in my experience, had always required a good bit of physical work to create a smooth, palatable beverage.

Leaving the souks that day, fairly content to have stumbled upon something I'd never seen before, I was satisfied with this assumption, at least until I did a little research back at the hotel. Turns out, the description on the box was a bit misleading; the contraptions were, in fact, butter churns. Butter churns?! The idea that there are still people in or about Dubai making butter at home regularly enough to necessitate such a machine struck a chord in me. Somewhere—in the midst of the ever-expanding tangle of congested highways, dusty construction sites, absurd resorts, oversized billboards, farcical shopping malls, and cheap plastic knock-off garbage—someone in this godforsaken place was making their own butter. Though I left Dubai with far less excitement than I'd come, with this precious bit of knowledge in mind, I left Dubai, nonetheless, satisfied.

About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.

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