Saturday, February 18, 2012

Cross one off the Bucket List

I haven't been keeping up with this blog lately.  Things have been hectic and busy and I haven't know exactly where to start  I've done so many things that have been worthy of writing about, but I haven't taken the time to actually do it. I have pictures to share, recipes to write, and tales to tell.  Most of these will have to wait for another day, however, because on Wednesday I did something that I've dreamed about since the love of cooking entered my life.  Perhaps it was that first whiff of saffron that inspired me, or maybe it was when I cooked my first curry, I'm not really certain.  It might have even been this scene in the Indian Jones...
No I didn't face down a sword wielding assassin with my trusty side arm...  I went shopping in the biggest baddest bazaar of all time.  The measuring stick against which all other markets are judged.  I visited the Khan el-Khalili.

The first place our guide (Shaimaa) took us, was to a shop just outside the Khan.  When I told Shaimaa that I wanted to see the spice market she asked me if I wanted to look or if I wanted to buy.  I said both... so she took me to a little shop on the main road outside of the Khan first.   It was a crowded little store with cases full of  leaves and powders.  Many of them I recognized, but many of them I did not. It wasn't a beautiful place. It was dusty and busy... but it was full of things that I wanted for my kitchen.  Shaimaa explained that while the spice market in the Khan was beautiful it was for tourists.  Most Egyptians prefer to buy their spices in a place where the prices are fixed and fair.

I purchased some saffron and cardamom for a VERY fair price before we moved along to the market.  I could have stood there all day with my mouth open, staring at the spices, but it was time to move on.  We started out by exploring  the Souq al-Khiamiyya or the tent makers bazaar. 

Walking along the street leading into the covered area there were tons of stands selling goods for Egyptians rather than tourists:  Camel and donkey tack, cooking utensils, utilitarian baskets, plastic junk and dangerous looking street food. 

As you reach the covered bazaar, however, the stands get more colorful and salesmen more boisterous.  Motorcycles and bikes move past at great speeds even in the tight alley running between the shops  One motorcycle slid on some sand and skidded to a stop inches from me.   A man on a bicycle whizzed past with a load of bread balanced on his head.  I bought a miniature replica of a Bedouin tent and a small stuffed camel for my daughters.
We stopped for lunch at an Egyptian fast food place. I say fast food, but this certainly wasn't McDonalds. I had a lamb shawarma and a fava bean dish called foul (pronounced something like fool).  I also sampled a mixed vegetable pickle and some baba ganoush.  It was a filling and tasty lunch after a long day of sight seeing.

Finally after lunch we made it to the spice market.

After all I've read about it and all the pictures I've seen, I must say that I was a tad bit disappointed.  There were only a few shops and while they had some spices it was nothing compared to the shop our guide showed us at the beginning of our journey.  One thing I can say about it, however, is that it is extremely photogenic.  Perhaps that is why you always see it pictured in the guide books.  The baskets of spices and bags of mysterious  powders certainly look intriguing.

My trip to the market was the perfect ending to a day exploring Cairo with a  friend.  The Khan el-khalili was only a small part of the adventure. We hired a driver and tour guide and explored the Egyptian museum, Tahir square, the Citadel, several mosques, and a papyrus museum....

But these are tales for another day...



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