Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trip Report: Market 101 in Egypt

Our final day in Egypt landed us in Cairo where we had a couple of choices: visit the City Stars Mall, the largest mall in Egypt (though it would not surprise me to learn that it's the largest in the Middle East), or venture to the labyrinthine Khan el Khalili Market. Of course, we had a full day and so we opted for both. We had only spent one hour shopping previously in the Aswan market (picture on left).

The City Stars Mall is a short distance from Le Meridien Heliopolis, where we stayed for our final night in Egypt. The bottom three floors are for parking, and the other seven or eight are for shopping and eating. Large glass elevators plunge through the center of the mall, and staircases wind up as far as the eye can see. This mall takes itself seriously - like the temples and tombs we visited, we were treated to a bag security check upon entering and signs posted everywhere said to hang on to your receipts for security purposes. Most of the stores and signs are either in English or in English and Arabic, though we found that many of the people running the stores did not spe
ak English. A small section in this mall is devoted to the Khal el Khalili market, and where we hoped for no hassle shopping (the regular shops behaved like a western shopping mall), the shopkeepers in this section of the mall behaved only a little less forward than those at the Khal el Khalili market themselves. Restaurants and cafes are everywhere - whatever your fancy, whether it be western or oriental style food, you will find it here. We chose to eat at Abou el Sid, a traditional Oriental style restaurant where the entire table was moved out for us as we sat down. Not knowing any better, we ordered enough food to feed a small army, but the falafel and hummus once again were mouth-watering. We also had an opportunity to try koshari, a traditional vegetarian Egyptian dish consisting of rice, difference pastas, lentils and crispy onions topped with a delightful spiced tomato sauce.

The actual Khan el Khalili market was a completely different experience. Wall-to-wall tourists and Egyptians strolled through the markets, some carrying large packages of unknown goods on their heads, or on their backs shouting "Excuse me" in multiple languages. There were no landmarks, no way to navigate other than to lose ourselves in the labyrinthine alleys and shops. Different areas of the market appeared to specialize in different items: clothes, jewelry, gaudy tourist items, sleepwear, towels & linens, and kitchen appliances. The most terrifying section was the fireworks vendors - I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if one of them became lit.

For fun, I took inventory of the most colorful sayings that were shouted out to us:
"You are a queen!" (Well, all women like complements!)
"Hey Shakira!" (Must be my blonde hair, but I'm not Spanish...)
"No hassles!" (Interestingly enough, this never meant no hassles.)
"Everything is free!" (I never had the courage to find out what this meant.)
"I have what you want!" (I'm sure you do!)
"You are a very lucky man!" (To my husband - also nice to hear!)
Interestingly enough, no one seemed to think I was American. All shopkeepers assumed I was British (by quoting in British pounds) and then Italian (apparently I speak too much with my hands). This happened in our brief shopping stint in Aswan as well, however here, our favorite phrase became "Trust me, I'm a Nubian!"

Welcome drinks were almost always offered as a the beginning bartering phase. Most often this consisted of hibiscus tea, a safe drink due to the fact that they boil the leaves first. Once the bartering began, the research we did prior to our trip gave us the opinion that we should expect to buy the items for 20-30% of the initial price, and this tended to be accurate, although sometimes vendors refused to barter lower than their initial price due to us being tourists. We did have fun, however, despite a cat knocking over a wooden ladder that crashed down a foot in front of me and a hashish pipe that fell over behind me starting a fire. When I asked the vendor I was bartering with if fires happened often he shrugged and said "No. Must be a dragon."

On that humorous note, I concluded a wonderful trip to Egypt, and if someone asked again, I would do it again in a minute.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, glad you enjoyed it!