As Egypt's southern frontier town, Aswan feels very much like the gateway to Africa. In the old days, it was the main trading route for caravans from the south which brought goods like gold, animal hides, perfume, ivory tusks and even slaves that eventually ended up in Cairo. Even the name Aswan was derived from the ancient Coptic word souan which means "trade".
These days, the market scene in Aswan has evolved which means I'm not going to see ivory tusks or slaves anymore (which is a good thing). Since we were staying at a hotel right at the souk (market), I took the time to wander around on my own and see what the market has to offer.
Only a few steps away from the hotel and my nostrils were assaulted by a variety of spices neatly shaped into little pyramids on huge plastic bowls.
Heaped on a woven basket are dried hibiscus which are turned into karkady tea, a popular Egyptian beverage drank either hot or cold. Ours was served cold during our Nubian dinner - looking very much like a bloody drink with flowery flavor.
On another basket were cinnamon sticks, its aroma wafting in the air as I closely passed by (reminding me of the wickedly fattening Cinnabon Classic).
Curious what this was, a shopkeeper broke a piece and had me taste it which was something really sweet, similar to molasses. Unfortunately, I couldn't even remember the name, duh!
A good source of dietary fiber, dates are popular all over the Middle East. I like eating dates - even those that come with a variety of nuts for extra flavor - but the best I've come across with were the ones produced in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The nearby Lake Nasser is bountiful with fish. The fresh catch goes daily to the fish market while a good portion goes to the restaurants. They are also dried and flavored with some spices and displayed behind glass tanks for sale.
At a restaurant while waiting for my entree (fried fish that took forever to fry), I had this platter of tahina - a sesame seed paste that served as an excellent dip for the flat bread that came along with it . . .
. . . while the crunchy cucumber and tomato salad - which I really like - seems to always appear on most Egyptian meals.
Smoking sheesha (or hookah) is a popular way for male bonding in the Arab world. On street cafes in Aswan, these waterpipes are the mute companions of men as they talk animatedly about their lives (or whisper about government inefficiency).