2/14/10

Aswan Market


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).

At the end of the day, it's what they bring home to a waiting family that matters - the food to eat on their table.

28 comments:

  1. paulbenedictp12:12:00 AM

    Those dates look so dry, is it the least or the best quality in Aswan?

    The Egyptian vegetable salad looks like the Greek version of it, just add some bits of soft cheese and that's it!

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  2. Oh the hooka (sheesha) are all so colorful. I remember a cruise mate took home 3 or 4 of those to sell to his colleagues.

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  3. i like the colors of the spices. and the dried hibiscus (gumamela?) for tea also looks fascinating; so vivid.

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  4. sidney17:13:00 PM

    Well... with all your beautiful pictures you could write a guide book about Egypt !
    I really like this images of those spices in the shape of a pyramid... great idea !

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  5. The pyramid shape with different colors of the spices is so unique! That reminds me the spices in India...

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  6. Did you get a chance to taste the fish caught at Lake Nasser?

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  7. The Nomadic Pinoy10:05:00 PM

    There are different types of dates I was told: the more traditional-looking brown ones are the "soft" type while those I photographed were the "dry" ones. I prefer the "soft" ones actually.

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  8. The Nomadic Pinoy10:09:00 PM

    Smoking hookah is getting popular in many trendy clubs so we'll be seeing those waterpipes in more cities or even towns across North America.

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  9. The Nomadic Pinoy10:10:00 PM

    Honestly Doc Gelo, I wasn't fond of hibiscus tea, not really to my liking. I'm not sure if it's what we call Gumamela in the Philippines.

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  10. The Nomadic Pinoy10:13:00 PM

    I've seen spices like those in conical forms in Morocco and they also looked pretty. As for writing a guide book, oh my, I don't think I have enough talent for research.

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  11. The Nomadic Pinoy10:14:00 PM

    And it's quite similar to spices shaped like cones in Morocco as well!

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  12. The Nomadic Pinoy10:17:00 PM

    Bert, I actually did but I was so hungry waiting for my fried fish (and almost angry waiting so long!) at a restaurant in the market that I forgot to take a photo of it the moment it appeared on my table.

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  13. Im also interested in those dates.

    Question: do Egyptian smell like Indians too? *winks*

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  14. i know its only visual but i could almost smell the spices and the cinnamon. awesome job man.

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  15. a variety of spices! ill love that place. kala ko kasi view lang yung ayos diyan.

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  16. The Nomadic Pinoy9:49:00 PM

    I don't think they have a distinct smell. Liban na lang siguro kung hindi naligo.

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  17. The Nomadic Pinoy9:52:00 PM

    Thanks Lawstude. I could have been blindfolded and just followed my nose and I'd still find the stalls selling spices.

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  18. The Nomadic Pinoy9:53:00 PM

    Yun nga ang maganda Dong, they have unique stuff for sale in their markets na di natin nakikita sa palengke sa Pinas.

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  19. Your pictures are so vivid and well taken - which camera do you use?

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  20. Like your photos seems like I've been to Egypt already, by the way when I first read your title I thought you came back from Capiz kasi "Aswan" market hehehe kala ko aswang eh LOL. When I saw your cinnamon's photo I thought the same way as you, "cinnabon" hehehe. Do you think Egypt is boring to visit aside from the pyramid?

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  21. The Nomadic Pinoy11:38:00 PM

    Thanks Aud. I use a Nikon D80.

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  22. The Nomadic Pinoy11:40:00 PM

    LOL to Aswang! No, Egypt is not boring unless of course you're looking for nightlife. But if you're into rich history and incredible scenery, Egypt has a lot to offer.

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  23. I somehow have this evil desire to crumble all those towers of spices, just because they so prettily arrange it that way. I've never seen those except in guidebooks on the Middle East and North Africa. I was expecting to see those in NYC but so far I haven't.

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  24. The Nomadic Pinoy8:36:00 PM

    I haven't seen anything similar in NYC myself but I'd rather see those unique arrangements where they look best - as you mentioned, in the Middle East and North Africa.

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  25. the pyramid of spices look so nicely piled up... when they sell do they scoop from there or it's for deco?

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  26. Aside from checking the churches when visiting another country, it's also a must to spend some time in the market. I read one comment about the smell of Eygptians. It's interesting though that they also love spices but they don't have a distinct smell like the Indians.

    I was trying to leave a comment in the post next to this, but I can't. Anyway, just want to say that I envy you for having been able to have your own snaps of the mosque's interior. I always want to do that here, but I'm not yet brave enough to have my camera confiscated. I think they're more open there, or maybe because that particular mosque is semi-open to tourist. Also, the beads they use for praying remind me of the rosary.

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  27. The Nomadic Pinoy9:48:00 AM

    When I worked in Saudi Arabia, I never ventured inside mosques since we were told non-believers were not allowed. Not until I went to Turkey. I don't know if rules differ in each Islamic country. But one thing I never miss visiting are the local markets!

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  28. This blog is very good and efficient with what it does. You give detailed explanations on your posts which make people to understand so much about this topic.

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