To experience Egypt fully, you have to go to a local SOUQ (market): this is where the soul of the country lives! It is an overwhelming onslaught to all of your senses!
WHAT IS A SOUQ?
It is a local market, where sellers come from near and far to sell their products. Some sellers have a permanent shop from which to sell, but others simply “set up shop” when they arrive, find a suitable spot and begin selling. Goods are brought to the market via:
- pull along trolleys
- and on heads!
WHEN ARE THESE SOUQs OPEN?
Most markets are open almost daily and almost 24 hours! They are usually along streets and alley ways. In some villages though, there is a weekly market, where the farmers gather their produce at the end of the week and come and sell on the streets. So what is usually a normal road into the heart of the village becomes an area teeming with noise, colors, and smells, and frenetic activity and shouting as the farmers (and wives) try to sell off their produce: a labyrinth of enthusiasm and freshness! It is best to go earlier in the day (around 9am) once the stalls are set up, the heat is still bearable, and the sellers are at their most enthusiastic!
WHAT DO THEY SELL?
These local markets tend to sell a lot of produce: fruit, veg, leafy greens, but all arranged in beautiful, artistic displays, showing how Egyptians love patterns and symmetry.
There is also a lot of fish (which is often so fresh it is still flapping on the tables, and sometimes they jump right off!)
Meat is always popular, though possibly not how you are used to seeing it, nor the types of meat you are used to seeing. The meat will be hung out in the street, chunks cut off as needed. The “innards and organs” are very popular here, so watch where you walk, or your head may hit a large lung!
Poultry and rabbits are a much loved source of protein. Many guests find it terribly difficult to accept that these fluffy creatures, hopping around will be someone’s dinner! But rabbit stew is a favorite of many Egyptians, and often offered in restaurants. Selection of chickens (or ducks, turkeys and even the odd ostrich) is done while they are alive. Then in an alarmingly short time, it will be handed over to you, cleaned and ready to cook.
Sundry clothing items: there will always be shops selling pajamas, slip slops, slippers, scarves and veils.
General shops: selling every conceivable piece of plastic and glass for the home: glasses, trays, salt and pepper pots, jugs… all made in China!
Spices and lentils: always available are the earthy pungent spices, in very large bags. Lentils, rice and macaroni are ever-present: the nation loves them!
Bread: every souk will have a gloriously smelling bakery, selling fresh bread and a huge variety of biscuits, which just have to be eaten while drinking a cup of black tea, from a glass!
Tea: you will always find a man carrying a tray with glasses of tea or coffee, ready for the sellers or the buyers to reach out for, purchase and drink. If you feel the need, someone will always find something for you to sit on, and you can sip you tea, munch on a biscuit and watch the world pass by!
SOCIAL… as well as functional!
As well as the business of buying and selling, the Souq is the heart of the community. News is shared and spread, laughter and tears, encouragement and sadness are given and received. Many sellers have been selling in that same spot for generations, so there is often a sense of camaraderie, family, community and caring: and of course the usual angry outbursts between people, heated arguing… then followed by hugging and cheek kissing, and finally a shared cup of tea!
WELCOME IN EGYPT…