Shopping Tales: The Khan

I’ve made a few excursions to the Kahn since we’ve been here, following Ron’s initial introduction. Our friend Lisa has introduced us to a guy who sells hand-blown glass works, gallibayas and t-shirts. The photo of his glass shop didn’t come out too well, but it’s really amazing stuff and he’ll do custom orders too (everyone here, who actually makes the item and isn’t just selling it, will take custom orders – it’s a great feature!).

We’ve also visited Gouzlans, who is known for gold jewelry, and has a few shops throughout Cairo, including one on Road 9 in Maadi. They have beautiful necklaces, bracelets and earrings and really good prices on gold, and make cartouche pendants (a name in hieroglyphics) in a variety of sizes and styles.

Crazy Brothers, that Ron took me to on our first visit is located in a second-floor collection of iron makers, brass sellers, and everything in between. I ended up buying a brass trash can from them last time and they made a big deal about giving me the “embassy price,” which I’m sure meant a 40% mark-up. Oh well, I liked it. Up near Crazy Brothers, we got to see men hand-making the wood and pearl inlay coasters and boxes that are for sale all over the place. I love the all wood inlay boxes and treated myself to one from a store in Maadi that sits on my desk. I also have images of a table or a mirror in our future.

On one of my last Khan excursions, we got out of the cab intending to walk under the busy street through the pedestrian tunnel but I wandered over to a stall first as I thought he was selling small rugs (we need one for the foyer and kitchen). He wasn’t, but suggested we go down to the oldest spice market in Cairo where they also sell linens, rugs, etc. At the sound of this spice market possibility, I perked up and we headed down the road. The merchant, of course, started to lead us there. We kept saying that we didn’t need a guide and he kept insisting that he didn’t need baksheesh. He told us he had recently finished his degree in English (his English was really good, actually) and was entering the army soon. He led us through this great stone archway into a labyrinth of booths and stalls with comforters and blankets draped everywhere, stacks of t-shirts and bras for sale, linens, and spices! He was definitely leading us to a specific stall (it’s all about who you know here) as we followed him through the twisting alleys. We’d passed a few spice stalls and I finally just stopped and told him that we were going to just wander on our own and shop. He was a bit dismayed, but we were insistent – you have to be.

I finally had my spice shop experience and since it had taken me months to find this I figured I had to buy something. They’re always pushing saffron here, but I have to figure out what to do with it (new to this cooking thing), so for now I just bought cumin and coriander. I wedged myself in the small store with the local Egyptian women and pretended I knew what I was doing. I managed to walk out with two little bags of spice – mighty pleased with myself, too. And I have to say, those spices are potent! I have them double-bagged at home and had to move them to another cabinet as they were tainting the corn flakes.

Following the successful spice purchase, we continued on through the alley of comforters. Back here the alley was narrower and the blankets and thick comforters hung down all around us. It was kind of like a very narrow hedge maze made out of satin, embroidery, brightly colored, flannel, faux fur walls. At one point, Kristen suggested we stop going forward as we had been walking a while and just take the next available left, so we did and managed to make it back out the main area. On our way out of the market, we passed by a fez-maker’s shop – apparently he is the last remaining fez maker in all of Egypt. Well, whether it’s true or not, it’s interesting. Oh, and there were some specialty carts along the way too, selling tea, or bread, or maybe just prickly pears, but the one that boggles my mind is the loofah cart. It just seems an odd item to specialize in and rely one’s livelihood on. And yet I see them all over the city. Personally, I’d opt for bread or tea, something people need to buy more than once every six months, a year, or even a lifetime (I mean, how many loofahs can one person buy?).

We crossed the road over to the Kahn-proper and meandered through. In addition to tourist trappings, there are beautiful jewelry shops, gallibayas galore, lamp shops, brass-ware, alabaster, and just piles of antique/old/just-dirty things. One store was chock full of seemingly every estate sale left-over, including some of the largest chandeliers I’ve ever seen. We asked the man if they worked, he said yes, and yet made no movement to show us their brilliance. He probably guessed we weren’t there to buy, just oogle.