The Trouble with Truffles

(Written February 2012) Finally, after living here for four-and-a-half months, my husband and I made it to Kuwait’s infamous Friday Market. We didn’t really know what to expect; I was envisioning an Arab swap meet of sorts, and in part, I was right. But it encompassed far more than that.

We were told it was in the area behind “The Avenues” Mall and I had driven by it and seen some tents set up, so we headed in that general direction. The first grouping of tents proved to be the actual tent-maker area. We drove through, but realizing that we really weren’t in need of a canvas tent right now, we headed on to the next batch of tents (but not before noting the location for “Ready Tents & Accessories” – because there’s just nothing worse than a Not-Quite-Ready tent, right?).

We parked with a bunch of other cars, figuring they’re here for a reason. Unfortunately, that reason was the live animal market which we stumbled directly in to. I was suddenly surrounded by 50 parakeets crammed in a cage, or sad fishes swimming in a tiny bowl, not to mention the squaks and clucks I was hearing farther in. No one there had a life-expectancy beyond a few months, I’m sure. I sped through, keeping my eyes and ears averted until I bumped in to the fruit and veg sellers, almost literally. All of their goods looked great, and despite us leaving in three days, we bought half a kilo of strawberries and oranges, all for just two dinars (about $7). So we may have found our weekly fruit and veg place.

Just across the street were two rows of bright orange tents. We wandered into the first row and it appeared they were all selling the same thing: stacks of lumpy, dirty-looking potato-like things. But they weren’t potatoes, far too light, and I mused to my husband that maybe they were mushrooms of some kind. As we kept walking, he approached one seller and we learned that all of these booths were selling truffles. Piles and piles of truffles; little truffles, medium truffles, and big truffles. For about $25 we could get one kilo of the large truffles, or for $18 a kilo of the medium ones. Apparently this is truffle season here and they’re grown locally, as well as in Oman. Considering our imminent departure, we opted to forego the kilos of truffles, but I have it earmarked as a possible venture out next February.

As we were departing truffle-ville, I took out my camera and the seller beamed and indicated that I could take his picture, and as seems to be the custom, he told my husband to come around the counter and be in the picture with him (I’m thinking this will make a great February in the “My husband posing with various foreign men” calendar everyone can expect this Christmas). After taking their picture, the two sellers next to him indicated that I could take their picture as well, so never one to say no to a truffle-seller, I took their picture, too. Saying our farewells to the trufflers, my husband casually asked the seller if he was Kuwaiti (as we’re really dying to actually meet one), but he laughed and said, “No, I’m from Iran.” Ha, ha, ha. Then he and the sellers next to him all laughed riotously as my husband and I walked away. Truffle humor, I guess.

Crossing back through the parking lot, we headed toward a large fenced-in area that looked like a huge arena, without walls. The entire area was roofed and was filled as far as we could see in all directions with stuff. Beds and dressers, couches and diwaniyas (like an enormous couch set that lines the edges of a room), mirrors, kitchenware, clocks, rugs, curtains, washing machines, TVs, clothes, shoes, bags, etc. All of this appeared to be new, then we entered the “Arab flea market” area and you name it, it was here. From mountains of old tools, to rather filthy well-used strollers and cribs, to every TV remote made, to Singer sewing machines from the 1920s (I really wanted one, but they wouldn’t budge on the price), to bicycles and vacuums. We found a lot of amusing items, and even some fun purchases, but didn’t buy anything. This was more of a scouting mission. Continuing with our get-out-and-explore momentum, I went with a friend a few days later to the Kuwaiti fabric souq. I’d been hearing about it, and knew it was relatively close to the “Heritage souq” that I’d been to already, but when she offered to show me around, I jumped at the chance. It wasn’t anywhere near the excitement and adventure and dysentery levels that Cairo’s Boulaq fabric souq was, nor did it have the can’t-resist, must-buy-more, penny-pinching prices, but I will say that in terms of variety and pretty much all you could ask for, it could hold its own. All of the fabric shops were corralled in two shopping centers, with shops inside and outside, and tailors galore on the second floor. We wandered and explored, bought some gorgeous fabrics from India on sale, and found a wonderful all-things-made-in-China store that will provide all the “I heart Kuwait” buttons, red teddy bears, paper gift bags, and more miles of ribbon than I could possibly need over the next two years.

So, while we’re still accepting that this ain’t Cairo, we’re getting out and have actually had a few fun outings; visiting the Radisson Hotel to check out their gym and pools, making three attempts to see a movie, the last of which was finally successful (apparently everyone else has figured out that there’s not a lot to do here, so going to the movies is a highly popular event and one that must be planned ahead accordingly – we ended up having to wait an hour for the next film so we wandered the 360 Mall and my husband pointed out that it really wasn’t any fun to window shop in a Mall where you can’t afford anything; he's right).

So, having properly donned our adventure-seeking hats, we will now plan more outings, with well-stocked diaper bag and baby-in-tow, tucking away our low expectations, and continue with our Kuwaiti adventures. Now, on to planning that all-truffle dinner party for next February.