Sunday, June 14, 2009

Iranian Souq

Last few weeks have been quite hectic at work, but I have had loads of fun during the weekends. I finally made it to the Iranian souq/Old souq/Souq Waqif as it is called. Apparently this souq, which is about a hundred years old, has been majorly renovated in the last few years using of course, lots and lots of money! The first thing that struck me….” Ok does not look too bad! Can still step without inhibition on the stone pavements…..quite clean in fact!” and once we entered, “wow, what an amazing smell!” It actually smells like a native medicine shop, for whoever is familiar with that kind of smell from India. There are so many small shops around and they all look so inviting, as you feel like going and discovering all the hidden goodies in these small places :-) Most of the items are not packaged goods, but rather open in boxes and they will weigh out what measure you want and pack it up. While Asians may be used to this concept from olden days, it is no longer the custom in most places, and is hence very refreshing. I felt like I was walking the streets of old Tamil Nadu, with the small shops, and wooden planks for doors…..anyone remember those types? ;-)

One can get almost anything from these small shops in the souq……henna powder in huge boxes… many varieties of them – black henna, red henna, coarse types, softer types, etc; Other herbal powders, dried flowers for various purposes, dry fruits, including dried pomegranate arils; this is one of the best discoveries I have made in any shop in recent times! It is so deliciously sour, goes so well with other dried delights like almonds and walnuts, or even with breakfast cereal. All kinds of spices used in cooking are also available in their original state. The huge barks of royal cinnamon are an example! Best part, you are allowed to sample anything edible before you buy ;-)There are also things like dried, whole limes, crushed and dried garlic (that looks like chips), etc, which are all apparently widely used in the native cooking here.

Once you finish this side of the souq, the alley opens into a broad area with some very nice, what I call “junk-jewellery shops”! I started using this term since my childhood because my father always thought buying gold was the best thing you can do; it is an investment and good planning. I, his daughter, always loved anything that: 1) was not made of gold or any other metal of value 2) was huge and antiquey looking (mostly) 3) usually had no resale value of any sort and 4) were usually quite expensive too! These lovely shops carried beautiful chains, bracelets and earrings made of stones, antique looking metals, beads etc. Some of them were a bit on the expensive side, but many quite reasonable. I am trying to convince fellow family members that I can actually wear some of them for my wedding, but am met with caustic glares (or rude admonitions if on phone) that often silences me after some initial mumbling :-(
I have already been to the souq twice in three weeks for, of course, what else but these shops!

Now are you imagining the souq to be made of all these kinds of shops? Just when a newly visiting person may start to write it off so, a Basking Robins/Dunkin donuts branch appears, inside the souq!!! Just as you are beginning to recover, there is a Costa coffee! And also………….wait for it…………….a Häagen-Dazs outlet! There are also other restaurants, shisha (?) cafes and some interesting eat outs. The best part about it is you can sit outside in the open stone pavements and enjoy your cup of coffee or food here. This of course is subject to temperature conditions and by that I mean “NOT NOW in summer”! It is a boiling 50° Celsius already and nobody fails to inform me that it is “just the beginning”!!!

There were also some clothes, shoes, and kitchen accessories kind of shops, which did not interest me too much. There is also a ‘pet shop’ kind of area where they sell birds, kittens, rabbits, etc. these kind of places usually only make me sad and I left that area as soon as I could!

On the whole the Souq was a wonderful experience and I am sure I will be there for some essentials and not so essentials quite often ;-) Looking forward to showing some people around soon, so people, start visiting!

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