Talk about duty free, the markets are decidedly consumer-friendly with no taxes, and with hidden treasures to be found among the mass-produced Orient schlock. For those who have missed the excitement of darting from stall to stall to be entertained by the shopkeepers that offer tea and conversation—here’s a small checklist of places to shop around the world.
Built in 1382, Khan el-Khalili represents the market tradition that established the Egyptian city as a major trade center. Famous for Egyptian cotton, exquisite art, ornate lanterns and gold and silver, the souk is credited for forcing European merchants to search for new sources of spices due to the monopoly it held on the region. Take a break at Fishawi's, the 24-hour coffeehouse that has not closed its doors since it opened in the late 1700s.
Bab al-Bahrain Souk—Bahrain
After a day in Manama you will discover that life in Bahrain centers on the famed souk. The Gateway to Bahrain (as its name is literally translated) features an opulent portal built in 1945 overlooking the sea. Rich yellow 22-karat gold jewelry and pearls beckon you, as do the traditional robes and the halwa sweets and candies.
Although it doesn’t have the name recognition as other souks across the land, the Al-Boshoot market (easy to find—ask your concierge) features some of the best shopping anywhere. Men’s robes, versatile handmade caftans, antique furniture and the world’s freshest roasted pistachios.
The Grand Bazaar—Istanbul
Older than most countries—dating back to 1461—the world’s largest covered souk has over 4,000 shops covering 64 streets! Nearly 300,000 shoppers come in search of the best chandeliers, silver flatware, pottery, leather and jewelry anywhere in Asia or Europe. Here, stumbling around is half the fun, as is the tradition of negotiating for and purchasing Turkish rugs in shops that seem only big enough for the shopkeeper. finding your favorite foods at one of the many cafes or restaurants is a treasure hunt. Wander. Enjoy. Live. And don’t expect to cover the entire souk in less than a lifetime.
Adam Basma Bazaar—Los Angeles
Though it is billed as the place to shop for authentic belly dance costuming, there is so much more in this quaint store of one of the premier dance instructors in the Western United States. Jewelry, shoes, walking canes, Moroccan lamps and Middle Eastern furniture are just the beginning of the vast selection of wares.
5998 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA;
Importing from the old souks of Morocco, the online sensation offers only handmade, delicately appointed furnishings. Leather Moorish benches, Dama lanterns, Andalus buffet tables, and our favorite, the Alhambra chairs, highlighting the never ending collections. Reasonable prices and affordable shipping. Log-on for new arrivals!
Syria—Morning bread delivery in Damascus
Magnificent sights don’t have to be natural or manmade wonders. Some are simply everyday occurrences, but new to us.
When the sun rises on the bare streets of Damascus, the corner bakeries are preparing the daily bread for an entire city. As the sun splashes rooftops with golden rays, the streets begin to fill with shoppers looking for the right vegetables for their daily meals and shopkeepers turning the key on another day. Boys load the big baskets on their bikes with flat bread, while the older men hand carry larger orders to their destinations. A sight only seen in a handful of cities worldwide.
Iran—Tabriz Gold Bazaar
Walking in the center of Tabriz harkens you back centuries with its simplicity that collides with complexities. The large 15th-century covered bazaar is a wonderful place to get lost amid architectural splendor. While shopping at the bazaar, the eye candy rests in the varieties of precious stones and metals available to travelers or locals looking for the perfect wedding gift.
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