Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Buying and Sourcing Spices in Egypt

Since I obviously can't cover everything in one shot, I'll just do the best that I can.

The best place to buy whole spices in Egypt - cinnamon, cloves, cardamom etc is the Khan el Khalili near Al Azhar Mosque.

There are various shops, some have better quality of some spices than others. So you may need to mix and match a bit. If you are here for the long run, then I would recommend that you keep going back to the same spice seller to build up a relationship with him and his shop. He will then start keeping aside your favourite spices for you and also give you the better quality spices which aren't ever displayed to the transitory tourist shopper.

The Attaba (spice and herbs section) market is also a great place to shop for whole spices. But not recommended to any expat in Egypt who has still not got the hang of navigating Cairo's streets & traffic (human and vehicular) or brushed up on their negotiating (bargaining) skills. Even after a year here, I prefer to accompany an Egyptian friend who does all the talking (I give my shopping list to him/her before time and quietly point to anything I find interesting)

I still get most of my whole spices from home (imported from Kerala - the best & strongest potency) except for cinnamon which I find the quality available in Egypt to be many degrees higher, especially if you like the fancy versions (all rolled up in little curls - called quills)

You can get really long cinnamon quills (1-2 feet long) at the 2 spice markets mentioned above.

Chilli powder - not really found a really spicy brand like the "Everest - tikhalal" that I use from back home. What you get in Egypt as Chilli powder is normally paprika powder and has a slight sweet tinge to it, but its not in the least bit half as hot as "Everest-tikhalal"

Dried Chillies - I have seen the Sudanese dried chillies at some of the supermarkets - they are quite potent and worth buying.

Green chillies - the fresh chillies sold in most markets taste more like bell peppers (capsicum) than chillies to the Indian palate. A couple of shops sell Thai Birds eye chillies like Maadi Fruit paradise and Miriams Market in Maadi. (It seems Alfa in Zamalek used to stock this stuff before, but there's a lot of stuff that's gone AWOL on their inventories)

Turmeric Powder, Cumin (jeera) powder, corriander (dhaniya) powder, onion powder, garlic powder are easily available. I pick up the "Nour" - Small flat round plastic boxes with red tops or the "Spicy Trade" - Tall slim round glass bottles with purple tops.

Do remember that sometimes powder is spelled as "bowder" on the bottles. Its the same thing, not a new spice :)

Spicy trade also offers baking soda (soda bicarbonate / meetha soda) and mono sodium glutamate(ajinomoto) in its range. They also sell whole spices.

The National Brand of masalas from Pakistan has started retailing here, too. They sell spice blends but only in their ultra mild versions (in Egypt). I add My India brought chilli powder to the mix, but the rest of the balance and blend is fine. The blends are very similar to Indian blends. I've seen biryani (kabsa), kheema/queema (mince), Tandoori (barbequed chicken), Broast (roasting or frying chicken), kaleji (liver), kofta, and tikka mixes among others.

They come with recipes printed on their packs. Don't be worried if you only see instructions in arabic on the outside. There will be an English version on the inside of the pack. Else you can always get the recipes online by clicking the links above.

This is what I can think of for the moment. Let me know if you are looking for anything in particular, by writing a comment on this post. I should reply within 24 hours unless I'm out in the desert :)

These spices are available at most of the major supermarkets and the local grocery store too.

Also see Papads & Pickles for more details on Indian foods.

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