A book extra for Duty, Desire and the Desert King
Every time I write a Sheikh book for the Presents line, my favorite part is the time spent researching the Arab culture, their countries and their traditions. When I wrote Zayed’s book, I spent a long time learning a lot about the souqs.
Souqs are concentrated, traditional Arab markets selling indigenous products and a huge tourist attraction. They’ve been around for centuries and are more often than not, very crowded. They can be outdoor markets or housed indoors but they are equally fascinating. Rents for a souq stall/shop are much lower and a customer always gets a lot more variety and value for their money. My favorites include the gold souq and the spice souq.
The Gold Souq
It’s hard not to be fascinated by the allure of the gold souq. Unlike US jewelry stores, the gold souqs of the Middle East specialize in 22 karat gold. 18 karat gold, which is the norm here, is not as popular overseas. Most of the gold jewelry is all hand-made and each piece is intricate and unique. A patron can also order a custom piece with their choice of precious stones and pearls and can even elect to ‘watch’ which they design it in front of you.
The glamour of the 22 karat jewelry lies not only in the customized and ethnic designs but also in the rich matte gold color. Each piece has a beautiful warmth and the variety of options is almost endless. The only drawback – if you want to call it that – for the non-ethnic population that shops for 22 karat jewelry in a gold souk is that this jewelry is heavier, softer and more malleable. Which means it can be dented or damaged more easily. Pierced earrings are made with a thicker stalk which makes them a little difficult to wear. But if gold is your passion, it’s a small price to pay!
The Spice Souq
Just as fascinating as the gold souq, the spice market of the Middle East has its own pull for the tourist. Almost every kind of spice imaginable is available for sale in large sacks at wholesale prices. It’s a visually stunning sight! Fragrant seasonings available include cumin, paprika, saffron, sumach, thyme and frankincense. One can even buy ‘oud’, a fragrant type of wood. There are herbs and spices, dried lemons and chillies and nuts and pulses galore.
You’ll find shelves full of henna powder, incense and burners, rose water, charcoal, pumice stones and sandalwood. Most exotic spices are available are very reasonable prices. The ethnic flavor is strongly evident in local color and customs. Women draped in Arab garb and western dress mingling easily and bargaining for a good deal is the norm.
Arabs are also keen on dry fruit and you’re likely to see sacks or buckets full of almonds, walnuts, apricots, pistachios and sultanas for sale too. It’s not uncommon to find sweets and local delicacies for sale.
I’ve collected a few Arabic recipes for readers: Umm Ali, Date Cakes, and Mouhalabiye with Pistachios. I’ve found easy to pull together for a yummy treat for my family. Enjoy!