Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Buying & sourcing Spices in Egypt

Amnesiac had left a comment on my post "Shout out to Indians in Egypt": looking for Indian Masalas - Well single spices and blends. Garam masala, black mustard seeds, garlic powder...etc.

Thought I would write an entire post about it rather than a comment and generalise it to cover a lot of spices. So here goes :

Since I obviously can't cover everything in one shot, I'll type this one out now, but I will keep appending details to this post rather than type new ones each time & have data scattered. I will try & upload pictures of the spices too if I can manage that.

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 & 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 & his shop. He will then start keeping aside your favourite spices for you & also give you the better quality spices which aren't ever displayed to the transitory tourist shopper.

The Attaba (spice & 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&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 & 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 & 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)& mono sodium glutamate(ajinomoto) in its range. They also sell whole spices.

Black mustard seeds : I haven't seen these here. There's plenty of mustard available (ref Heinz bottles of mustard for 2LE) The best alternative is the white mustard which I have seen being sold at Metro on Gamaet Dawal in Mohandaseen (sold loose) It turns black when used in tadka (seasoning)

Garam Masala : is a blend that varies in each Indian household and across the states. The best is to get this from home ( a brand you are used to or one that is prepared by your mom/grandmom) otherwise, check their recipe. Almost all the individual ingredients are available in powder form. It is upto you to find your favourite recipe or figure the measurements of these powders that best suits you.

The National Brand of masalas from Pakistan have started retailing here too. They sell spice blends but only in their ultra mild versions(in Egypt). I add my India bought chilli powder to the mix, bhut the rest of the balance & 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.


vagabondblogger said...

Thanks for the info on National Brands. I never knew they had English instructions on the inside. I'll have to give them a try.

Kim said...

Happy to help :) by bringing the English instructions to your attention. I love the kheema powder, although I need to add a nice healthy dose of thai green chillies to the mix. LOL

Amnesiac said...

Thanks a lot, Kim. I asked a friend about black mustard seeds (having never seen them) and he told me that they are called 7abbet el baraka and are available from spice sellers...But I don't know if he is referring to the tiny seeds that I used in the UK.

And yeah, even if you do find an allegedly spicy spice, it's always watered down. Annoying.

Kim said...

I tried the white mustard at a friends house. It turns black when cooked and tastes very similar to the black mustard that we are used to.

another friend also mentioned that this (white) is the only mustard used in the Northern regions of India. The black mustard is more a Southern ingredient.
I'm not a 100% convinced on this argument although I do remember white mustard being easily available in Delhi/Gurgaon

Vandana said...

Dear Kim

Pretty much impressed by your blogs .Have been in Egypt (not Cairo) for more than a year and have been to India twice.I usually get my ingredients from back home since I either find the locally available ones way beyond what i think is money's worth or it simply isn't available.But its not the food alone that i am missing - is there anyway i could meet fellow desis - my son misses India a great deal - he's 7 and is incredibly adjusting but he wants to practice his Hindi abit.We stay in Maadi .

Kim said...

Hi Vandana,
Thanks for your kind comments.

There are plenty of Indians in Maadi with kids. I know a lot of Indian boys in the 5-9 age group who go to BCIS.

tip 1 : Try meeting other Indian mothers at your sons school.

tip 2 : contact the CSA in MAadi, they may have a list of Indians with kids your age in Maadi (they collect this information from new comers)

tip 3 : Annapooorna - the Indians ladies association meets once a month. Try & attend the next one, it will help you meet women with kids your age

tip 4 : the new indians in Egypt directory should be published this diwali. IT has information abt kids and areas of residence among others.

tip 5 : join desis in egypt
the online group for indians in Egypt

Hope to meet up with you sometime soon.

Anonymous said...

Hello! I don't know if you've already answered this someplace on your site, but is there anyplace (preferably in Maadi) where can I find paneer? I'm too lazy to make it, I'm afraid! Thanks!

Kim said...

Paneer isnt sold in a store in Egypt. Some people recommend "Haloumi" as a near substitute, but I haven't had much luck with it.

Restaurants like Gaya etc, sell Tofu/bean curd which I have had better luck with.

There are some women in Maadi who make Paneer at home and sell it, but they run it on a small scale. I do not have numbers.

I do know that there is an Indian woman who supplies food at the CSA's "Cooks Day Off" on Thursday & Sunday who cooks paneer items. Maybe if you go there and meet her, you can discuss terms for supplying paneer to you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

I haven't seen fresh ginger in the stores I've been! Are they available?

I enjoy your blog!


Kim said...

Thank you.

Btw u have an interesting screen name :)

Fresh ginger is available in most of the major grocery stores

During summer a lot veggies and fresh herbs go off the market, but a lot more fruits become available. So just wait a week or so and you should be able to find some.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the info! Phew! I thought I'd have to 'import' ginger!


Matahari (which means sun in Bahasa Indonesian)

Kim said...


See, the only matahari I was aware of before this was :

I used to get ginger paste from home, because when I just came in ginger was frignteningly expensive. About 60LE a kilo. It now hovers around 40Le a kilo, and the prices of other veggies have increased, so it makes sense to buy it in small quantities.

Min Ming said...

Hi! I bought green cardamon pods from Egypt in 2010 and I regret not buying more! Been desperately searching for someone to ship it to me internationally. Any contacts from the spice bazaar? Would really appreciate

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