Suq! Shopping in Thebes

Archaeologists love to eat, and food is a major interest of everyone who works in KV 5. A weekly visit to the local market (called suq in Arabic) is something to which we all look forward. Here, Susan Weeks lets you explore for yourself.    
Every Tuesday morning, very early, is market day in Luxor. As the KV 5 excavation crew waits on our Toyota Land Cruiser at 6 a.m. by the West Bank ferry landing to meet our antiquities inspector, several of us amuse ourselves watching the lively activities [10729].     10729
Groups of black-mantled ladies head for the suq, baskets balanced on their heads, a duck or a goose held by a wing in one hand, a child in tow with the other [10453]. There is always a clot of old women squatting near the landing, peddling to passers-by homemade yellow rounds of buffalo butter and white ovals of fresh goat cheeses.     10453
The ferry landing café is doing a bustling business serving up steaming glasses of sweet tea and enameled bowls of boiled brown fava beans (called ful medames), ladled from blackened pots buried up to their necks in hot ashes [10691]. A few donkey carts, piled high with salad greens and vegetables, hint at what might be offered today at the bigger market.     10691
The market is held at the start of the road to the Valley of the Kings, in an open space behind the modern cemetery and across the road from the memorial temple of Sety I [10708]. Scenes very similar to the modern market can be seen painted on the walls of nearby New Kingdom tombs: women bartering over cheese and lettuce, goats being herded, and donkeys bringing great sacks of produce.     10708
We decide to buy a cabbage and a cauliflower for lunch [10458]. On our way to the Valley, we pick up some of our workmen. They ask us to buy some fresh, hot ta'amiya (deep fried bean croquettes) for their 9:30 breakfast break. Dr. Weeks offers to drop several of us at the market for a quarter of an hour to buy the ta'amiya and some spices.     10458
The market always offers photo opportunities, and provides a refreshing respite from dusty tomb excavation and tedious potsherd labeling [10699].     10699
The market is never dull. The piles of vegetables and pyramids of fruit change from season to season. There is always a bewildering variety of dried lentils, beans, grains and spices, neatly arranged, and a lively scene in the poultry section.    
Palm-branch crates are piled up, filled with pigeons and chickens. Fluffy yellow and gray ducklings huddle in reed baskets. Brightly colored turkeys strut about loose, or sit quietly atop old-fashioned balance scales. Women are in charge here, and shout descriptions of their fresh eggs, their homemade butter and cheeses.    
Nearby, groups of men engage in the serious business of buying and selling fat brown long-tailed sheep, or baby goats no bigger than cats [10706]. There is a track to test-ride donkeys, and one must be careful here to avoid being run over. A huge, mustached man with a great pair of shears trims geometric patterns on the rumps of tethered donkeys. Men are also sitting on the ground getting a shave or a haircut. Women haggle over shawls, sequins, T-shirts, aluminum pots and pans, locally made earthenware casseroles, and plastic sandals [17515]. Men sell knives, carpentry tools, shoes, farm utensils, palm ropes, baskets, brooms, and other household goods [10693, 10461].     10706 17515 10693 10461
There are carts of sweet pastries and savory bread rolls. Men make tea on improvised cook-stands, and fry balls of ta'amiya and slices of eggplant for sandwiches [10696].     10696
Small bags of popcorn, pumpkin seeds, and peanuts are sold to excited children, who dash everywhere, playing tag in the crowd.    
We always meet people we know here-the mother of one of our workmen, the cook from the Tutankhamun café, the proprietor of our hotel, Ahmed. Ahmed has also bought a cabbage that his daughter will stuff with rice and dill for our lunch. We hand him our purchases, and ask if he could fry our cauliflower with garlic.    
We love to linger in the market, but it is time to deliver our ta'amiya while it is still hot. We spot the Land Cruiser parked at the edge of the market near the village post office. On the drive to the Valley, we discuss what we have seen, what we have heard, and begin making plans for shopping at the market next week. One of us opens the paper cone filled with the ta'amiya. By the time we reach the Valley of the Kings, half of it has been eaten.    

Published or last modified on: May 15, 2003
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