5 May 2016

Not Quite The Afghan Souk

Jeddah is home to a reasonably large Afghan souk, shop sellers either travelling home to Afghanistan to collect their products or purchasing things from people travelling to Mecca on pilgrimage.  I have heard that it is THE place to go for carpets.  Now I must admit to being a bit of a carpet and kelim fan, something that runs in the family.  My parents bought so many while in Turkey that there is no more available floor space in the family home and my sister recently had to put half of hers in storage.  Our own carpets are all in our container, waiting for the day we purchase a forever home to put them in but that does not mean that I would mind having a few to travel with, in fact I have my eye on a very fine silk on silk Iranian carpet that I saw at an exhibition the other day.

Carpet Shop Jeddah
Afghani rugs are easily available in Jeddah
My compound has a twice daily shopping bus and one day last week this was due to go to the Afghan Souk so I leapt at the chance to spend a morning looking at carpets and kelims thinking that if I found something decent Mr EE and I could go back at the weekend to see if he liked it too.

Street Scene Jeddah
This part of town is less picturesque than the main
UNESCO area of Balad but has its own charm
             Typical Street In Jeddah

In the event I never got to the souk.  The driver parked the bus a short walk away and I got distracted by the ordinary streets of the town.  The area was a less picturesque part of Balad which is so popular with tourist/pilgrims and, of course, expats like me!  This part of town was all together more functional.  I was fully intending to walk down to the Souk when I was distracted by the smell of bread.  One of my fondest memories of our time in Diyarbakir (Turkey) was the beautiful fresh bread that came straight from the oven, so tasty that we would often eat it on its own, sometimes taking just enough time to get some honey.  Turning a corner I saw a traditional oven turning out the most beautiful rounds of bread.  Unable to resist I bought one and spent the rest of the morning tearing strips off from time to time. 

Traditional Baker Jeddah
Bread straight from the oven
While I was enjoying the bread I spent some time looking in the windows of some of the gold (some were gold plated) shops.  I was given a beautiful, very pure and very delicate gold filigree necklace for my 18th birthday which was stolen in a burglary 4 years later.  I am forever on the look out for a good jeweller that will stock something similar.  Sadly nothing I saw even came close, some of necklaces were pure rather than plated filigree but were far too large and ornate so my quest continues.  A few of the shops also stocked good collections of silver jewellery.  The styles are too big for me not really to my taste but it would be a good place to go for people who can pull off that sort of thing.

BIG and flashy is the way to go here...

Walking on there were more small shops selling small handicrafts, pottery and basket ware.  A small street off to the side contained small butchers' shops and fishmongers, the street was full of cats (they are ubiquitous here) searching for scraps and I could see that many of the butchers not only tolerated this but actively encouraged them by throwing down offcuts.  My guess is that this stops the cats from stealing and their presence will help control vermin.


I have not seen many flower shops in the malls but a number of the places here sold the most beautiful flower garlands and decorations, the owners sitting on small stools while stringing them together.  The options are all shown on the walls, I didn’t want a garland or fancy concoction but they sell single flowers as well, they are all kept in the fridge for freshness. 

Shops sell all sorts
Shisha Seller, Jeddah
From Shisha/Hubbly Bubbly...
...to Abayas for all occasions
Not wanting my flowers to wilt I took them back to the bus so they would be happy in the air conditioning and, realising that I would not really have time to make it down to the souk I decided to cross over the road and spend the rest of the time seeing what else I could find.  There were more jewellery shops, some shisha sellers, a lot of shops selling perfume and incense and shop after shop selling abayas with a hugely diverse range of decorative patterns. The area was covered which offered a welcome respite from the strong sun.

I have not seen trunks for sale in ages
Some welcome shade
All in all, although I did not get to my destination of choice I found the places I did visit absolutely fascinating, so far removed from the tourist bustle of the main part of Balad and yet still friendly and welcoming.   I can go back for carpets another time!

Street Near Afghan Souk Jeddah

For more posts on life in Saudi Arabia on the picture below

Ersatz Expat

Posted as part of the Travel At Home blog linky.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Looks like you had quite the walk! I enjoyed your pictures and descriptions.

    1. Thanks Celia, it was great fun, next time I will get to the souk though.

  2. I can see why you got distracted. What a wonderful array of shops and products. I love your photo of the bangles. Before kids, when I wore a lot of jewellery like this, I think I would have been in heaven!

    1. Thanks Claire, it is certainly very striking.

  3. so fascinating, and that bread looks like you can eat it with the spot! i have to say though, give the necklaces another try - the chunky/ornate ones look best i think when you keep the outfit with them simple - say a black top and skinny jeans and flats, then the work really shines!

    1. The bread really is heavenly. Sadly the jewellery is completely out for me, I have quite a petite frame (although sadly a little chunkier post three children) which means I can't get away without heels and heavy jewellery just overwhelms me. I am very envious of people who can carry this stuff off. I am hoping to engage in vicarious necklace fun when our girls are a little older.

  4. I love seeing posts like this about places that you just wouldn't normally go. In fact scrap that, I love visiting - and photographing - places like this. When you have a camera you start seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary and I think you have captured this perfectly. Makes me think I need to organise another photography walking tour in Johannesburg....

    1. I remember your post on that walking tour - it looked like a wonderful thing to do. I think some organisations do similar things here in Jeddah which is probably a better way of learning about the things you are seeing than just wandering around alone like I did. Of course some places also have security issues as well :(

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