Hot to shop: Cairo

Bargain bazaar ... wares on sale at Khan-al-Khalili souk.
Bargain bazaar ... wares on sale at Khan-al-Khalili souk. Photo: AFP

Haggle in the souks and on the streets or splurge on fixed-price designs found in boutiques, writes Belinda Jackson.

Staple diet

The souks (markets) are really the shopping malls of Egypt but that's not to say the locals don't love a good mall binge. Closest and most glam is First Mall, just below Four Seasons First Residence on 35 Giza Street.

On the north side of the city, about 30 minutes by taxi, the vast City Stars Mall in Nasr City will sate pangs of home with its cinemas, food chains and familiar brands, while expat district Maadi Grand Mall yields fashion pickings.

Must-buys

Jewellery is plentiful on the streets. For the patient haggler, visit the gold, silver and gemstone dealers in Khan al-Khalili, while left-of-centre Samir Amin does fabulously modern chunky jewellery and leatherware priced from a few dollars (15A al-Mansour Muhammad Street).

Silver specialist Azza Fahmy is celebrated for her gorgeous modern pieces (First Mall, 15 Taha Hussein Street, Zamalek, and al-Ain Gallery, 73 Hussein Street, Dokki). Keep an eye out for bold copper jewellery in Townhouse Gallery (Nabrawy Street, downtown), while Sabil-Kuttab Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda displays silver jewellery (al-Muizz Street, Khan al-Khalili).

Cheap trick

Cute kitsch abounds in Cairo, from mid-century advertising signs to shisha (tobacco water pipes) along al-Muizz Street (Khan al-Khalili) to beautiful inlay work behind the al-Azhar mosque: think chessboards and jewellery boxes. Expect the quality to reflect the price.

For Egyptian cotton, you'll often find better quality at home.

Market madness

Egyptians have wheeled and dealed at Khan al-Khalili souk since the 14th century. Sure, you can get tourist tat (think King Tut busts and pyramid key rings) but also cotton clothes and elaborate brassware.

Take the stairs to the Khan's quieter upper levels. For fixed prices and better quality, Souk al-Fustat near Coptic Cairo showcases artisan and co-op pottery, recycled products and Nefertari, a manufacturer of beautifully scented natural body products (Mar-Girgis).

Insider trading

If short of time, hit the suburb of Zamalek for gorgeous, fixed-price boutiques. Must-visit Fair Trade Egypt has amazingly well-priced jewellery, renowned Fayoum pottery, small gifts and textiles, (27 Yehia Ibrahim Street); Ganoob has gorgeous handmade jewellery, up-market scarves and homewares (32 Yehia Ibrahim Street) and Zakhareef's handwoven baskets and Egyptian cotton sheets are divine (15 Ahmed Sabry Street).

Home help

Delicious lamps abound - start at fixed-price Oum al-Dounia, good value for homewares as well as artwork, music and coffee table books (first floor, 3 Talaat Harb Street, downtown). Other good haunts for elaborate arabesque chandeliers, packed for travel, include al-Gamil in the atmospheric Seket El Kabwa (Khan al-Khalili) and the crazy market street El Muski (Ataba Square). Khan Misr Touloun sells the distinctive green and blue Muski glass and gorgeous Christmas decorations, shoes and antique clothing (opposite Ibn Tulun mosque, Sayyida Zeinab) and we love the weaving and old posters in beautiful Al Khatoun (3 Mohamed Abdo Street, Al Azhar).

Fash and trash

Fashion-conscious chaps make for Concrete for well-designed casual and formal menswear (in all malls and 21 al-Maahad al-Swissry Zamalek), while Daly Dress is a Eurocentric design house that will give the credit cards a workout (in all malls). For high-end designer weaves, the beautiful offerings in Siwa are made by local women in Egypt's most chic oasis (17 Ahmad Heshmat Road, Zamalek). Check Suede for fabulous Egyptian leather boots that'll have friends drooling (19 Road 233, Degla Maadi).

Locals love

Perfume in all the scents of the East - sandalwood, frankincense, lotus, jasmine - blended into oils. Little roll-on vials start at a few dollars. Fragrance shops are found on every corner: in the Khan, quarter the price asked by blenders.

The fine print

Egyptian Tourist Authority, egypt.travel.

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