August 5, 2007 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

Ahmad took us to “New Town” last night, marking our introduction to a third type of shopping in Aleppo.

So far, in our time in Aleppo, we had shopped in Aleppo’s centuries-old covered suq.  Walking east on the main street from the in-suq hotel, spice sellers lined both sides of the one-lane road, followed by a row of butchers, before one entered the textile suq, where you could purchase blankets, tablecloths, sheets, scarves, and clothing.  Aleppo’s suq extends many kilometers; there a sections where tailors work (an old roman prison; each has what used to be a cell open onto the street), sections to purchase cosmetics, rope, shoes, jewelry, antiques.  Few tourists come to Aleppo; the suq is filled with people from the surrounding countryside coming to furnish a new home or acquire everything needed for a wedding.  Bare-headed men in western dress mix with men wearing distinctively Kurdish baggy pants and others with long gray or white jalabiyas whose heads are covered with red and white checked scarves. The suq isn’t just for shopping: the Umayyad mosque is partly within the structure, many workshops remain on the outskirts, men roast meat for hungry shoppers, and sweet-sellers are everywhere.

Just outside the main suq, single-focus shops still predominate, clustered with other, similar shops.  We have walked through blocks where many shops sell only plumbing fixtures and supplies, while shops on neighboring streets offer electronics, produce, building supplies, kitchen equipment, school and office supplies.  You go to the street that offers the thing you’re looking for.

The second type of shopping relies on small neighborhood grocers who sell bread, cheese, yogurt, eggs, biscuits, rice, sugar, tea, toilet paper, things one needs every day.

Those are the ways we had shopped in our previous two weeks in Aleppo.

But buried in the middle of one of Aleppo’s newest sections is the “Supermarket.”  At 9 last night, the first floor was crowded with whole families pushing carts in narrow aisles, men and women and children together.  “New Town” seems to have it all in one structure: many options for tea and coffee (the green packages have cardamon, they aren’t decaf), biscuits, rice, all the things one would get at the corner store, but more options.  There was a meat and cheese counter, where butchers cut meat to order and deli people prepared salads and packaged cheese on request.  A cookie/candy counter attendant offered to weigh sweets, and an employee ground coffee beans to specifications (William didn’t realize he was being asked about adding cardamon.)  Foreign foods were displayed on the aisles: prepared mustards, mayonnaise, soy sauce, breakfast cereals (Fruit Loops in Arabic).  No wine, no bacon.  There were housekeeping items, soaps, plastic wraps–all in about half the space of a non-super-store grocery in the US.

The second and third floors offered most everything imaginable.  Pots and pans, dishes, cosmetics, electronics (we found a drip coffee-maker!), clothing, jewelry, flashlights.  The DVD section had a large sign offering the new release of “Hary Boter.”

It’s a high-energy place.  While the fixed prices are a bit of a relief after the bargaining required for the suq, the environment seemed somehow more demanding.  By the time we left, I had that glazed-over look that Katie tells me I develop whenever I’m at Walmart.

The store manager found us somehow, gave us a huge welcome, and insisted that we sign up for the promotional event, a raffle to receive a brand new car.  The thought of driving in Aleppo is daunting, but we signed up for the raffle and left thinking about shopping and economic transitions.

Entry filed under: Food, Syria, Travel.

To the Mountains! Ahmad’s House

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