Baghdad is a good place to buy authentic souvenirs as it has not been hit by mass tourism. There are traditional bazaars (souks) with stalls and small shops piled high with everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to designer clothes. Friendly price bargaining is fully expected! Baghdad also has some smart new shopping malls – Al Mansour was the first, but has been joined by Baghdad and Maximall which all offer entertainment as well as good shopping.
1. Choose some delicious sweet treats
There is a wonderful array of different sweets available in the city’s cake shops, many of them are packed with nuts and liberally dusted with icing sugar. They can be bought loose by weight or in gift boxes – buy twice as much as you think you will need because they are seriously irresistible! If you don’t have ‘a sweet tooth’ there are many different fruit and nut combinations to buy instead.
2. Be tempted to buy excellent dates
Dates are said to have originated in Iraq centuries ago and the country still produces more than 650,000 tons (metric). Several different types of date can be found on sale in Baghdad’s markets and each tastes slightly different. There are Amir Hajj, Khastawi, the red colored Dayri, and the golden skinned Zahidi. There are lovely gift boxes or you can also buy the dates loose, by weight.
3. Pack an array of fresh spices
The spice stalls in the market are well worth seeing as there are numerous sacks filled with colorful and aromatic spices. They are sold by weight which is perfect because you can squeeze quite a few small bags in your suitcase!
4. Select beautiful gold jewelry
Walking around Baghdad you will notice that the local women wear quite a lot of jewelry every day and really ‘go to town’ when they are going somewhere special! Jewelry is considered a good investment and families buy as much as they can. The gold shops are filled with the most amazing pieces of jewelry all made from nearly pure gold which gives it a really bright gold color, but this does mean that the gold is softer than the usual 9ct gold and can wear more quickly.
5. Enjoy the fragrance of incense
In homes in the city, incense is regularly used to fragrance a room as it is believed that a lovely smelling environment is more conducive to good relaxation. It is customary for housewives to visit each room in turn with a lit incense burner and to say a prayer to ward off evil spirits. The mabhara is the incense burner and these can be electric or one that is heated over hot coals. The incense powder is called ‘bukhur’ or you can buy small pieces of wood that are impregnated with incense and are burned over hot coals.
6. Taste delicious tahini
This wonderful dip is made from toasted hulled sesame seeds and is widely available in the city, where it is also called ‘rashi’. Tahini tastes really good when spread thickly on bread, but in Baghdad, you will find it in a number of different sauces for meat and vegetables and mixed with date syrup (rub) for a topping for bread – which tastes great!
7. Leave room for a box of Baklava
Delicious tasting Baklava was first made in the Ottoman Empire and can be found in many places in the Middle East. Iraqi Baklava tastes extra good because the country produces fine honey. There are a number of bakeries in Baghdad producing excellent Baklava. Baklava is made from sheets of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in a honey syrup.
8. Be tempted by some leather
If you take a wander through the Shordja Bazaar you will find numerous leather artisans at work. If you are looking for a small gift, a purse or wallet is perfect, but you might well be tempted by the attractive handbags. You can also get them personalized with the name or initials of your choice.
9. Admire the lovely copper work
If you love copper, the place to head for is the Al-Safafeer copper market. This amazing market is centuries old and is filled with all types of beautiful copper pieces. You will be able to pause and watch some of the craftsmen at work which makes it extra special.
10. Help preserve hand-woven carpets
Iraq is well known for its carpets which have been carefully hand-woven for centuries. There are still specialist carpet weavers to be seen hard at work in their workshops in Baghdad, but sadly their future is under threat from cheap, mass-produced carpets from the west. Many local families regard their beautiful carpets as family heirlooms. The carpets are woven in wool and are rectangular in shape and are decorated with patterns of circles and squares as well as stylised flowers and animals. It is possible to get a carpet shipped back home, but there are small welcome rugs on sale too and these can be squeezed into your suitcase!