You finally spend a family holiday in Egypt with its beaches, deserts, museums and oases. Now you want to find something that captures your memories of this chaotic but beautiful country. Of course, you could always buy the stuff tourists typically pick up like fridge magnets, paperweights or T-shirts. However, if you really want to take a piece of Egypt with you home, then check out my favourite souvenirs to buy from Egypt.
Cotton Clothes and Linens
Egyptian cotton is synonymous with high quality all over the world. You can find a lot of local Egyptian brands in shopping malls. You can buy anything from bedding and towels to baby clothes and underwear. If you want the real deal on linens, you have to go for factory outlets such as Misr Amreya and Misr Mahallah. You can also tour the village of Kirdasah in Giza, famous for its colourful “galabeyas” and flowy dresses.
Carpets and Rugs
Another great idea for a souvenir is a carpet or rug which you can use to decorate your home or office. You can find handwoven rugs in any size you like in Egypt. Most of the weavers use cotton, wool or silk to produce their works of art. You can even visit a factory and see the men and women in action! I would recommend you pay a visit to the Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center located in the village of Harraneya in Giza. Founded as a weaving school in the 1950s, it now includes a museum and showroom. Or you can also check out Kiliim, a social enterprise dedicated to supporting kilim artisans and reviving their craft.
Ancient Egypt is famous for its pyramids, temples and statues as well as its pottery. We have Tunis Village in the Fayoum oasis to thank for putting Egypt on the world map of pottery today. I think these are great souvenirs to buy from Egypt because they can be so versatile. You can get an item for the kitchen like a fruit bowl or a set of mugs. You can get something ornamental like a vase or a plant pot. Just be careful when you pack them since they can be so fragile.
Good quality henna is hard to find but not if you are in Aswan! You might be interested in getting a couple of natural loofahs to exfoliate your skin. There are more than a dozen homegrown brands in haircare, skincare and makeup. One of my favourite Egyptian brands is Imtenan although it is better known for its health foods and drinks. It has a wide range of natural beauty products such as soaps, oils and salts. Another one I recommend is Nefertari with its ancient Egyptian inspired products such as its Cleopatra’s milk bath soap and Nefertari’s natural eye “kohl”.
Like most countries in the Middle East, gold jewellery is the ultimate status symbol in Egypt. For most Egyptians, it is a form of savings as well and so they prefer to buy 24 or 18 carat gold. Silver is also popular whether fashioned in traditional or contemporary designs. Always check for the stamp and ask the shop for a detailed bill with the specifications. The gold and silver “souqs” in Khan El Khalili market in Cairo would be the go-to destination. But you can also check out shops in hotels, malls or online like this authentic and bold brand called Bent Abouya.
Bags and Accessories
I personally think buying a handcrafted bag is a smart choice for a souvenir because you can actually get to use it while you are still on holiday. Because they don’t take up much space in your luggage, you can grab some more as gifts for your friends back home. Tawasol, an NGO that supports women from low-income families, has an amazing collection of beach bags, shoulder bags and clutches. They use Egyptian, Coptic and Islamic motifs in their designs. You can also shop for other lightweight accessories such as scarves, key chains, coin purses and mobile phone pouches at most traditional markets.
Spices and Herbs
If you have tasted traditional Egyptian cuisine you will notice that we just love our spices and herbs! If you want to recreate any of the dishes you tried, you can pack some spices with you such as cumin, cardamom, saffron, turmeric, coriander and sesame. Any decent street market in Cairo, Aswan or Dahab will have herbs such as hibiscus, marjoram, mint, sage and anise. If you would prefer packaged products instead of loose ones, you can keep an eye for a brand called Isis available in most supermarkets and pharmacies as well as online. Always check what the customs at your destination country allows you to bring back.
When you holiday in France you get cheese and when you visit Switzerland you buy chocolate. So here are some ideas for consumable souvenirs to buy from Egypt. For starters, you can freeze and take pita bread or “feteer”. You can also pack oriental sweets like “basbousa” or “konafa” if your flight is not that long and you have space in your hand luggage. If you tell the salesperson you are travelling abroad, they will make sure to add more wrapping paper and tie it securely. If you are in Siwa or Marsa Matrouh, you can stock up on olives, dates and seeds. Aswan is famous for its peanuts which my husband uses to make homemade peanut butter. A brand I recommend is Abu Auf with branches all over the country and products in most supermarkets. You can get coffee, nuts, dried fruits and much more.
Can’t experience Egypt anytime soon?
If you can’t visit Egypt anytime soon, you can still get a piece of it at home. Check out my sister-in-law’s online shop Amalia’s Gallery where she curates and sells Egyptian-made home decor and souvenirs. The gallery also has a presence on Etsy.