Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shopping at the Fruit & Vegetable Souk

Jeddah's big open air Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Market (in Arabic, the word is "souk") is not far from where we live. It is about three blocks long by three blocks wide. Imagine something like a Costco or Sams selling ONLY fresh fruits and vegetables. There are parking spaces all the way around the market and across the street as well, but if you go at a busy time, you may end up haveing to park several blocks away. Once you arrive, you are approached by several attendants in brightly colored jumpsuits, each armed with a small flatbed, trying to get you to pick them to assist you in your shopping experience. The attendant then follows you around, filling up the flatbed with your purchases, and then loads it all into your vehicle, all for a small tip when you are done.

Most of the entire area is covered by very high roofs which provide shade for the produce, the vendors and the shoppers. There are a couple dozen wide aisles separating sections of citrus and melons from onions and potatoes to peppers and legumes. At times when we have gone there during warmer weather, the smell can be overwhelming, and NOT in a good way. But it is actually quite a pleasant and fun expedition in the cooler weather. I find the enormous and plentiful displays so colorful and artistic and my camera finds these aesthetic delights irresistible. For being an open air market, the place is surprisingly clean, though, not surprisingly, worn with age. There are row after of row of neatly stacked produce, in boxes, cartons, bags, and crates. You can buy in bulk for astoundingly cheap prices. Or you can buy smaller amounts of produce which has been washed and packaged for a little bit more, still well below the prices you would pay in the States.

There are some items that I have never seen, much less tasted before. I never knew that cabbage and eggplant could grow that big! Around the city you will see many much smaller open air produce markets, but I believe this big market is where most vendors get their produce to sell elsewhere. I am sure many restaurants also buy their fresh produce from here as well, as you just can’t find prices any lower than this anywhere. The only products available for sale here are fruits and vegetables, with the exception of a small kiosk in the middle of the market that sells cold drinks and ice cream, which on a hot day can be welcome lifesavers.

Privacy is highly regarded here in this country, especially by women, so I would never take pictures of women’s faces without their permission. I also prefer to ask the male gender if they mind if I take their picture as well, and usually the responses I get are delightedly obliging. Once when my husband and I were at the ultra-smelly open air Yemenis market, I politely asked a vendor if I could take pictures of his huge pot full of dozens of cooked lamb heads, but he wouldn’t allow it unless we bought one. Consequently, now I try to be a little more aggressive and just start snapping away at inanimate objects that I like and think will make a great shot for fear that I will be denied the opportunity.

On our most recent outing, my camera hung happily and eagerly from its strap around my neck. I began shooting the colorful displays of fruits and vegetables that were just begging me to take their picture as we walked along. With my hubby selecting our purchases and wheeling and dealing (which I am no good at), I had plenty of time to look around and get my shots. Adnan is able to bargain with vendors and gets the products for sometimes half the price of what was originally quoted. After a transaction was completed with one vendor, I asked the man if I could take his picture. He happily obliged. Well, word must have spread like wildfire because after that, vendors approached me right and left to take their picture. Everybody wanted in on the action. I don’t know what exactly was being said around the market, but one vendor actually asked me if I was taking pictures for television or the newspaper! My husband just closed his eyes and slowly shook his head in disbelief. At least I am making his life a little more interesting than it might be otherwise!

So, I have posted a new photo album which, I warn you ahead of time, some may find a little boring since it contains photos only from the Fruit & Vegetable Market. So for those of you who appreciate beautiful fresh produce and enjoy the various colors and artistic qualities fruits and vegetables possess, or if you'd like to view some interesting faces of the delightful vendors, click below to see my photos of …
Jeddah's Open Air Fresh Produce Market


  1. Loved all the huge displays of fruits and vegetables, such great pictures., I wonder how they can grow such large quantities in the desert? What kind of irrigation system is needed when there is so little rain in Saudi Arabia?

  2. Where do the vegetables and fruits come from? Imports or are they grown there?
    I love your pictures and stories.
    Love Vivian

  3. Thanks Sabine & Vivian -
    With the aid of irrigation, many agricultural products can be grown in certain areas of Arabia. Much research and expense has gone into agricultural production in the last 40 years or so. For example, the Kingdom, in the last two decades, has become so successful at increasing its wheat production that it has become a major exporter of wheat. The area around Taif is famous for its production of tasty fruits, in particular grapes, pomegranates and honey. It is also known for its beautiful crops of roses! What is not prduced locally is imported from its fertile neighbors like Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

  4. alI loved the market - Whenever I travel to Mexico or south America, my favorite places to go are the open air food markets. The tomatoes looked great - well, it all did. Are the fruits and veggies as good as they look??? - It was amazingly open, spacious and clean - are most vendors regulars??

  5. WOW! I couldn't believe the beautiful colors and displays of veggie and fruits! Out of curiosity what do bell peppers run per lb? It just killed me to have to pay .85 the other day for ONE lemon!!! I need a lemon tree or a friend that owns one and doesn't need all their lemons.

    Wonderful photos, I really enjoyed them!

    Sheri in Tucson

  6. To Pam - Most food items seem to be tastier here. I think it might be because most things are so fresh and there isn't that much processed food. The vendors all have their regular places and are there every day.

    To Sheri - If I remember correctly, the washed and packaged bell peppers with 9 per carton were 8 Riyals, which is about $2 US. Of course Adnan would then offer 5 Riyals and maybe the guy would settle for 6! (about %1.50) We bought a carton containing about 20 lemons in it for 6 or 7 Riyals!
    Most fresh produce is extremely reasonable here, except for items the local people here don't eat so much, like broccoli. I eat lots of broccoli and a large bunch runs 10 Riyals or so ($2.50).

  7. Susie: those are great pictures! And wauw! Fantastic stuff! What fun to be able to do your shopping there. Everything looks perfect vegetables and fruit!

  8. Hi Aafke -
    I'm glad you enjoyed the photos. I love stuff like that too! Love it, love it, love it!

  9. Very wonderful pictures - would love to observe Adnan bargaining! I can easily picture it.
    See you and take care!
    Linda J

  10. Susie, I adore your photos! Can I make prints? Would you give me permission?

    I always wanted to photograph the main Riyadh fruit and vegetable suq; it looks just like yours. Riyadh was, and maybe still is, very sensitive about people taking pictures, and women didn't generally to the vegetable suq anyway, so I never worked up the courage to ask.

    I used to go every two weeks with my husband. The fruit and vegetable areas were so big you had to drive from one to the other! I loved the aroma of the produce and the herbs. I loved the gentle sounds of the suq, vendors and shoppers going about their business, greeting each other, bargaining, and hauling produce from stalls to vehicles.

    We used to load up the back seat of the car completely, and I'd spend the next two weeks cleaning, chopping, cooking, freezing, giving away, and eating (of course!) all kinds of dishes and variations on dishes, and experimental dishes, and anything my husband and kids asked me to cook.

    Such delightful days are no longer part of my routine here in the States. Thank you for bringing one of my best memories back into focus!

  11. Wow, the fruit & veg market looks fantastic! I have no idea if we have anything as good as that here in Riyadh... I have heard of a fruit & veg market but it is quite a long way from us unfortunately.

    Would love to be able to go somewhere like that since the quality of the fruits and veg in the supermarkets here is generally quite poor.

  12. Hi Marahm -
    I'm so glad you enjoyed my photos as much as you did. I am glad I was able to bring back some fond memories for you. I don't mind at all if you print up some - I am honored.

    Maybe you can let Umm Ibrahim know where the big market in Riyadh is that you used to frequent.

  13. Hi Susie,
    I thoroughly enjoy every chapter!!! Your description of the market was great, like all of your writing, but the pictures were unbelievable. The fruits and vegetables are so neatly packaged and it looks like you wouldn't have to look through them very much because they look so fresh and delicious. Are they able to sell all of it? How often do they replenish their supply or do they have a constant rotating supply? What is the weather like over there right now? I have always imagined that it is a temperate climate all year round. I will never be able to thank you enough for sharing all of this with me.
    Love ya,

  14. Hi Jeannine - Thanks for your nice compliments about the blog and the photos. I believe this market is the largest outlet market in the area - there are many very small open air markets all over the city that probably get their wares from this particular huge market. Lucky for us, it is very close to where we live. Honestly, I don't know how often they get deliveries or replenish their supplies, but every time we have gone, there are big delivery trucks unloading, so I would imagine fresh produce is brought daily. I have never seen any rotten vegetables or fruits - the vendors are vigilant about keeping only the freshest produce.

    It is winter here now, but it is not exactly cool in Jeddah. The weather is pleasant with some days being warmer than others. Some evenings have been really nice and cool (maybe high 60s) but since my bodily thermostat runs hot anyway, I have had the AC on just about constantly since my arrival here. There have been some days when I've had the windows open and it was quite nice. Adnan's mom has had her AC off all winter, and most of the time I am pretty warm at her place. It should be warming up even more soon which I am not eagerly antticipating! I believe the weather is cooler in Riyadh. Adam went on a school field trip north of here and he reported that it was freezing.
    Thanks for writing!

  15. Yes Marahm, where is the veg souq? Is it around the Batha area somewhere??

    You're right Susie, it does get pretty cold here in winter and it did reach 0deg C a few weeks ago and it gets even colder in the north and south of Saudi Arabia.

  16. I can relate to your produce shopping ... It was like that in Izmir too, no "Walmart" or "Target"-like shopping areas there! But I enjoyed that too. I just regret that I did not have a camera on hand then like we do now. All I have are the images in my mind, and my heart, and I hope I never lose them.
    Keep up the updates, I love them and look forward to them.

  17. Wow! Such inspiration for my farmers market stand this spring.Do they grow produce year round or is some of it seasonal?
    Great blog!

  18. To Tina J -
    So glad this post provoked some fond memories for you. Thanks for your nice comments.

    To Always in the Kitchen -
    Welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you are enjoying it.
    I'm not really sure how seasonal the produce is yet. I've been here just 5 months now. I do know that only part of it is grown here in Arabia and the rest comes from neighboring countries. Good luck with your market stand at your farmers market - where is it?

  19. Hi susie,I'm in n.c.The garden's almost an acre.I do bread and soaps,crocheted baby stuff.I'm 50,married with 7,4 still at home,and grandma to two.
    I found your blog when I started searching for material for a unit study on Islam for my kids homeschool stuff.It all started when I started seeing muslim folks shopping at wally-world on sundays after I took everbody for church.Even saw an american lady with kids sporting a very cool denim jilbab!I'm afraid my curiousity's been piqued ever since.I've been reading a lot of blogs Started one myself and just generally travelling vicariously through other folks.Your corner of the world sounds amazing!Chitra

  20. Hi,
    You have a very good feel for the place although you are a newbie here.

    The 'vegetable souq' here is actually the outdoor one which I do not see pictured. The picture you have is the 'cleaned up' version. Have you been to the outdoor souq yet?

  21. To Always in the Kitchen -
    Your garden sounds fantastic. We have no place to grow anything here, but we did have a small garden in FL with a few vegetables, plus coconut, avocado, and mango.
    I commend you for home-schooling - Best wishes with your blog - I will check in on yours too!

  22. Hi Miriam Mac -
    The photo in the blog and the photos in the album (link at the end of the post) are all from the huge outdoor open air Fruit & Veg Market in northeast Jeddah, I think maybe in the Al-Safa district (but not sure). I've been to some smaller ones here and there also, but they are not as clean or as appetizing as this one. Where is the one you are talking about? Thanks!

  23. Dear Susie,

    Your blog is inspiring, My husband was recently approached by a company in Jeddah and we are seriously considering moving there, the package is not great though just 7000 SR could mount up to 8500 SR all inclusive , It's the career path that we like yet I need to know if we could live decently on this salary, we would need to buy a a decent car and rent a nice 2 bedroom flat. We have a 5 months old boy so we don't have to worry about schools yet.... Any advice?

    Thanks a lot

  24. I've been to markets in central america, also very colorful, cannot believe i haven't taken a single picture.. maybe i will next time :)


  25. Please let me know the exact location of this Market? Is it near the sea?