What to shop in Iran

The word Bazars itself excites me – From Bangalore’s Chikpet to Delhi’s Mina Bazar and Istanbul’s grand bazar, I find myself most curious and happy in these places despite the crowd. The real place to people watch, an actual school to learn the art of haggling – A perfect place to be lost is Iran’s bazaars.
Here is your complete guide to shopping in Bazars of Iran.

Index

Why shopping in Iran is fun?

TEHRAN BAZAR – WHOLESALE DEALERS

I love shopping overseas if only they were cheaper and made in that particular country. Handmade crafts are my weakness. Most of the time, it won’t be cheap. Probably Iran is the only country that suffices all my three rules – Handmade authentic, affordable items.

Plus, Persian bazaar histories date back to the active Ancient silk route selling exquisite and rare goods. People used to stay in Caravansearai and come to the Bazaars for shopping. The longest bus journey of the 1970s was Kolkatta-London-Kolkatta, which goes via Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran to stop at Tehran for bazaar shopping. From camel voyages to motorised road trips, Iran has been a famous shopping stop. Though the traditional outfits are replaced with modern ones, you can feel the historic vibes in Iran’s bazaars.
There are hardly any of those usual international brands available in Iran. So when you go for branded clothes, it is mostly Iran’s brand than the global ones.

SPICY CURRY MIX IN ISFAHAN BAZAR

Though malls and modern shopping arcades in cities like Tehran and Isfahan, the bazaar has lost its place. On the contrary, hundreds of thousands of Tehranis pass through the Grand Bazaar every day in Tehran. So you will be actually shopping along with the locals. You will get to see Iranian women choosing those shimmering fabrics for a wedding. You can spot young girls choosing denim fabrics for their pants. A cart puller keeps whistling at the crowd to make his way through the crowd on those pathways covered with vault above. The Chai shops with two tables and four chairs help you take a break and savour Chai with locals. Once you shop in any Bazar, you will become pro in handling the world’s most confusing currency – Iranian Rials.

As budget travellers, we may not be able to buy things in countries like Turkey & Jordan, where handmade things are expensive. But its low cost of living for tourists and people makes it an amazing place for shopping and other experiences. Perhaps Iran is the only place from where we bought souvenirs for friends/family were not fridge magnets 😀

Things to know before shopping in Iran.

Iran is one of the largest export of handicrafts, including Carpets, Messgari (Copperware), Repousse (Metalworks), Minakari (Metal Enameling), KhatamKari (inlay work on wooden surfaces). World’s best Rosewater and Saffron comes from Iran, perhaps.

Apart from handicrafts, you can buy regular things like jackets, scarves, denim from local brands because they are cheaper.

 Iranians love brands – that is what we realise while shopping in Tehran. Everything is branded, and most of them were fake with a brand’s sticker. From Gucci to Ralph Lauren, you find it all in Tehran Grand Bazaar.

THE MODERN OUTFITS IN ANCIENT ISFAHAN BAZAR

Apart from the bazar, you can shop in malls and streetside. Each type of shopping spacing is located in different venues and offers different experiences. The bazaars are a mix of regular shops, handicrafts, and wholesale – From dried Onions to gold jewels, spice mixture to carpets, you get everything in Bazars. Shopping malls are typical like any other country, with only Iranian brands and fixed price tags. Street shopping isn’t impressive – the prices were lower, and the quality was the lowest.

Most prices were lower than what we found in India, especially clothes. When they quote a price, check if it is rial or toman and do the conversion yourself. Read our post “Money matters to know more about the Rial-Toman confusion.

NUTS & NUTTS – OUTSIDE TEHRAN GRAND BAZAR

Tabriz-Tehran-Isfahan-Yazd-Shiraz – Usually, one among these will be your entry/exit city because of their international airport. All the five cities have Bazaars. Other smaller towns like Kashan, Marshad also have bazaars. Each bazar is similar but yet different. Isfahan bazar is where you can find bronzeware and Minakari works, while Tehran and North Iran bazars are excellent for fruits and fruit rolls (lavash)

But according to what is famous in the particular bazar – Better not to overfill your suitcases with one bazaar’s shopping itself.

CAN YOU NOT BUY THIS AT ISFAHAN?

You may have to avoid going to some bazars if you can’t control shopping. ;D We avoided going to Kashan bazar though we heard excellent things about it. We had already shopped so much in Tehran, and we wanted to buy particular things in Isfahan. So to avoid going bankrupt since sometimes I go out of control while shopping, we skipped Kashan Bazar. 

Most of the time, prices are negotiable, so haggling is a must. Iranians are sweet, so you be sweet too but don’t fall for the sweetness without bargaining and haggling. Use translators when confused and ask for at least 40% less than what the shopkeeper quoted.

THE COST OF ONE OF THESE CARPET= OUR IRAN TRIP BUDGET

If you are shopping for expensive things, buy them from a proper place recommended by someone you know. For example, in the bazar or out on the street, the place where you get carpets and the alley where you find gold jewel shops are located in different localities. This is because there will be a dedicated shopping district or street for each type of item.

Window shopping without buying any carpet is absolutely fine. Just inform the shopkeeper in the beginning itself that you are there to see and feel, not buy. So that he can attend to real buyers. Usually, when carpet shop owners are free, they neatly explain to you the difference between each region’s motif and the making.

What to buy & Where

Tehran

Tehran Grand Bazaar

With more than 20k shops and 10km+ alleys, Tehran grand bazar is a visual treat- Its traditional architecture with vaulted roof and shops on either side of the alley. Though it is a place for wholesale buyers, baby buyers like us are equally welcomed. When you walk to Golestan palace from Panzdah Khordad street, you get the vibe of a buzzing bazar where the corbelled streets with benches await people. By the time it is 10 am, Theranis are out in the bazaar shopping. Besides housing shops, Tehran grand bazaar is home to some of the best and old restaurants like Moslem restaurants. In addition, there are many tea houses, tea kiosks that let you take a break from endless exciting walking in the crowd.

SHISHA – BEST SOUVENIRS TO TAKE HOME

There is now a way of tracing the exact or particular pathway in the labyrinth of these alleys. You have to enter once and then go wherever it takes you. Different items are sold in different alleys. Carpets, nuts, gold jewels, running fabric, readymade garments and the ultimate – STATIONARY SHOP. No matter what you buy or what you miss, a visit to Mr Mohammad Rafie’s pencil shop is a must. As a tourist, there is no way I can dot the map to his shop. You show this picture to other shopkeepers and use a translator that says Stationary shop alley, and they will guide you.

Things that are worth buying here are –

  • Long length jackets for 10 EURO
  • Colourful square scarfs for Hijab.
  • Jewellery
  • Stationaries
  • Women and men clothing.
  • Running fabrics – sober-elegant ones to shimmers, Denim fabric to Formal trousers running fabric.

Bling bling fabrics & Denim fabrics

Darband

Northern Iran is where you get fresh fruits and vegetables. Located further north of Tehran, this small town doesn’t house any bazar.t A riverside town is a place for Iranian’s weekend family lunch or weekday dinner dates at the restaurants with tables and seating right next to the stream. So it may not be Northernmost Iran. But the fruit snacks called lavashk is irresistibly delicious. These Fruit plumps and fruit leathers soaked in sour Syrup can be packed and consumed even for a month after buying. We got it plastic wrapped tightly in two different boxes. It was leak-proof, and we used it for the next 25 days. 

Isfahan

Isfahan Grand Bazaar

Things that are worth buying in Isfahan bazar are –

  • Spice powder/ Masala powder
  • Copper cookware
  • Dried spices
  • Minakari – Metal enamelling plates/cups and artefacts.
  • Qalamkari fabrics – Organic dye on beige or light coloured cotton ( Similar to Andhra Pradesh’s Kalamkari)
  • Ghalamzani – Metal engraving.
  • Sweets – Gaz
  • Floral motif shoes, bags.
  • Metal jewellery.
  • Carpets.

Dating back to the 16th century, the Isfahan grand bazar got extended to the Naksh-e-Jhan square in the later years. It is Architecturally similar to Tehran but less impressive in aesthetics than the Kashan bazar. Isfahan being the land of artefacts in Iran, Isfahan is the best of all bazars in Iran for truly handmade stuff. The main gate is called Keysari gate; hence some locals refer to the bazar as Keysari bazar too.

MINAKARI ON CERAMICS AND METALS

Isfahan old Bazaar is most famous for GHALAMZANI and Minakari works. GHALAMZANI is engraving on metal, mainly on copper or Bronze. These handmade items are authentic and unique to Isfahan. The best place to buy these masterpieces is – Nekuei Antique Gallery. The shop owner speaks English, so he will explain the details behind almost everything in his shop. His factory and artworks have been published in a German newspaper too! So I am sure you will not come back without buying anything from here.

GHALAMZANI

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – SWEETS CALLED “GAZ”. We got it in two flavours. The one you see in the picture is plain GAZ with Pistachio only. The second one is with Saffron, which was more expensive than the plain one. There is no image of the Saffron one because we ate it off too soon, even before leaving Iran! Gaz needs no refrigeration and can stay fresh for up to a month. We bought it in this famous shop called Nikoogaz. Click here to view their website. 13 EURO/350GM OF PISTACHIO ONES & 20 EURO/350GM FOR SAFFRON ONES.

Unlike Tehran bazar, this isn’t a wholesale bazar. So you can find people like you and me a lot here. If you have had too many handicrafts, the modern-day accessories come with a traditional touch here with floral motifs. You can’t miss noticing a pile of colourful 7 layered spice powder and some dried ingredients like coriander.

FOR 3 EURO – A PAIR OF EARRINGS, FINGER RING, METAL LOCKET WITH CHAIN, A BRACELET

Isfahan Abbasi road

Isfahan city is historic yet modern. With a wide paved footpath, central green space with sidewalk cafes, Abbasi street is ideal for getting the non-historic vibe. Food trucks selling authentic Persian dishes to small shops selling sandwiches, this street has hundreds of clothing shops & beauty products made in Iran for all. So if you are feeling cold and want to grab a stylish jacket for yourself or a fancy Hijab made to look like a Burberry scarf. The hipster vibe of the street reminded us of those sidelines of Dam square that sell cosmetics.

Kashan

Things that are worth buying in Kashan are –

  • Edible rose petals
  • Traditionally made rose water.
  • Enameled ostrich eggs
  • Elegant soft fabrics and scarves.
  • Fabric purses and bags.
  • Silk fabrics and home decors in Kashan bazars.
ENAMELED OSTRICH EGG

Kashan is a small town with, long history and huge Persian mansions. Their fabrics of silk & cotton, rose water perfumes, Ostrich leather, and other ostrich-related stuff are unmissable. Bazaars and mansions are just 2km away from each other. The road that connects with either of them is often lined with open shops by the street side. So bazar to street shopping, you are about to empty your pockets in Kashan. Unlike Tehran’s street shops selling poor quality things, Kashan’s petty shops sell good quality things most of the time.

Rosewater –
As you begin to inch towards Sultan Ahmed bathhouse, Kashan’s air smells of roses. Ancient middle east and perfumes are two inseparable entities and continue to be the same even today. The religious significance of rose water and rose to butty the dead to send them to heaven is the main reason why Persians love roses. While old methods of extracting rose water may have reduced with modern techniques, Kashan still keeps the practice alive. Kashan isn’t only for maniacs for mansions but also for fragrance freaks.

ROSEWATER WITH PETALS IN A BOX

Kashan is the centre of Isfahan province and has perfect weather conditions for growing roses. Every year, there will be a rosewater festival from May to June. If you aren’t sensitive to fragrance, plan your trip to Kashan in that month. Otherwise, throughout the year, you can witness the Rosewater making traditionally on a small scale on the streets of Kashan.

Scarf and shawls
Apart from Yazd and Isfahan, Kashan is the heart of Iran’s textile industry – Cotton and silk both. So you find lots of silk handloom factories and streetside shops selling elegant scarfs. The one I bought near Sultan Ahmed Bathhouse from a streetside shopper cost me around 4 Euros and is excellent quality cotton.

LONG JACKET FROM TEHRAN BAZAR AND SCARF FROM KASHAN

Kashan bazaars are the best place for finding silk and cotton fabrics. The alluring architecture and the pastel colour threads left to dry are sure to mesmerise anyone. It was evening by the time we entered the Kashan bazar. Soon I realised I would spend endlessly if I began to explore. Since I am not good at the art of self-control in shopping, we left the place with a heavy heart.

Abyaneh

Located in Isfahan province, the scarfs here are unique, with the pink and red rose patterns all over their white scarfs. 1.5mx1.5m square scarf is part of local women’s daily wear. The other coloured and longer ones are equally brilliant and can be used as a regular shawl.

Women in Abyaneh village follow a totally different tradition when it comes to dressing up. They wear a dress, a long pleated colourful skirt (Shaliteh), socks, handwoven footwear (sometimes regular shoes), and a square scarf folded into a triangle to make it a hijab. Their skirts and dresses may not be of practical use for tourists. But their floral printed scarfs are definitely adorable and useful.

Wondering what is Shiraz, Yazd and Tabriz are famous for? Read our post “The Half done Journey” to know more.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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