Kufa's last spice traders

Navigating tradition and modernity in spice trade

KUFA, NAJAF, January 24 – Ali Al-Issaoui, a spice trader in Kufa, has observed significant changes in the local big market, evolving beyond its traditional role of supplying spices for Iraqi dishes and tea blends. The market is adapting to changing consumer preferences, including an increased interest in rare herbs and remedies for “negative energy.”

Al-Issaoui, who has been working in the Alawi section of Kufa’s big market since the 1990s, notes the decline in herbal shops, with only 10 remaining due to the passing of their owners. He specializes in Ceylon tea varieties, offering unique blends priced between 6,000 to 8,000 Iraqi dinars (approx $3-5) per kilogram.

He continues to provide a variety of spices essential for Iraqi cuisine, with spices for Al-Qima, a local rice and minced meat speciality, being particularly popular. The post-2003 opening of Iraq’s economy saw the introduction of pre-packaged spices and herbs, prompting vendors like Al-Issaoui to ensure they offer high-quality goods.

“The most sought-after herbs include mint, rosemary, saffron, and cloves, often used for their medicinal properties. We import herbs from countries like India and Syria, while cardamom and cocoa are typically sourced from South America,” he explained.

Al-Issaoui clarifies his role as a herbalist, emphasizing he does not deal with serious medical or surgical issues. His focus is on providing herbs for common ailments like the flu: “Some customers seek materials like frankincense for spiritual purposes, believed to ward off envy and negative energy, with prices ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 dinars per kilogram.”