The Virtual Khan el-Khalili: The Store for Egypt Lovers

The Virtual Khan el-Khalili
The Store for Egypt Lovers

by Jimmy Dunn

Several years ago, Tour Egypt placed on-line a storefront called the Virtual Khan el-Khalili, of course, with a name based on the real world famous market in Cairo. Unfortunately, we were not satisfied with the product suppliers with whom we were dealing. In some instances, we were unhappy with the quality of the products, and at other times, worried about the availability of items that were suppose to be in the supplier's inventory. Rather than creating problems with our readers, we shut the system down.

However, there was always an intention of reopening the Virtual Khan el-Khalili once we had a fix for these problems. So essentially, a quest was begun to find better suppliers in Egypt that could fulfill our quality and shipping demands, as well as for products that are at times, unique. In doing so, we visited hundreds of dealers in Cairo and Luxor, with the intent of learning more about the quality levels of various items. After several years, we are finally placing the Virtual Khan back on line, with a whole new prospective.

Examining the market, we believe that those wishing to purchase Egyptian products on-line are very different from tourists who shop in Egypt. Frequently those tourists are in fact wanting to find cheap pieces to take home to friends, children, etc. However, those who deliberately shop for Egyptian products on-line, we believe, are usually doing so for themselves and looking for quality items for specific reasons. Very often they seek items that are very different than the typical tourist looks for while in Egypt.

Museum Replica of an ancient Egyptian boat

A photo from Lehnert & Landrock

When I go to Egypt these days, I generally have favored items I want to bring back for myself, and this has certainly influenced what we are offering on the Virtual Khan el-Khalili. An excellent example of this are the prints by Lehnert & Landrock. I first learned of these from one of our writers when he did a shopping review, and on my next trip to Egypt, I bought my first few prints. These are photographs made from original, usually restored glass plate negatives taken during the early 20th century. Though not ancient, they reflect an Egypt that no longer exists, where sometimes the Great Sphinx is still buried in sand, and the inundated Nile flows almost to the foot of the Giza Pyramids. Regrettably, they could only be found in one store in Cairo, and no where else until now, on the Virtual Khan.

Mother-of-pearl game board

Many of the items we offer on the Virtual Khan might be of interest to tourists, though what the tourist usually walks away with is an inferior variant. For example, in the real life Khan el-Khalili, most people want to bargain for various products. Unfortunately, when they get a "good deal", they nevertheless end up with an item of lesser quality. Rather than a finely made mother-of-pearl box, they end up paying for plastic that looks like mother-of-pearl.

Fine mother-of-pearl items have little or no plastic pieces, the individual pieces of mother-of-pearl are small, the design tight and the surfaces smooth. This is what we looked for in boxes, picture frames, game boards and other mother-of-pearl items that are on the Virtual Khan. Other mother-of-pearl items include the drums, which are very different than the toy variety most tourist purchase, which are completely covered with imitation mother-of-pearl. These are professional instruments, with real mother-of-pearl laid over steel.

Like mother-of-pearl, there are large variations also in Alabaster items. Typically, uninformed tourists will very often purchase machined alabaster, which though having a very smooth surface, has neither the delicacy or illumination qualities of hand carved alabaster. Furthermore, even the hand carved alabaster can be very poor in quality, with wax fillings where errors exist. Again, we have strived to bring to the Virtual Khan only the finest alabaster items.

Another common tourist item found on the Virtual Khan and elsewhere is glass items, particularly perfume bottles. There are many thousands of such items found in hundred of shops in Egypt, as well as on the internet. However, make no mistake that there are variations in quality. The worst of these, but very common, are bottles that do not stand perfectly straight, with colors that are very subject to fading and are very easily broken. Of course, these glass products are delicate and always subject to breakage, but the better products are tempered, hold colors better, and of course stand up completely straight, and this is the type of perfume and other glass items one will find on the Virtual Khan.

With statuary and other museum replicas, we looked long and hard for items that can truly be called museum replicas, which many of the items purchased in Egyptian souvenir shops are not. We will be adding to this product category sometimes, with custom made items that can be found nowhere else.

We also wanted to offer many products that are not so clearly Egyptian, though made in Egypt. An excellent example is the Crystal. Some of this will clearly have an Egyptian motif, but much of it is unrecognizable as to its origin, though finely made. Other items, such as the brass lamps, are not specifically recognizable as Egyptian, but certainly have a Middle Eastern flavor.

Of course, there are many other items on the Virtual Khan, some of which might be considered to be purely tourist products, though frequently difficult to find on the internet. These include such items as coffee mugs and even whole Espresso sets, ashtrays, various leather products including purses and billfolds, decorative items such as vases and even sheeshas, the traditional Egyptian water pipes (and I note at very good pricing).

Under the category of "Executive Gifts", you will see some "difficult to find", "purely touristic" items that we have have marked down for clearance.

However, the most important request we have of you, our readers, is your input. Please, please tell us what you wish to find on the Virtual Khan and >we will make our best attempt to find your requests. Please email us at