Selling Grape Juice for Century in Baghdad

Haji Zbala juice shop is the oldest juice shop on Baghdad’s historic road — Al Rasheed Street. They’re serving up fresh-pressed grape juice for generations, since 1900, to rulers, dictators, generals and even insurgents besides common Iraqis and foreigners. The juice is made from dried grapes that are said to heal all kinds of ills. Opened in 1916 under Ottoman rule, Rasheed Street was the first street in Baghdad to be electrically illuminated. The capital’s first cinema, al-Zawra, was also built there, alongside theatres, cafes, and bookstores.

As per wbur, Saddam Hussein came into the shop once in 1990, when the Arab League summit was in Baghdad. Other visitors include Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.


Grapes are said to be the oldest cultivated fruit. They are juicy, sweet, or sour, and round or semi-oblong fruits that come in seven colors, depending on the variety that is grown. The most popular use of grapes, all over the world, is in making wines.

The earliest archaeological evidence of wine yet found has been at Jiahu in the Yellow River Valley of China (Henan province) c. 7000 BCE (Early Neolithic Period). Wild grapes were first gathered by some of the earliest civilizations during the Neolithic era from 6500-6000 BCE in Southern Caucasia, known today as northwest Turkey and northern Iraq. Archaeological excavations in Georgia have yielded evidence of the first winemaking process in the world dating date back to 6000-5000 BCE, according to a study published in the journal Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). It is the oldest remains found to date of wine obtained from Eurasian grapes, which is currently used in most wines. Prior to this, the oldest evidence of wine production came from the Hajji Firuz Tepe field in the northwest of the Zagros mountains in Iran, dating back to c. 5400 and 5000 BCE.

In spite of the abundance of archaeological, bio-archaeological, historical and genetic data, the origins, historical biogeography, the identity of ancient grapevine cultivars and mechanisms of domestication are still largely unknown.


The Zagros Mountains, a mountain range in southwestern Iran, extending northwest-southeast from the border areas of eastern Turkey and northern Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz. The oldest rocks in the Zagros range date to Precambrian time (i.e., before 541 million years ago), and the Paleozoic Era rocks that date to between 541 million and 252 million years ago are found at or near the highest peaks. The highest point in the range is Mount Dena, elevation 14,465 feet (4,409 metres), located in the middle Zagros.

035B-Image Zargos Mtns Map

In this morning, I had a glass of grape juice in this famous shop. You get a flavour of history in each sip along with the sweetness of the grapes. For over 100 years, this secret recipe has been served here on Rashid Street, with its Ottoman-era archways and its reputation as a place to while away the time in cafes, playing chess and listening to long-gone Arab singers. Haji gets his supply of grapes from the Zagros mountains in northern Iraq.


The building that house the juice shop is in traditional Iraqi “shanasheel” style, with wooden lattices on the second floor. Sadly, it is now in a state of disrepair.


Shanasheel is the Arabic term given to a type of projecting oriel window enclosed with carved wood latticework located on the second storey of a building or higher, often lined with stained glass, overlooking the street, offering a good view without being seen. Shanasheels are prevalent in Iraq, the Levant, Hejaz, and Egypt. The earliest evidence on the use of the shanasheel dates back to the 12th century in Baghdad during the Abbasid period. Shanasheel is a witness to the social and cultural transformations that Iraq has undergone. Some of them are still standing resisting time and delaying urban development.

3 thoughts on “Selling Grape Juice for Century in Baghdad

    1. Thanks Arvind. We can see lots of Jharokhas in Rajasthan. Hawa Mahal is a stunning marvel of architecture. Jharokhas are elements of Indo-Islamic architecture. Indo-Islamic architecture began with the Ghori’s occupation of India at the close of the 12th century. Jharokhas in Rajasthan have many Hindu ornamentations. The Hindu style of ornamentation is largely naturalistic showing human and animal forms and the luxuriant vegetation life.

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