Monday, May 17, 2010

Impressions of Egypt

What to say about Egypt...

It's good to be back in the Middle East. I was smiling almost non-stop on the extremely crazy taxi ride from the airport to our friends' apartment, during which we came thiiiiis close to hitting other cars half a dozen times. I had forgotten how much I missed hordes of employees being paid to stand around and do nothing, or the constant sound of horns chirping and blaring, or the ubiquitous funny English you see everywhere. I had also forgotten about that special Middle East smell, baked to perfection this time of year in the 115-degree heat: a mixture of dust, petrol, baking bread, spices, body odor, and urine that brings back all my memories of Arabia. After any length of time spent walking around in sandals, said enhanced dust is caked all over your feet and let me tell you, it feels soooooo good to wash it off at the end of the day.

I realized almost immediately upon arrival that I would have to set the zany English bar higher than I thought, because there is just. so. MUCH. of it. I laughed and laughed when I saw a car labeled in huge letters, "JUMPO 7000," and rued the fact that I hadn't taken a picture of it. Not two seconds later, another car drove up, with the same mistake written on it. Hmm. Not quite so funny now. This one, though, I think was worth a picture:

And words cannot describe how happy I am to see stuff like this:

I didn't even know there were Kinder fridges. The smart shop-owners here keep their chocolatey goods in refrigerators because of the heat, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw Kinder chocolates getting their own space. Brilliant.

In other news, we got our cell phones some fancy Vodafone SIM cards so they can work on the Egyptian mobile network. I asked the clerk how much it cost to send a text message (19 piastres), and then I asked him if we were charged for receiving text messages in addition to sending them. He gave me the weirdest look as if to say, "of COURSE you don't get charged for receiving text messages, because that would be retarded. I can't even believe you just asked me that question." Take note, T-Mobile et al.

A few items of business:

-The weekend here is Friday/Saturday, so my posting habits may change to reflect that. But maybe not.

-We are hanging out in Cairo for a few days and then heading to Syria for some fun, kid-laden travel. We won't be settled in Alexandria for about two more weeks, so sorry, you'll have to wait a little longer for those pictures of the Mediterranean.

-But you will be getting some posts from Syria, which I think we can all agree is an extra special additional free bonus.

Carry on!


Matthew said...

I'm curious to know if you thought Beirut had that same smell.

Bridget said...

Actually, I seem to recall Beirut NOT having that smell, except for under the Charles Helou bridge, where it was 100x worse than ever. So I guess it evens out. Do you think it has that smell? And do you know the smell I'm talking about?

Liz Johnson said...

AWESOME. I drip with envy (although I think I prefer envy to sweat).

Matthew said...

That's a good question. In broad terms, I'm inclined to say not, but to stretch, I would say Damascus smells more like Beirut than Cairo, and certain parts of Cairo can smell like certain parts of Beirut.

The thing is that Beirut has a really strong smell of the Med (particularly where we live) which is a counterweight to the other smells you mentioned. Plus, Beirut gets more rain, so there is always that.

Jody said...

Wow, what an exciting life you live. We will miss you, but wish you all the best. Have fun on your adventures.

Spencer said...

While you're in Cairo you might as well treat yourself to the best Chinese food in the Middle East--on Road 9 just south of the Ma'adi metro station.

The Harker's said...

My mind is boggled with everything you have experiencd in your life so far Bridget. I just got my first passport this past month. And I couldn't possibly imagine traveling with the kids for 24 hours. Six hours was alot for me. You amaze me Bridget. I can't wait to continue to seeing the world through your blog!

breanne said...

I think Alexandria smells much better than Cairo. It still has the "romantic" Middle East smell of bread, sweat, dust, spices, and petrol, but minus the urine. It's delightful.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

As long as Egypt doesn't smell like Salt . . .

TareX said...

From what I understood, you're heading to Alexandria. WHICH MEANS, that you'll get the opportunity to taste the best feteer (Egyptian pies) made in the country, at a place called "Dahab". Just ask anyone about "Fatatrie Dahab" (i.e. Dahab's "Bakery")

TareX said...

If you're spending sometime in Cairo, here are my recommendations:

First things first:

Foodwise: Sure there’s Cinnabon, a McDonald’s and KFC on every corner, and almost every single Western restaurant you know in Cairo, but that’s not what you’re there for, right? Egyptian food is super, super, super-delicious and here’re a few must-have meals:

1) Kebab, Kofta and Tarb: Super awesome grilled beef like no other. The best place in Cairo is called “Abou Shakra”. There's one in Mohandiseen is at 17 Gamat el Dawal al Arabeya street. Call 19090 for delivery. Make sure you order Baba Ganoog and Tehina (Hummus) if you’re ordering on the phone. I recommend going there yourself, because the Tehina spreads with Pita bread are just unforgivingly amazing. The official website is:

2) Koshari: The country’s national dish. A heavy feast of carbohydrates (Rice, pasta, lentils) covered in seasoned tomato sauce. DO NOT FORGET to spill in some garlic-vinegar sauce (called Dakka, or as pronounced in Egyptian Arabic “Da’ah”). Easy on the hot sauce. Use all your tomato sauce. The best place (that tourists seem to like) is Abou-Tarek. His website: Located at 16 Maarouf St., Champollion, Cairo, Egypt. My Dad ate there last month and swears by it. I haven’t tried it, and before AbouTarek, the best Koshari was at “Koshary El-Tahrir”. Anyway, if both are too far, then try ANY Koshari in Cairo. I haven’t tasted any Koshari in Cairo which wasn’t sublime.

3) Fiteer (Egyptian pies): It’s like a pizza, but the dough is very thin, soft, buttery and the toppings are all stuffed. It comes in both sweet and non-sweet forms. I recommend sausage fiteer wherever you go. If you don’t like Romano cheese, let the guy use Mozarella instead (like what I do). Like Koshari, any feteer place in Cairo is super tasty, but Tebesty is my favorite. The best sweet feteer is Cream (Eshta) and Honey (’asal), and CHOCOLATE feteer (note: the latter could be addictive)

4) Shawerma: Basically, if you see a shawerma stand, don’t think twice. Like Koshari and Feteer, there is a minimum requirement of quality that all Cairo vendors need to maintain to survive. Egyptian beef shawerma tastes amazing. However, lebanese shawerma also rules (I prefer it), and you’ll find places like “Abou Mazen” and “Yamal El-Sham” who make them best. If you want to take it up a notch, try Yamal El-Sham’s Shawerma Fettah. A fettah is basically a layer of crispy bread, covered by a layer of seasoned rice, covered by a layer of shawerma and (sometimes) tomatoes. This should all be topped by extra-creamy garlic sauce (called “toomeyya”). At some places, you need to order it specifically.

5) Stuffed pigeons: Also an Egyptian exclusive. Everyone’s mom has a different recipe for the rice. Anyway, I can’t remember the name of the famous restaurants who do it, simply because my mom’s was unbeatable.
Of course there are countless cafes, and restaurants in Cairo. You’ll notice that food is dirt cheap. ENJOY
MALLS: The biggest mall is City Stars. A taxi from Mohandiseen to City Stars will probably cost you $9. It’ll take you across the 6th of October Bridge which will give you a chance to see a huge deal of the city from above.
I recommend watching the “No Reservations Egypt” videos on youtube (5 parts) to get a better idea about the city and make the most out of your stay. It’s a 20 million city, but extremely safe (violent crime is way, way below almost all Western cities) and you can feel free to have a walk anytime no matter what time it is. Oh, and every restaurant and its mother delivers food (for free, and at most for around 50 cents). Yes, including McDonald’s. Here’s the videos I was talking about:
Let me know how it goes for you :) Depending on where in Cairo you're staying, I think I could help you if you have any questions. Enjoy your stay!

T (Halifax, Canada)

Bridget said...

TareX, we had koshari our first night from Azrak. It was good and the foul was delicious, too. I agree - koshari is a little overwhelming what with the different pastas and rice and lentils all together. But it was good!

Jennifer said...

Awesome adventures, Bridget! I can't wait to hear more. The new background and title are a nice touch too. :)


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