The Amazing Mirvana

Travels, and makes stuff.

Archive for the category “Cairo”

Travelog: Egyptian cuisine

I’ve always liked Mediterranean cuisine in general: hummus, couscous, olives, grape leaves, etc. so I was very excited about trying real Egyptian cuisine. I heard about a dish called “Kushari” that is uniquely Egyptian, and got to try some at a popular chain called Zooba at City Stars mall.

I loved it! It is a mixture of rice, macaroni, lentils, onion, with a little red sauce. You can add hot sauce to make it spicy, and/or a dressing made of lemon, vinegar, and garlic. Topped with crispy fired onions. I would totally eat this at home. I also tried a dip made with Egyptian aged cheese and tahina, which was really really strong. It tasted like a highly concentrated and very salty feta cheese. I liked it, but could only eat a few bites with bread. There are also many varieties of pickled veggies, which I loved.

After I told some of my new local friends that I tried Kushari, they told me that I should try another uniquely Egyptian dish called Molokhaya. I got to do that last night, when one of my colleagues invited me to her home for dinner.

Molokhaya is made from jute leaves, or okra, which are muddled or whirled in a food processor and then added to boiling broth. Seasoned with coriander and garlic, it makes a thick green soup that has an unusual texture, which foreigners might call “slimy.” I actually liked it. I thought it tasted a little like spinach, but we definitely don’t have anything like it in the USA. We had it over rice, with some meat that was stewed in a red sauce. The whole meal was very comforting! I can understand why Egyptian people would miss this dish when they travel abroad, and it reminds them of home. 
Another culinary adventure that I got to experience was a famous and popular restaurant called Andrea
This first thing you see as you walk in – chickens turning on a rotisserie
Women bake bread in outdoor ovens near the entrance

Guests are seated on an outdoor patio; there is a childrens’ play area adjacent

Other wonderful things that I’ve had here: Olives, dates, and melon – are all locally grown, fresh, and delicious. The melon is particularly sweet. Fatir – a rich, flaky pastry, and Ful – similar to refried beans – are eaten for breakfast. Fresh juice drinks, such as Lemon Mint – my new favorite. It’s not nearly as sweet as lemonade. Bread and baked goods here are very good.

I had an awesome and decadent (expensive) meal at a Lebanese restaurant Al Dabke in the Fairmont hotel.

Mezzeh and Mixed Grill

You can find many other types of cuisine here. I had really good sushi the other day at Mori in Mall of Arabia.

Observations:
Nescafe is a thing here. If they don’t have Nescafe, then it’s Coffee Mix. The fancier coffee places might serve “American coffee” which is filtered coffee as we know it, or from a French press. What we might call Egyptian coffee – the strong espresso-like brew with a bit of sludge on the bottom – is what they call Turkish coffee. And, it’s excellent. Tea with fresh mint is also very good. Fresh squeezed juices are very popular, and I love the lemon mint – it’s not as sweet as lemonade and very delicious.

This is a Muslim country, but drinking is not banned. There are many non-muslims living here. I am not finding a great beer selection, but I’m not really looking for it, either. I could probably find an ex-pat bar with a better selection, but I’m playing it safe and staying in my hotel where the choices are:

Or, Heineken. Both Stella and Sakara are Egyptian-made beers. Both are lagers. They aren’t bad, but they are not very remarkable, either.

I had better luck with wines. The popular Egyptian wines are: Kouroum of the Nile – Shahrazade (was my favorite), Omar Khayyam, and Grand Marquis.

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Travelog: East vs. West Cairo

The west side of Cairo (Giza) is very different from the east side. I’m glad I got to spend a week in each place to see the difference.

East (Cairo governorate)

The Cairo governorate reminds me of New York City with its high-rise apartments and gridlock traffic. There are street vendors everywhere, and corner shops that remind me of “bodegas.” 

Some older architecture remains among the newer highrises

I spent a lot of time in this traffic

Crossing the Nile

These are “unlicensed” developments

These vendors are everywhere with their cases of Fanta

A beautiful mosaic entryway

Crossing the Nile

A shaded street in a quieter neighborhood

West (Giza governorate)

Giza is a different story. It reminds me of Las Vegas. There are palm trees and new developments springing up everywhere. You see the large cranes building malls, resorts, hotel and office complexes – separated by stretches of desert. Driving around here is more like navigating the freeways around Las Angeles. The new housing developments look a lot like the clay tile and stucco apartment complexes that I’ve seen in Orlando.

You can orient yourself by seeing the tops of the Great Pyramids on the horizon. They are visible from all angles. I see them from my hotel window, and pass by them on my way to work.

Pan view from my balcony, at the Hilton, Dreamland
Mall of Arabia

Melon stacking level: Expert

Cleverly disguised cell phone tower

View from a local friends balcony in their apartment complex

This could be SoCal, right?

Pyramids on the horizon
Pyramids again

What a day in Cairo

One can’t spend a week in Cairo and not see the pyramids. I also went to the Egyptian Museum today. It was all worth the effort.

The Egyptian Museum has more everyday objects from the ancient Egyptians than any other museum that I’ve seen. They also have a large collection of mummies, papyri, statues and monuments from the old kingdom, and most of the stuff from King Tut’s tomb. It was fascinating. I learned a lot of things that I did not know. For example, dwarves were honored in Egypt and held important positions.

I saw this statue in the museum. This man married a normal size woman. The small figures below him are depictions of his children.

I got to see some famous artefacts that I have seen in magazines and on TV, like this:

Cameras were strictly prohibited, so I could not take any photos of it myself. But there are plenty of photos of it on the Internets, because it is an iconic piece, and I got to see it in person. King Tut was buried with an impressive amount of bling, and photos of many of the pieces I saw today are here – http://www.touregypt.net/museum/tutc.htm
Ate lunch at a place called Andrea. It was very good. 

You can watch the women make bread in this old stone oven.

Then, went to see the pyramids. I have no words…but I do have photos. Check out my album on Flickr. 

After a week in Cairo

I have so much to say. I don’t know where to start. Cairo is very different from what I know, but it’s also very familiar. The revolution is over, there are no more violent protests, and the city is eager for tourism to return. The people here are very warm, friendly, hospitable, and proud. They are very family-oriented, and religious (but not fanatics). They are concerned about the economy and the future for their children. They work very hard for a living, and they also want to enjoy life, just like anyone else.

Cairo is bigger than any city that I have seen, and it is full of contrasts. At one glance, it looks like a modern city, but it also looks Medieval. There are modern high-rise buildings and there are “unlicensed” buildings that look like rough and unfinished slums. The traffic congestion is formidable, and I have to wonder how some fruit vendors drive their donkey-drawn carts through the city. On the way to Giza, I saw herds of goats and something that looked like cattle being driven along the street near where a fabulous new mall is being built.

Speaking a few words of Arabic really opened doors for me. Everyone I talked to, after they get over their initial shock (because most foreigners, especially Americans don’t even try to speak Arabic), took an interest in me and wanted to help. And not just for baksheesh. Egyptians say that they won’t let someone carry the weight alone. They share the burdens.

I won hearts and minds at the university. I just did what I always do – be myself. Genuine, and confident. I blew their minds. They never met an American like me before, and they will never forget me. Mission accomplished. Now I just have to do that two more weeks (at two other teach sites).

Travelog: Cairo, Egypt (continued)

Today I got to experience the mayhem that is traffic in Cairo. It really is insane. All traffic lights and signs are merely suggestions. It is a free-for-all. Drivers just go where they want. Collisions appear to be imminent at every turn. Drivers pound their horns and shout at pedestrians who dare cross at the intersections, or weave around slow and stopped vehicles. I’m glad I wasn’t driving. I do not recommend that anyone attempts driving in Cairo. Just don’t do it. 

Work was also interesting. I’m on a large university campus, swarming with students. I haven’t experienced that kind of environment in a long time. It’s like any other university, but in this case, professors are greeting me like I’m a visiting foreign dignitary. I guess I am. One of the professors took me to lunch today at the university’s guest house – where they usually entertain VIPs. 
The room where we ate was so fancy-looking that I thought I was going to meet the president. 
The campus also has some really neat architecture and beautiful gardens. 
Observation #1: stray cats are everywhere. There is one in photo above. They are even running around the fancy hotel.
Observation #2: the university and many businesses in Cairo employ “office boys.” These are guys who bring you tea, coffee, water, whatever you need. They come around and check on you, or you can call them, like room service, and they bring what you want. 

Travelog: Cairo, Egypt

I scored a big one this time. Cairo, Egypt is quite the boondoggle. Actually, it is going to be a lot of hard work, and not much fun time. But still. It’s Egypt! Pyramids!! And stuff!!! That’s how my work is. I wonder if they will ever send me anywhere again, and then BOOM.

I’m in a tropical paradise.

Anyhow, I’m here in the place, it’s my second night, and I already need to blog about it. It’s just so interesting.

Observations:

Pro tip #1: learn some Arabic, use it, and people will treat you like you are their new best friend. Even if you don’t speak it so well. And, they’ll be So shocked that you are an American. They will guess German, or British, or Canadian first.

Many similarities to Las Vegas. Dense residential and commercial areas, surrounded by desert. Huge hotels, with casinos. At least, the one that I’m staying in reminds me of the big hotels in LV. It covers a city block, has a dozen restaurants, multiple swimming pools, aggressive air conditioning, and you don’t need to go outside. Obviously caters to foreigners, therefore everyone speaks some English. Thus, someone who attempts to speak a little Arabic, especially an American, is like a rainbow unicorn here.

Perhaps it offsets the hair. Everyone is staring at my hair. And probably also my glow-in-the-dark skin. I’m glad I brought a scarf. When I go out tomorrow, I may need it.

Otherwise, maybe I could fit in. Egyptian women are short and voluptuous. I feel curvaceously beautiful among them. Except for the flight attendants on Egypt Air. They look like skinny bellydancers. Perhaps that’s the “type” they go for.

So, yeah, I haven’t been outside the hotel yet. But I can tell you this much: it’s like being at a Disney resort. Lots of families with small children staying here. And tonight, the lobby was full of wedding parties. This is a very family-oriented place, and for some reason, it’s giving me a warm fuzzy.

Maybe it’s because the hotel is a fancy one, but it is amply staffed, as in, there are too many people trying to wait on me at one time. I am not used to this kind of treatment. I feel shabby. I want to tell them, “I am poor. My employer is paying for all this,” but I think they know that already, and for that I get a note of sympathy, maybe.

Al Dabke – Lebanese restaurant  in the hotel is one of the best things in life to happen to me so far. I am recovering from a most decadent meal there, and now I must to bed.

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