Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Papads & Pickles

Good news for Indians in Cairo (& Lovers of Indian Food)!

Patak's pickles have been available in Carre Four for over a month now and the stock seems to be getting renewed (Its not the same old dusty bottles sitting there)

Also unlike the Thai pastes from "Thai Chef" which are only available in their mildest form, Patak's pickles are available in Mild, Medium and Hot versions. I obviously picked the Hot versions & they are completely worth the 33 pounds they are currently charging. The Mango pickle is my favourite, then the mixed and then the lime. These are the 3 versions that are available as of now.

Her curry pastes are also available, but there the price doesn't make it worth the money for Indian cooks. I haven't tried those.

Sharwoods curry pastes & chutneys are also available at Carre Four and Alfa Market in Zamalek (I haven't checked other outlets yet) I've only tried the Bengal Mango Chutney. It was not hot enough for my taste. I haven't tried any of their other products. Based on my sampling I would say - "not as Authentic as Patak's"

There was another brand of Indian pastes at Alfa Market Cuoco or Kuoko or something like that. It did not smell robust enough, so I did not pick them up.

I did see Lijjat Papads at Alfa Market Not the spicy Punjabi Masala ones, but the slightly tamer pepper versions. But YES ! Papads are now available in Cairo too.

Monday, July 30, 2007

3 Tips for new arrivals in Cairo

This was compiled by a friend of mine who wanted to remain anonymous, but has given me permission to post this here on my blog. Thanks A.

Since some people are arriving in Cairo in the next few days, here are some tips about Visas, Duty Free, and Taxis!

If you haven't already gotten an Egyptian visa in advance at a consulate abroad, you will need to get one upon arrival at the airport. Here's how it goes... You will come to a hallway filled with about 5 or 6 little booths labeled with names like "Bank of Alexandria" "Banque du Caire" "Banque Misr" etc. You go to one of them and tell them you will buy a visa. You can go to any of the booths, and a visa costs the same for everyone, as far as I know... It costs 15 US DOLLARS. Be careful: once I saw a German guy pay 15 EUROS, so he got ripped off about 2 Euros because 1 US $ doesn't equal 1 EUR! You should pay in dollars, or insist that they convert your Euros or British sterling to 15 US Dollars and then use that money to buy a visa from them or any of the other booths.

Then after you've paid, they will give you two small stamps... in my passport I have a small orange one labeled LE 27.20 and a small blue-green one labeled 5 LE. (Strangely, when I bought another Egyptian visa at a consulate in Europe , my stamps were blue-green for 5 LE and green for 7.70 LE).

Then you will go to the border control guy, who will stamp your passport marking your arrival DATE. He’ll then stick on the two little paper stamps into your passport.

Kim's Note : Not all nationalities are eligible for Visa on arrival, so kindly check before you travel !

There is a rule that when you arrive in Egypt, you can buy alcohol at Duty Free shops for two days, but afterwards you can’t. So, if you arrive on 25 Jan, you can go to the store on 25 Jan, 26 Jan, and 27 Jan, but NOT on 28 Jan.

At the Duty Free stores you can buy imported alcohol for cheaper rates than you will find elsewhere in Egypt . The wines vary in prices from about 4 USD to 20 USD. You must pay in foreign currency, such as Dollars or with a Credit Card.

Many of the wines are ONLY available in the Duty Free stores, where they have wines from all over the world. So if you are arriving and you want to drink something better than the Egyptian-produced wine (middling quality and costs 25-50 LE!), you should be sure to buy your duty free allowance. It also makes a great gift for dinner parties.

I know you can buy chocolate and things like that at the Duty Free, but you can also buy imported chocolate at grocery stores such as Metro. I’m not sure which one is cheaper.

There is a LIMIT to the number of bottles you can buy. If you buy the bottles AT THE AIRPORT when you arrive, then you can buy FOUR bottles of alcohol. I’m not sure where the Duty Free shop at the airport is… you should ask someone. I think it’s before Customs but I’m not sure. I heard the shop at Terminal 3 (the new one) is the biggest.

If you buy bottles AFTER you leave the airport, your limit is just THREE bottles. Here are the other Duty Free Shops that I know of:
1. First floor of the Doqqi Sheraton Hotel (This is close to downtown.)
2. Mohandassin: Gam’at al-Dawal Al-‘Arabiya. At the south-eastern end of the street, near where it intersects Sharia Al-Sudan. Just tell the cab driver “Nasyet Share3 es-Sudan wi Gam3at ed-dawal el-3arabiyya.” The fare from Downtown to there is about 6 LE depending on traffic. Precisely, the duty free store is on the intersection of Gam’at ad-Dawal Al-‘Arabiya and Sharia Zamzam but the cab driver probably won’t know that small street.
3. Nasr City (Madinet Nasr): in the City Stars Mall.

Kim's Note : If you fly in on Egypt Air, then I too haven't noticed a Duty Free Shop in that Terminal. But if you come in on any other airline, the Duty Free shop is in the Visitors area as you walk out of immigration at the extreme Right.
I haven't compared the rates on Chocolates either.

There are two ways to get to downtown from the airport: public bus and Cab. The bus doesn’t run late at night (like from midnight till 5 AM ). The bus is big and white and relatively clean. I caught it by walking away from the terminal to the small bus-stop on the other end of the parking lot. I paid something like 2 LE for the ticket plus 1 LE for my bag. Don’t let them put your bag in the storage area under the bus - it's oily and very dirty.

The cab touts can be annoying but I found that if I just agreed to about 40 or 45 LE then they say yes and it’s ok. Tell them that you are paying this price INCLUDING the parking ticket which costs 5 LE. They will probably try to stick you with the price of the parking ticket anyway. If they do, then that’s fine… paying 45 LE or 50 LE is the normal foreigner price. You could probably negotiate to something lower like 30 or 35 if you speak good Arabic, but I have found that the cab drivers just argue too much to make it worth it.

If you are taking a cab downtown, just try sharing with another foreigner coming in on your flight; you can split the fare in two then, and each will pay about 25 LE.

If you want a map, head to the AUC bookstore and get the “Cairo Maps – The Practical Guide.” Just bring your passport, which you will need to leave at the gate to enter university grounds.

Kim's Note : Maps are available at other bookstores too. Check Bookshops in Cairo for a list of English books stores.
You need to leave some kind of photo id at the AUC gate. Photocopies aren't valid. It could be a drivers licence (issued by your home country) or a photo credit card too. You take a call on what photo id you would rather leave with the security. I've visited numerous times and the guards are very polite and helpful and safe to leave stuff with them (from my personal experience so far)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mystery off the coast of Egypt

These photos are of an unknown historical shipwreck in the Red Sea and the authors would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any experience in Maritime Archaeology or history of the area and era to get their opinion.

Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image and yes, that is a bell amongst the debris.
There is a slideshow of all of the photos put together here :


Monday, July 23, 2007

Muslims on Main Street

As American As You Are
By Mohja Kahf
Sunday, July 22, 2007; Page B01

A certain Middle Eastern religion is much maligned in this country. Full of veils and mystery, it is widely seen as sexist. Often violent, sometimes manipulated by demagogues, it yet has sweetness at the core, and many people are turning to it in their search for meaning.

I'm talking about Christianity.

This Muslim squirms whenever secular friends -- tolerant toward believers in Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Native American spirituality -- dismiss Christians with snorts of contempt. "It's because the Christian right wants to take over this country," they protest.

That may be, but it doesn't justify trashing the religion and its spectrum of believers. Christianity has inspired Americans to the politics of abolition and civil rights, as well as to heinous acts. Christian values have motivated the Ku Klux Klan to burn houses, and Jimmy Carter to build them. You can't say that when Christianity informs politics, only bad things happen.

This may strike you as odd coming from a Muslim. But, my dears, it's true: People of faith do not signify the apocalypse for democracy. And (here comes the Muslim agenda) that goes for believing Muslims as much as for other religious folk. Muslims, in a very specific way, are not strangers in your midst. We are kin. Not just kin in the lovely way that all humans are. We carry pieces of your family story.

I got a phone call one evening from a friend who is a lovable gossip in my home town. "Have you read today's paper?" she wanted to know. A letter-writing curmudgeon had mouthed off about how U.S. Muslims ought to be expelled, as worthless, dangerous and un-American. "What are we going to do?" she said. We'd worked together on non-pork lunch options for our kids in school -- we share that dietary law, as she's Jewish.

Anyhow. I invited the letter-writer to coffee. Walter declined, but we started writing to each other, his letters bearing a Purple Heart address label; he had been wounded in World War II. Walter was the crotchety, racist American great-uncle I never had. I sent him family photos, as you do to even an ornery relative; he replied that he guessed I was Syria's loss, America's gain.

"Huh?" I said.

"Why, you're a Syrian beauty queen," the old charmer said.

One day, I found a plastic baggie of asparagus tied to my doorknob. Mystified by this American vegetable, not one I cooked in my heritage cuisine, I brought it in -- then noticed, sticking to it, the little address label with the Purple Heart. "Sauté in butter," Walter advised. He made me promise to come to the cemetery on Veteran's Day; I did.

A year later, I get a knock at my door. It's Walter. "La ilaha illa allah!" he says, before "hello." "You and I worship the same God. I know that now." He limps into my living room, and we finally sit down to coffee.

Muslims are the youngest sibling in the Semitic family of religions, and we typically get no respect from the older kids -- Judaism and Christianity. That our older sisters didn't stick our pictures in the family scrapbook doesn't make us less related, sweetheart. And our stories are no less legit just because we have a different angle on family history. Want to know what happened to Hagar after she fades from the Bible story of Abraham and Sarah? Sit, have coffee, we'll talk.

My cousin was president of a national student group, and reporters constantly ask her whether Muslim youth turn to religion to reject their American identity. She grew up in the South, with friends who went to Bible camp in the summer. "Would you ask a Baptist that question?" she says, smoothing her head veil.

Does wearing a veil make you less American than wearing a yarmulke or a Mennonite bonnet? Does reading the Koran (even if it's not Thomas Jefferson's copy) make you less American than reading the Bible? If deploring U.S. foreign policy is un-American, then half the population is guilty. What else you got? Name your favorite symbol of Islamic difference, and I'll name other Americans who share it. The guy with all the wives on HBO's "Big Love," does anyone question his Americanness?

Assimilation is overrated. And it's not what minority religions do in the United States. Did Irish Catholics stop being Catholic when they arrived generations ago? People once believed that devout Catholics and Orthodox Jews could never be "true Americans." Today, I receive e-mails with solemn lists of why Muslims, "according to their own faith," can't possibly be "loyal Americans." The work of nut jobs. Yet purportedly sane people in Washington seem to think it's a valid question.

The Muslim spectrum contains many complex identities, from lapsed to ultra-orthodox. There's this wisdom going around that only the liberal sort are worthy of existence. No, my dears. Conservative Muslims have a right to breathe as well. Being devout, even if it means prostration prayer at airports, is not a criminal offense. And those stubborn unassimilated types may have a critique of the American social fabric that you should hear.

I grew up Islamist. That's right, not only conservative Muslim, but full-blown, caliphate-loving Islamist, among folk who take core Islamic values and put them to work in education and politics, much like evangelical Christians. One of the things about the United States that delighted my parents, and many Islamist immigrants, is that here, through patient daily jihad, they could actually teach their children Islam -- as opposed to motley customs that pass for Islam in the Old Countries.

Look, Islam never really "took" in the Arab world. The egalitarianism that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) preached, for example, never much budged Arab tribalism. The Koran's sexual ethic, enjoining chaste behavior and personal responsibility toward God on men and women both, not tribal ownership of women's sexuality, never uprooted the sexual double standard or the pagan honor code. Honor killing, as a recent fatwa by al-Azhar University's mufti reminds believers, is a pagan rite violating Islamic principles. Here in the United States, religious Muslims can practice Islam without those entrenched codes.

They are also critical of casual sex and immodesty. Such conservative Muslim criticism of mainstream American culture isn't new in American discourse. "Unlike Muslims, we Americans believe in women's equality," someone will object. Really, that's an essential American trait? Tell that to citizens who struggle for gender justice. Muslims, pious ones even, will tell you that they believe in it, too, and are no more sexist than you. Your sexism just takes forms so familiar that they're invisible; holding doors open for women doesn't seem nearly as sexist as walking protectively ahead of them.

Other American values are easily in synch with the Islam of the devout. Observant Muslims have long seen meritocracy, consultation of the people by the government and the idea that hard work should trump family name as refreshing affirmations of Islamic values. "America is Islam, without the Muslim 'brand name,' " goes a refrain from the pulpit of immigrant mosques. Usually followed by, "The Old Countries are Muslim in name, without Islamic values."

This is the Mayflower Compact of these new Pilgrims. That analogy may not sit well with African Americans, whose ancestors didn't come voluntarily, and with Native Americans, because it links newcomers to those who devastated their lands. Nevertheless, this is one way immigrant Muslims see themselves in this land: as part of a long caravan of faiths seeking to build the beloved community. This American narrative merges with the Muslim concept of hijrah -- emigration for the sake of worshiping God freely.

"How green is America!" a visiting relative of mine exclaimed upon seeing the rolling hills of Virginia. The busy-busy metropolis had not appealed to him. I hoped to dislodge his stereotype of American life as fast, crass and dehumanizing. When my husband and I moved to a small Southern city and took him to the farmer's market, he saw it -- the other America, past the glitz, where folks have time for one another, as they do in the Arab world. "What church do you go to?" is the watchword in this America. Like the Arab query "What family?" it means, "Where do you fit in?"

We fit right in to your sweet bosom. Christianity and Islam have the genetic structure of siblings. "Allah" is in the Bible. "Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?" the New Testament has Jesus (peace be upon him) asking on the cross. "Eloi," "Elohim" of the Hebrew Bible and "Allah" are all derived from the same root word for "God." When I discovered that fixed-time prayer was an early Christian rite, that Christians and Jews once practiced prostration, like Muslim prostration in our five daily salat, it was like recognizing my nose on someone's face in a photograph, then learning that the picture was of my great-grandmother. Joy!

Doctrinal differences abound, and each faith has its sacraments. Exploring these distinctions should be a source of delight, not of one-upmanship. In difference lie blessing and abundance. The Gospels detail many moments in Christ's life, but for Mary's own feelings in labor, you'll want a glimpse of the Koran -- and of Muslim hearts where the scene lives.

Pious Christian and Jewish values are not inherently in conflict with American civic life, as secular folk tend to forget. Devout immigrant Muslims don't belong? That ship has sailed. Myles Muhammad Standish and Harriet Halima Tubman are here. Not as strangers out of place, either. This is a letter to your beautiful heart: We are your blood.


Mohja Kahf is the author of the novel "The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bookshops in Cairo

Was searching for a DK Eyewitness Guide to Turkey which sent me on a Scavenger-like hunt across Cairo's bookshops. I did chance upon some new gems in addition to some of my old favourites.

Thought I would just do a quick listing & brief review of the bookshops I like in Cairo which may help you out if you are searching for something. Do remember, I was focussed on travel books. Fiction titles in Cairo I find very expensive compared to India & they take time to come into this country by the time they are cleared by the censor. I get my fiction fix from India via whoever is visiting.

1. The AUC bookshop on the AUC main campus is my absolute favourite. I spend at least 1 day each month at this location checking out their new titles & re-browsing some old ones. The AUC-(American University in Cairo) has its own printing press and they bring out an amazing array of Egypt related books written by Subject Matter Experts. Coffee Table Books, history, travel, religion, jewelery, fiction, Egyptian literature, architecture .... the variety of topics they cover is endless. Highly recommend that you visit this bookshop if you are looking for a book related to Egypt.

They have a second outlet in Zamalek too, which I have not yet visited. They stock other (Non-AUC press) titles too as well as International Newspapers. They have a very large collection of Lonely Planet guidebooks, but don't stock DK. They are quite accommodating about ordering books & calling you when something you want has come into the store.

Tip 1 : They have a sale twice a year, where some books are sold at huge discounts but everything else is on at least 20% discount.
Tip 2 : Use this excuse to see the wonderful AUC grounds and palace which has been converted to the Administration block. Carry some form of photo id which you will need to leave at the gate if you are not a student.
Tip 3 : If you are planning on spending more than a week in Cairo (as a tourist or an expat moving into this country) and have more than a passing interest in sight seeing, definitely pick up Lesley Lababidi's - Cairo - The Family Guide This is the 2006 edition. The 2007 edition may be on its way. I've used my copy so much, its actually gone soft and has dog ears. (Anyone who knows me, knows I like my books to be crisp to the touch - always)
Tip 4: You can buy an AUC bookstore membership card for 50LE. This will give you a 10% discount on your purchases. (I think its valid for at least a year. Worth the expense if you plan to buy more than 500LE worth of books from them.

2. Diwan Bookstore on 26th July Street in Zamalek, is a favourite with Expats for good reason. They have a wonderful cross section of books. A section dedicated to books in French and German and a very large section of books for children and a seperate one for teenagers. If you are looking for Children's books with an Egyptian theme (for gifting back home) this is the place to head to.

They have a little in-house cafe which serves lovely coffee and light snacks. Books from the store are not supposed to be read at the Cafe, but they have a section of books and magazines for those who want to read while sipping coffee.

3. The BookSpot is a lovely bookstore on Road No. 9 in Maadi run by my friends Sigrun and Mandy. This is a bookstore which makes you feel completely at home. There's complementary tea or coffee on offer and the best part of a visit to this shop is to catch a chat with either Mandy or Sigrun. You can even buy and order books from them online and collect them at your leisure or have them delivered to you. They take back second hand books and sell them at a discounted rate which is a boon for speed readers.

The atmosphere here is extremely friendly. Many disoriented/culturally shocked Expat women have found solace, friendship and like minded souls through this shop and its owners.

4. Kotob Khan is another gem on Lasilky Road in Maadi. They were recently featured on Al Jazeera TV for their service to the community. They organise documentary nights, book of the month readings, debates and other events, some of them in collaboration with Pen Temple Pilots. They have a wide collection of English and Arabic books and some travel books among others.

5. Volume 1 is a nooky little bookshop located off Al Sawra street in Mohandaseen & behind Victoria College in Maadi. The Mohandaseen shop has an extensive collection of Travel books, a large collection of AUC press publications, childrens books and fiction. They have a large stationary and gift section too.

6. Librairies Renaissance also on al Sawra street stocks only French publications but boasts a very large collection of fiction, children's books, cookbooks and other topics all in French.

7. Adam Bookshop at the Maadi Grand Mall in Maadi is a really tight small spaced bookstore. They have a decent collection of books, that spill all over the store so there's not much space to walk around. If I understand right, they were one of the first bookshops in Cairo to cater primarily to expats.

8. Virgin Megastores has a very large extensive collection of music & movies but I wouldn't say the same for their books. Yes, they have all the popular stuff but if you are looking for something just a little out of the way then this is not the place to look. They do not take orders. (given the size of their chain, I did expect them to do this) Can't blame them, they are only following a "big retail business" rule - stock fast moving items only. If you are looking for bestsellers in any genre you can find it here. But the store completely lacks the intimate feel of all the other bookstores in this list. You are treated as a commodity not a customer.

In the other bookstores the personal touch with the shop assistants, those manning the counter and in some cases the owners themselves makes a book lover want to keep returning to those stores. The shop assistants and the owners are happy to discuss the merits and demerits of a book and recommend further or alternate reading. At Virgin, they look up their computer to see if the book you want is in stock or not. That is the extent of Customer interaction. Lets not start talking about service. Ok, end rant. I like chain stores like CarreFour and Spinneys for my groceries but for my books I like a personal touch. I have nothing against chain bookstores. I think Crossword in India has managed to balance the chain aspects vis a vis the personal touch very well. Although Strand is still a personal favourite and I have my little nooks in every city I've lived in.

9. Alfa Markets especially the one in Zamalek do stock a fair amount of books and at some point had a good collection of DK Eyewitness Guides. But when I checked last it looked like they were having a clearance sale of all their books.

Prices are almost the same across these bookshops with a few disparities. But they are not large enough to warrant a trip to another part of town unless you are planning to buy in bulk.

I did not find the book I was looking for anywhere. Finally I turned back to the last resort Amazon.com The books were available at a discount but the shipping rates are killing me !

Crocodile Grill

Crocodile Grill
City Stars
2 Aly Rashad St.
Star Capital 1
P. O. Box 5112 Heliopolis West
Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt. 11771

Pretty Extensive menu. You can take a look of some parts of it on their website http://crocodilegrill.com/

Read My Entire Review here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

BCA - South African Braii Night

After watching an Action Packed Adrenalin Pumping Die Hard 4, It was time for a South African Braii at the BCA.

Since I've not spoke about the BCA before let me just introduce it right here. The British Community Association originally formed for British expats in 1976, now welcomes expats from all countries as members. Only qualification - a non Egyptian passport.

There are 2 clubhouses. One in Mohandaseen & one in Heliopolis. The one in Mohandaseen has pool tables, a video library, a book library, dart tables, a well stocked bar & a cafe /restaurant (about 3-4 varieties of main courses every day)

Their Newsletter - The BCA Chronicle is really informative (more information than the CSA Magazine for example) They have a Pool, Darts & Cricket league. There's a major Cricket tournament coming up on 26 & 27 October that they have organised.

At their Annual South African Braii (entry 60LE inclusive of dinner) there was a salad bar with a variety of potato salad, coleslaw, Pap & a bean/carrot/dried beans salad.

The meats being barbequed/grilled were Boerewors , Marinated Fillet Steaks, Pork Spare Ribs with special K Sauce, Pork hamburgers, beef hamburgers &Peri Peri Chicken.

Ox Tail Potjkiekos (a kind of stew), Bunny Chow plus a few other South African favourites like Klippies and Coke, Springbokkies and more were also on offer.

The entry included 3 types of grilled meat & the entire salad buffet. Everything we tasted was excellent. I can't fahtom how they got the Peri Peri Chicken & the ribs to be as soft as they were. The Spicy sauces & traditional South African Condiments available were the cherry on the iced cake.

To top it all off "Dirty Looks" a local band was playing live music from the 60's to the 80's. The 2 guitarists, keyboardist, drummer, & main vocalist were excellent. Their saxophone player was out of this world. It was a wonderful experience when he came into the middle of the dance floor playing his sax. They played a wonderful set of numbers from Santana to Ray Charles.

A very enjoyable evening. Very relaxed. Great food, great music, great company, great prices, great organisation.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Kemetic Orthodoxy

Looks like the ancient Egyptian religion is making a comeback in the USA.
Kemetic Orthodoxy is a modern organized religion reviving the faith of Kemet (ancient Egypt). It is a specific tradition within Kemetic Reconstructionism. It gained federal recognition in the United States of America as a religion under the name "House of Netjer" in 1994, and its tenets emphasize monolatry, ancestor veneration, and personal devotion. Although based on ancient Egyptian beliefs and practices, the religion was founded in the late 1980s by Tamara L. Siuda, known formally within her faith as "Her Holiness, Sekhenet-Ma'at-Ra setep-en-Ra Hekatawy I, Nisut-Bity of the Kemetic Orthodox faith." She underwent her coronation as Nisut-Bity in 1996 through ceremonies performed in Egypt, and in 2000 she achieved a master's degree in Egyptology. The organisation is centred around the Tawy House temple in Joliet, Illinois but there are followers of the faith located around the world who correspond via the internet.

Other Resources for more information :

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The World's Best Hamburger Is in Egypt

The World's Best Hamburger Is in Egypt
Scott Macleod/Cairo

Having spent a lot of my journalistic life in Cairo, I'm fond of Egyptian food. The garlic-spiced mashed fava bean dish called ful medames, for instance, which we eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. My teenage daughter repudiated McDonald's after seeing Supersize Me, so when she's out with her friends, they go to a local hangout known for its kushari, a spicy mix of macaroni, rice, chick peas and lentils........

For the rest of the article, click on this link The World's Best Hamburger Is in Egypt
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