Sunday, November 30, 2008

Misr Cafe - Home Delivery of Coffee Powder

I just heard about this company and its services from a friend.

Misr Cafe manufactures a variety of coffee powders and specialty coffee mixes.

These include:
Misr Café
Coffee Break
Life Break
Turkish Coffee
Arabic Coffee
Speciality Coffee
Mister Café
Master Café

Life Break is a Coffee substitute made from barley and malt. Turkish Coffee is available with and without cardamom ground into the mix.

My friends said that if you call them and order, they will even deliver home.

I haven't used them myself as I only drink a special fresh coffee mix that my uncle makes and sends me from home to make authentic South Indian Filter coffee.

But you can try out this site by visiting

New Campus - AUC, Future University Egypt - AUC Book Sale

Since we had already driven all the way to New Cairo and the AUC Press bi-annual sale was supposed to start today, we decided to take a look at the bookstore on the new campus.

We just got to see a bit of the campus when we drove in at the Visitors Gate (no1) . The buildings do look beautiful and they have tried to replicate the architecture of the original campus in some ways, but even the briefest look showed us that the campus wasn't ready to be functioning full time.

The bookstore at the new campus that was opened at the end of August, had more space and seemed well laid out. They are offering a flat 20% off on all books, but the bargain books (upto60% off) are only available at the downtown campus. The sale will continue until the 5th of December. The downtown bookstore remains my favorite of their 3 locations and we returned here to buy our book fix :) today.

New Campus Bookstore 2797 5927
Downtown Bookstore 2797 5887
Zamalek Bookstore 2739 7045

While on our way to AUC's new campus, we also passed by the Future University of Egypt. I'm not sure about the University itself, bu their building did stand out on the road, kind of like a modern structure pushing its way out of the Roman Colosseum. Take a look.

Narmer American College - Christmas Bazaar

Narmer American College is situated in New Cairo. They had advertised their Christmas Bazaar quite heavily, so we thought it may be worth our while to drive all the way across town to check it out.

Big Mistake! We should have realized that, when they charged us Entry fee of 30LE each. (most Xmas bazaars charge 10LE and the few really good ones charge 20LE) My husband who has insider insight, mentioned that if the gate priceis too high, then it means they can't make money off of you on the inside.

There were a lot of stalls, but 90% of them were focused on kids toys and accessories. The only good stall around was The Bookspot run by 2 lovely ladies, but I normally pick up books from their store on Road 9 in Maadi and prefer to browse the wider collection that they have in store.

What was really irritating was that the snow and streamer cans were being sold for about 5LE and badly behaved brats from ages 6 to 14 were running riotously around the place spraying the snow all over the silk and pashmina items in stalls, the books, the food stalls and the live animals stall! Terrible behavior by the kids and complete lack of interest and control and respect for other peoples property by their parents! It was disgraceful!
The better behaved younger kids were occupied with the bouncy castle and slides and the wide open playgrounds while the older ones assaulted our ears with some off key and off beat blaring karaoke!

The senior class boys who were manning the bake stall were much better behaved, compared to the rest of the lot.
Not at all a bazaar I would recommend to anyone unless you had no time to visit toy shops to pick up Chritmas gifts. If the European Embassies Bazaar was a 7.5, this one was a 1.5

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Condetti, Cairo

Condetti Restaurant & Cafe
Locations in Dokki and Maadi
33 Amman Street, Off Mohi ed Din abu el Azz st. 3760 4114
10 Street 82, off street 6. 2359 2440

Portions are on the smaller side for Egypt. My Ceasar Salad(25LE) was half the size of a similar salad at Crocodile Grill, Fuddruckers, Chillis or Trianon. But I must admit that it had a nice grilled chicken and just the right amount of cheese to give it flavour without beating the purpose of ordering a salad (light and crunchy)

Read my entire review here.

Managing Overseas Houseguests

Wrote this article for the Oasis Magazine this month. Hadn't got round to scanning and posting it.

Managing Overseas Houseguests

Having moved to Egypt, the one thing most expats have in common other than being hassled for baksheesh, is houseguests. Egypt is a country most people have had secret dreams of visiting from the time they first studied or read about it. Having someone living in this exotic country gives them the added incentive to visit. Having you here, gives your houseguests a chance to spend time with their loved ones (you and your family) besides saving on accommodation costs and having a companion guide accompany them on sightseeing trips, who can speak to them in a familiar language or accent.

We have had about 50 houseguests over the last one year and all of them have been welcome ones and we have been on good terms even after they left. It may seem like an impossible feat, but it is quite possible for you to achieve the same whether you have a deluge of visitors or a couple of them every year. There are a couple of tips that can help you achieve this state of zen. The most essential tip is to screen your guests before they even arrive.

Tip 1: Do not issue invitations to people you do not want visiting, the acquaintances who make you want to our lock your house and check into a hotel for the duration of their visit, the ones who will drive your spouse to drink, incite your children to rebel or your household staff to walk out. Your staff has that option, your family members don’t, so make sure that your family is also comfortable having these people over as houseguests.

If trouble making acquaintances want to visit, then respond with a polite no and feel free to embellish with excuses that you won’t be around or someone else is visiting during that time. Your long term family harmony is more important than the guilt you may feel, over saying “no”

Tip 2: Once you have invited someone to come over, check for any dietary requirements or restrictions. This gives you a chance to be prepared ahead of time and source hard to locate items, plan your menus, identify appropriate restaurants and have a well stocked larder so that there is no panic at the last moment.

Tip 3: If your guests plan to visit anything outside of Cairo, then clarify this as soon as they book their tickets to Egypt. Hotel, train, cruise and domestic flight bookings need to be made in advance and often you can get better deals if you book ahead of time. Often these bookings are cheaper if made within Egypt than outside. Knowing this, the choice is up to you on whether you want to volunteer to make these bookings on their behalf. If you do make these bookings, have it clear upfront as to who will make the payment to whom and how, to avoid any nasty repercussions later.

Tip 4: Most polite houseguests (we have tried to eliminate the other kind with Tip 1) will ask you what you would like them to bring for you and your family. Have a list ready for such occasions, with hard to locate items/ingredients in Egypt or items which are frightfully expensive here when compared with back home. Most visitors also travel light, so the heavy electric comforter you did not bring back to Egypt on your last trip home because you did not want to pay excess baggage, may easily fit into your sisters baggage when she visits. If someone is coming from India, I normally ask for Indian cooking spices, spice mixes, medicines(favored brands) or local movies that aren’t available in Egypt. If someone is coming from the US, then I check with them if it will fit within their baggage weight limits then buy books online from Amazon and have it shipped to their location to bring along.

Tip 5: Every visitor (above 21) is allowed to buy 3 bottles of alcohol from the Duty Free shop in Egypt on the day that they arrive. If you would like to stock your bar, then request to use their limit. A small note will be made on their passport, but it is only to prevent them re-using their limit, it won’t cause any other problems.

Who pays for what is a cultural thing. Take a call on this based on your own relationships.

Tip 6: Once they arrive, don’t hesitate to set some ground rules. These could be any of your house rules that are really important to you - ranging from restricted TV viewing hours for the children to bedtimes. Decide before hand which house rules are ok to be suspended when you have house guests and which ones cannot be compromised.

For eg: I am not an sunrise worshipper, so for my early bird guests, I let them know the night before where all the breakfast items are and how the gas and microwave operate and let them fix themselves their morning meal. This way I don’t resent their being around and having to realign my schedule and they don’t feel like they are over-imposing.

Tip 7: Always familiarize your guests with the kitchen even if you have round-the-clock house help, so they can help themselves to a snack or fix themselves a cup of coffee at odd hours without feeling too bad about it.

Tip 8: The main reason why most visitors come to Egypt other than to see you, is to see the sights. If you have just one or 2 sets of a visitors a year and you are really close to them, you may consider visiting some of the sights with them and doing a fair bit of guiding. But, if the thought of another viewing of the pyramids or the citadel is just too painful to contemplate then you have 2 options depending on your guests.

The first option is to fix them up with a guide or sight seeing service that you have used before or has been personally recommended to you. There are a lot of fly-by-night operators out there, so make sure you use someone reliable.

The second option is to fix them up with a cab company or your own driver who will take them and bring them back from the sights. If you give them your own driver then have a plan for who will take the family around on their daily routes.

Tip 9: Prepping your guests: Most of my guests have been the do-it-yourself kind of travelers. So I hand over the most appropriate guide book for each location, draw up a rough map telling them which sights are not to be missed at the location and give them any other require information. I also give them insights, like the Egyptian museum not allowing cameras and photography inside the museum, but there is a safe counter outside where they can leave their cameras if stopped.

Guests will find information like the cleanest washrooms, best places to stop for a bite and how much to tip, invaluable, especially if they are sightseeing without a guide.

Remind your guests to constantly sip on water to combat the dry heat of Cairo and give them at least one bottle of chilled water when leaving the house. These little personal touches will make your guests feel really welcome and at ease.

Tip 10: Souvenirs: Every visitor would like to take some kind of souvenir back with them. It is up to you whether you send them shopping on their own into the khan / City stars section of the khan or go with them.

I like to shop with my visitors to make sure that they aren’t completely ripped off. I have my regular shops in the khan where the vendors start at lower rates than they would with complete strangers. Then I let my friends do the choosing and bargaining while I sip on a shai or karkadee that almost all shopkeepers offer on each visit.

It is important to let your guests do the choosing and bargaining so they end up buying what they want and pay what they are willing to pay and not something you like and what you think it is worth.

It is important to know that money can break many relationships, so be upfront about this. Who pays for what, is very culture and relationship dependant, so there is no hard and fast rule. Work out what works best for you and your family and be clear about it.

In low context cultures, it is common for house guests to treat the family they are staying with to dinner and drinks at a restaurant on most evenings. In high context cultures it may be expected for the host to do a lot of the cooking at home, especially in Egypt where home style cooking may not be available outside the house.

Your guests may like to try the local cuisine or they may like to cook for you one evening. Keep yourself flexible to adapt to these things and accept a few last minute changes, rather than making a plan a month in advance and trying to stick to it as far as possible. This will keep you in a more relaxed mood.

I also like to let my guests set their own pace for sightseeing. I give them a brief idea on what are the main highlights to be seen in Egypt and let them plan their own time in Egypt. This relieves me of the pressure of planning and they do not feel the pressure of following my time table. Instead they can enjoy spending the most time doing what they like best.

Also remember, everyone needs space and time to themselves. While accepting this of your guests, also accept this of your family. Do not expect your spouse and children to spend all their time at home making polite conversation with your visiting aunt and uncle. Let them enjoy their evenings too, doing things they normally do.

The key is to keep things as normal as possible for you and your family and be prepared for some flexibility in your routine. This will ensure that your house guests have an enjoyable stay in Egypt and you and your family retain your sanity and good humor.

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behavior. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at

Friday, November 28, 2008

Arabic Lessons

From The New York Times

Arabic Lessons


One dark afternoon last winter, after too many hours spent studying Arabic verbs, I found myself staring uncomprehendingly at a video on my computer screen. An Arab man was holding forth tediously, his words half drowned by the rain outside. At first all I could make out was the usual farrago of angry consonants and strangled vowels. No progress there. Then, at last, the letters lighted up at the back of my brain.

“I understand what he’s saying!” I shrieked to the empty apartment, spinning backward in my desk chair. “I understand every word!”

I felt a warm rush of gratitude to the speaker, a bespectacled doctor. It made no difference that he was Ayman al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, or that he was threatening to slaughter large numbers of Americans. He spoke a slow, clear fusha, the formal version of Arabic I had been struggling to decipher on the page for 10 hours a day. Even better, his words matched my limited vocabulary: arsala, “to send”; jaish, “army”; raees, “president.” I was almost drunk with exhilaration.

Moments later the darkness dropped again. The terrorist disappeared, his rarefied language replaced by the clipped, quotidian accents of a political analyst. This was closer to the ordinary Arabic I would need for my work, and I understood precisely nothing. Was I wasting my time?

Learning Arabic has been like that: moments of elation alternating with grim, soul-churning despair. The language is not so much hard as it is vast, with dozens of ways to form the plural and words that vary from region to region, town to town. With every sign of progress it seems to deepen beneath you like a coastal shelf. It is only small comfort to read about the early struggles of distinguished Arabists like Gertrude Bell, who complained that she could pronounce the Arabic “h” only while holding down her tongue with one finger, or Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who writes of years spent in an alternate world called “Dictionary Land.”

But the rigors of study were a small price for the chance to catch up with my surroundings. After spending the better part of two years as a reporter in Baghdad, I was tired of playing the doltish Westerner, eyes always darting blankly between translator and interviewee. The scattered phrases I knew seemed only to underscore my ignorance: Wayn alinfijar? I’d say (“Where’s the explosion?”), or Shaku maku? (“How’s it going?”), and I’d get a condescending pat on the back. When my bosses offered a year of intensive language training, I jumped at the chance.

For anyone who knows only European languages, to wade into Arabic is to discover an endlessly strange and yet oddly ordered lexical universe. Some words have definitions that go on for pages and seem to encompass all possible meanings; others are outlandishly precise. Paging through the dictionary one night, I found a word that means “to cut off the upper end of an okra.” There are lovely verbs like sara, “to set out at night”; comical ones like tabaadawa, “to pose as a Bedouin”; and simply bizarre ones like dabiba, “to abound in lizards.” Dabiba (presumably applied to towns or regions) is medieval, but I wouldn’t put it past Dr. Zawahri to revive it.

The language can also be surprisingly vague to a Western ear. I was always troubled by Arabic’s tendency to elide the distinction between “a lot” and “too much.” I will never forget hearing an Iraqi friend, as we walked down a crowded Brooklyn street together, say loudly in English, “There are too many black people here.”

At the same time, all Arabic words have simple three- or four-letter roots, with systematically derived cognates that allow you to unfold a whole range of meanings from a single word. The word for “to cook,” for instance, is related in a predictable way to the words for “kitchen,” “dish,”

“chef,” and so on. Arabic speakers are often dismayed to discover that the same principle is less common in English.

As the months passed, the sounds of the language were gradually transformed. Arabic’s hard “h” letter, so difficult to pronounce at first, began to seem like a lovely breath of air, as if countless tiny parachutes were lifting the words above their glottal base. The notorious “ayn” sound, which often takes months for English speakers to produce, lost its guttural edge and acquired, to my ear, the throaty rumble of a well-tuned sports car.

Soon I began marching into the Arabic markets on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, near where I live, and testing out my textbook phrases. Generally I was met with a confused look and then a smiling apology: “We don’t hear too much fusha around here.” Linguistically speaking, what I had done was a bit like asking an Italian for directions in Latin. Modern fusha, also known as Modern Standard Arabic, is a modified version of the Classical Arabic in the Koran. It is the language of public address, and of any newscast on Al Jazeera and other Arabic television stations. It also corresponds to the written language, and any educated Arab can understand it. Arabs have enormous respect for fusha (“eloquent” is the word’s literal meaning), especially in its fully inflected Koranic form; that is why Al Qaeda’s leaders, like clerics and most political leaders, place great emphasis on the classical idiom.

But the language of the street is different. The colloquial versions of Arabic are derived from fusha, and they are dialects rather than wholly separate languages. Still, the gulf can be substantial in vocabulary as well as pronunciation, and takes getting used to.

One of the pleasures of learning Arabic is hearing long-familiar words in their natural context, shorn of the poisonous ideological garb they often bear in this country. Once you begin to do that, American attitudes toward the language itself, along with all things Arab and Muslim, can begin to seem jarringly hostile and suspicious.

To take a recent example: Last winter, New York City announced plans for a new Arabic-language public secondary school in Brooklyn. An aggressive campaign against the school soon sprang up, despite the uncontroversial presence of Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other dual-language schools in the city. Opponents and local newspaper columnists began branding the (as yet unopened) school a “jihad recruiting center” and a “madrassa” and demanding it be closed. For Arabic speakers, the very title of the “Stop the Madrassa” campaign — now national in scope — is bound to have an uncomfortable ring. Madrassa is the Arabic word for “school”; it could not be more wholesome. But as the school’s opponents know, in this country it has taken on a far more sinister valence, thanks to press reports about religious schools in Pakistan that are said to teach Taliban-style militancy. The school’s principal was later replaced after a fracas over another Arabic word, intifada, that has taken on a meaning here entirely different from the one it has among Arabs.

One has to wonder whether these attitudes have inhibited our ability to train more Arabic speakers. Although enrollments in postsecondary Arabic study more than doubled from 2002 to 2006, the attrition rate is high, and the number of students who persist and become truly proficient — much harder to measure — is very small. The government and military are still struggling to find the translators they need.

The reasons for this failure are many, and inseparable from the Arab world’s long history of troubled relations with the West. But alongside them is the simple fact that even with the best of teachers — like mine — the language requires a degree of patience and commitment that verges on the absurd. “Don’t worry,” one of my teachers told me half-jokingly. “Arabic is only hard for the first 10 years. After that it gets easier.”

Robert F. Worth is the Beirut bureau chief for The Times.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Please say a prayer/make dua for my friends in Bombay/Mumbai

A wave of terror was unleashed this night in Bombay.

Before we moved to Egypt, we were based in Bombay/Mumbai for 2 years. We have a lot of friends and family in the city.

The terror attacks were concentrated around the business district of South Bombay where a lot of our friends were working late, living or eating out after office hours.

4 hours of terror: grenades, machine guns, explosions have left over 80 dead (last count, sure to go up) and many more, wounded.

We have not yet been able to get in touch with a lot of our friends. Please pray for the safety of our friends and the people in Mumbai (residents and visitors) - innocents who were caught in the crossfire for no fault of theirs but for the fact that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Thank you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cairo Opera House Schedule

Its been almost impossible to buy the annual opera house schedule this year. This schedule costs about 50-100LE and is a boon when you are trying to plan your evenings and book tickets in advance.

The ticket booking desk does not carry a schedule. They will redirect you to the information desk. the information desk only has the monthly schedule. Some person in the office of the Cairo Opera house is the sole person who is allowed to sell this schedule and HE IS NEVER AROUND!.
I have tried almost every hour between 9am to 7pm to meet him and he is never around. After 7pm, the guards at the inner gate of the Opera House, will not let you pass unless you are completely dressed up for the opera!

The past 2 years, we picked up our schedule when attending a performance early in the year. With our hectic travel schedule this year, we have not been able to attend an evening performance yet.

If you go before 7pm, the security guard inside the office will tell you to wait for this person (Mr Sameh?) to arrive. He also will not let you use a washroom on the premises while you wait.

Its just so bloody inconvenient! Why can't they just have some copies for sale at the information desk or at the ticket desk? Its not like it is some super secret information!

The only good thing this year, is that they FINALLY have a website with information in English, Arabic & French, which I discovered after protesting at the shoddy treatment and run-around that we were being given AGAIN last evening. All these years, it was only available in Arabic. The website is pretty decent.

Check out

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Movie Theatre/ Cinema at the Ramses Hilton Annexe vs City Stars

Someone told us that there was a 5 screen theatre on the 7th floor of the Ramses Hilton Annexe (RHA) and we thought this may be a better idea than driving all the way to City Stars (CS) for a movie.

In comparison,
RHA - no parking space close by.
CS - underground parking and chaos of open parking on the outside.

Ticket costs at both locations is 30LE. RHA offers tickets at 15LE for the 10am at 1pm shows.

Booking tickets is relatively simple at both locations. while CS has one ticket counter per running movie, RHA had one ticket counter only, but she was quite efficient.

Snacks at CS are fresher and lower price than RHA. The only fresh snacks that RHA had was popcorn. RHA also does not allow self service (you are supposed to sit down on one of their many sofas in the lobby) and adds a service charge and sales tax to your bill. Plus the waiter expects baksheesh.

RHA cafeteria was heavily over staffed in their cafeteria for the 6:30pm show. Husband and me were the only 2 people (they have 5 screens) buying anything at the cafeteria. They had 8 waiters and 2 managers at a desk. The waiters were busy playing mobile games near the wash rooms.

Our movie was supposed to begin at 6:30. Doors were opened at 6:20. Lights were on when we entered, but the usher insisted on showing us to our seats, turning on a completely redundant flashlight and equally insistently demanded baksheesh for the service. We have been to 6 other theaters in Cairo and have never faced this situation, although I had heard about it. The other 23 people who were in the RHA theater for "Quantum of Solace" paid up without even being asked. So it seems to be a norm at this theater, even though the ticket prices are on par with CS.

With just 23 people in the audience of a theatre built to fit around 1000 people (yes RHA is much much larger than CS), pickings must have been slim although it was a Saturday evening. While we waited in the lobby, it did not look like there were too many people visiting the other 4 screens either.

Adherence to time. For a 7pm movie at CS, the ads start rolling by 6:30pm, trailers anytime between 6:45 to 6:50pm and the movie normally starts on time. At RHA, our movie was supposed to start at 6:30pm. They played some horribly depressing music till 7:05pm, then there was one trailer for another movie running in the same theater. The movie finally started at 7:10pm.

Washrooms at CS are quite clean and in functioning condition most of the time. At RHA, there were no locks on some doors, they had fancy copper sinks which werent properly fixed and there was no soap or toilet paper.

Price - With all the baksheesh and taxes, Ramses Hilton Annexe works out more expensive than City Stars.
Service at RHA, I would rate at 4 (for the ticket counter lady, no one else), CS I would rate at 8.
Timeliness - CS -9 (high on time performance) RHA - 1 (for actually screening the movie)
RHA does score higher on convenience, easy access and time saved if you are based around Downtown, Mohandaseen, Dokki and with the crazy traffic on 6th of October bridge in the last 2 months, it does give RHA an advantage (but this is just due to their location)

I'd rather go to the Diamond mall theater in 6th of October, if it is just a time saving that I am hoping for.

European Embassies Christmas Bazaar at the Nile Hilton

Visited the Christmas Bazaar organised by the European Embassies at the Nile Hilton yesterday. As was to be expected, the quality of goods on offer was way superior to most bazaars in Egypt as the goods had been imported from various European embassies.

We reached about 11am and the place was overflowing. We were wondering what the rush was about, as we haven't seen such crowds at any of the previous bazaars that we have attended in Egypt. People had even come with strolleys and suitcases.
When we went in, we figured that a large majority of the crowd was there to buy the alcohol that was freely available. A lot of embassies had their countries traditional alcohol on offer: Russian vodkas, Pimms from UK, Irish Whiskey, Gordons Gin, the range was much wider than you would ever see in the Duty Free Shop in Egypt. Prices were a little higher than the Duty Free Shops. We did not pick up any alcohol as we travel frequently between the 2 of us and normally bring our legally allowed limit in with us. But a lot of people were stocking up for the holiday season.

Alcohol was just the surface of the goods on offer. Traditional foods, home baked goodies, snacks on site, traditional embroidery, crystal, jewelry, souvenirs. All these were in plenty.

We picked up some Croatian pasta sauce which I have yet to try and fresh chocolate cake from Greece. The cake we got was charred on the bottom, and more like a chocolate flavored bread.

On location we had a European Union brunch ranging from cheese toast from Holland to crepes, waffles, Hungarian Goulash and Slovenian burgers, British Pimms based punch to Irish coffee. The Swiss cheese Raclette smelt a little too strong for our taste but plenty of people were enjoying that with potatoes and gherkins.

Children's Christmas Choirs provided background music and there was even a Santa's grotto for the younger ones. Entry at 20LE was a bit more than most other bazaars, but all the money was being collected for Egyptian charities.

An enjoyable start to the day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wady Craft Shop / Tukul Crafts - Free Trade

The Craft Shop next to the All Saints Cathedral has been in existence since 2003. It is called the Wady Craft Shop.

What I do like about this place is that all the products are created by disadvantaged groups: hearing impaired, visually impaired, refugees, prisoners and other disadvantaged families. The center sticks products from the Tukul Craft Program for Refugees, The Boulaq Centre (a women’s aid program for widows and single mothers), The Deaf School Vocational Training Centre, Shams El Birr (a school for visually impaired people),The Menouf Social Service, The Prison Ministry and several independent producers including African refugees and Egyptians.

Whatever you buy here is fairly priced and helps support these people.

I've seen a range of gift options available at this location. African print bags, purses, pot holders, hand made albums, jewelry, mother of pearl inlay work, embroidery, wood work.

, ,

You can find the shop on the side of the All Saints Cathedral (inside the Cathedral gates, to the left when you are facing the Cathedral)
5 Michael Lutfallah Street

Open Daily
Winter : 9:30-5:00pm
Summer : 9:30-6:00pm
Sundays & Fridays 11:00-4:00

Tel: 2735 4350

You can view some of the products here:
Tukul Craft Program

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lecture by Michael Haag - Author - Vintage Alexandria

Had the good fortune of attending a lecture by Michael Haag, eminent Photographer and author of multiple books about Egypt.

Although he is from London, he has been visiting Alexandria since 1973, prior to which he already had a lot of friends who had emigrated to the UK from Alexandria. Michael's passion for Alexandria emanates from every photograph and is evident in every word that he speaks.

For today's lecture, he focused on a series of old photographs that he collected from private family albums of long term residents of Alexandria. The pictures in this book span a century- between 1860 and 1960. He showcased 30 of the pictures and told us stories behind each one and took us on a marvelous journey into "Vintage Alexandria"

While the costumes were strange (3 piece suits worn while lounging on the sea shore for example) a lot of the buildings were recognisable. Although some of the buildings were destroyed in the bombing of the Western harbour during World War II and a lot of the buildings have been torn down to give way for new ones.

In Michael's eyes, Alexandria was the ultimate Cosmopolitan city until 1971, because the blend of cultures had not come through occupation or colonialism. The Greeks, Italians and other nationalities who lived in the city for over 150 years had been invited by Mohammed Ali to trade through the Alexandria port.

We saw a lot of previously unseen pictures of Lawrence Durell, Safinaz Zulfikar (later married to King Farouk as Queen Farida), Antony Benaki (the Greek cotton trader whose collection formed the basis of the famous Benaki Museum in Athens), Robert Koch (who isolated the cholera virus and developed a vaccine in an Alexandria laboratory) and other famous Alexandrians.

He showed us a picture of Constantine Cavafy from a business card he had printed and handed over to a friend during her wedding. The funny part was that the picture had been taken 15 years earlier! Cavafy continued to use the same picture for the rest of his life :)

The one thing that hasn't changed since the time of Cleopatra seems to be the layout of the Eastern Harbour, although a lot of the land has been reclaimed. The Hotel Cecil stands on reclaimed land and just beyond the original location of one of Celopatra's needles, which is currently in Central Park, New York.

It was an extremely illuminating lecture and it was a pleasure to be taken back in time to an era that was more gentle and cultured and "quiet"?

Most of his books that I browsed through seem worth buying. Visit Michael's website on

Buying Tea Bags in Cairo

If you are looking to buy Tea bags in Cairo, there are a couple of brands that you can try.
Twinnings - the tea bags available here are imported for the most part. So quality is assured.
Ahmad Tea - again imported. Quality good.
Lipton - Both imported and locally prepared tea bags are available. Locally made tea bags for plain tea are pretty decent. The flavored and special teas arent as good as the imported varieties.
Isis - local herbal teas. Good quality. I adore the hibiscus and cinnamon variety which is rarely available. So I stock up when it is available.

Flavored and herbal teas are available in a wide range of flavours.

Locally made tea bags will be much more reasonable than the imported ones. You may need to try which brands are acceptable to you and which ones it makes sense to buy the imported variety or bring them with you from home.

For an idea of prices. A box of 15 hibiscus and cinnamon tea bags by Isis costs 2.95LE.

Hibiscus tea (karkadi) is quite unique to this part of the world and is a nice souvenir from Egypt for a gourmand friend back home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Buying Garlic Paste in Cairo

The concept of ready made garlic paste does not exist in Cairo while it is an essential in Indian cooking. Until a few months ago, the only option I had was to make the paste myself. But recently I have found that "Gold Alex" offers a passable substitute.
Its a bottle of finely minced garlic preserved in a bit of oil and salt. Costs about 5.25LE. . Its handy to have in the fridge for the days when cooking in a hurry.

Buying Rice in Egypt

I'm often asked which brand of rice I use in Egypt. The answer is best given in a series of points.
1. I do not use Egyptian rice for anything except making rice pudding (kheer/ruz bi laban) or risotto because it has a sticky consistency like arborio or sushi rice. This particular rice needs perfection to cook as a side dish for curries, which doesnt suit my touch, taste, see, smell, feel style of cooking
2. To make Indian dosas (rice pancakes of different types) I bring the appropriate rice back from India
3. To make regular rice for daily use, I buy the "Cooker" brand. This used to come in a green topped box, now it comes in a red topped box.

A 2kilo box costs about 26LE. It is also available in 1kilo boxes and also in plastic bags. If you buy a box that isnt dented already, the boxes are very durable and air tight so they can be reused for storing other things at home.

The bottle in front is a current offer at Hyper One where you get a bottle of Crystal hot sauce with a 2 kilo box.

Taziry Ecolodge, Siwa

Just saw the website for this ecolodge in Siwa that looks very interesting.

I haven't spoken to them, haven't stayed there, just found their website very interesting. . .

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hardees, Cairo

Hardees fast food locations are spread out all over Cairo and beyond. Their home delivery (19066) service practically covers every corner of the city. Their restaurants are pretty decent to sit down in too.

The nuggets at Hardees in my opinion are much better than those at McDonalds or KFC. The nuggets are sold as chicken stars (7.95 Le/6 pieces, 10.68Le/9 pieces, 11.82 for a happy meal - 4 stars + fries + small drink) . . .

Read the entire review on My restaurant review blog

Rainforest Cafe, Cairo

Rainforest Cafe
City Stars,
Nasr City

Rainforest Cafe is an American theme restaurant that has recently opened a branch here in Cairo. As the name suggests, the interiors are done up in the style of a rainforest with robotic animals. Cairenes would be familiar with this concept as Planet Africa has had 2 branches in the city since ages. But in my opinion the Rain Forest Cafe is much better in terms of experience, food, service and entertainment for young kids.

Read my entire review on My Restaurant Review Blog

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Revolving Restaurant, Grand Hyatt, Cairo

. . . This is a lovely restaurant to take your date to with its awesome ambience, phenomenal food, panoramic view and attentive yet unobtrusive service. It is also a place I would recommend for formal business dinners or if you need to impress your (prospective) inlaws or anyone else for that matter. . . .

. . . The Salad St Jacques was pan fried scallops (slightly crisp on the outside, tender juicy & succulent on the inside), served on a crisp potato pancake with marinated red peppers and some greens. I would highly recommend this dish any day.
Read the entire review on My Restaurant Review Blog

ICAE Diwali Function at Mena House Oberoi

Had a ball of a time at today's Diwali function held by the Indian Community Association in Cairo.

Met a lot of old friends, made some new ones. The decorations were awesome and felt like being back in India with bright diyas and colorful rangolis all over the place.

Usha Uthup was in town, to perform for the function and she got the crowd on their feet (although some of them were on their feet just to capture her on camera)

Good Indian khana. Over 800 guests. This was a diwali party to remember!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What to look out for when renting in Cairo

EgyptianSanks: Renting in Cairo

Sankalita, a friend of mine has an awesome blog too.

This particular post of hers talks about what the prospective renter needs to consider before signing the lease in Cairo.

Its quite a comprehensive list and highly recommended reading for those coming in to Cairo and who need to rent a place.

Alcohol @ the Grand Hyatt, Cairo

Most of you would have heard about the ban on sale of alcohol at the Grand Hyatt, Cairo a couple of months ago?

Well, we were at the Hard Rock Cafe today and they are serving alcohol.

We ate at the revolving restaurant last month and they were offering alcohol too.

I made a search and found this article on the net. Rumour is that alcohol can be ordered in room service, but I'm not sure how true that is.

Warning : Car stealing modus operandi

Heard about this from a friend.

Seems there is a new technique going around. a motorbike comes and hits a car from behind. When you get out of the car to check your damage/yell at the other driver, another associate slides into your driver seat and drives away. The motorbike guy also speeds away simultaneously.

I can't be 100% sure about the accuracy of this information as it hasn't happened to me or anyone that I know directly. But it is a good idea to take your keys out of the ignition and with you, if you step out of your car for any reason.

New Pyramid discovered in Saqqara plateau

A new pyramid has been "discovered" in the Saqqara plateau. It is being hypothesised that this 4,300 year old pyramid belongs to Queen Sesheshet the queen mother of King Teti, the founder of Egypt's Sixth Dynasty.

The pyramid is the 118th discovered so far in Egypt, and the 12th to be found in Saqqara.

See pictures on BBC News

News Report at

Watch Slide show at

Saturday, November 08, 2008

An experiment for Arabic speakers who read this blog - MEME

I received a lot of interesting comments on my last post Arabic adventures in Egypt

So I'd like to conduct an experiment/ throw down a challenge for those readers who live in Cairo and speak Arabic (with any degree of fluency)

The challenge is to go around town (no sitting at home) on your regular business - catch a taxi, order lunch, go to the market, deal with clients and customers - whatever it is that you do on a daily business. But the challenge lies in the fact that you can ONLY SPEAK IN ENGLISH. No French, no Arabic, no other language, only English - not even an Aiwa or an alatoul.

When you have done that, you can
1. write a blog post and link to this post.
2. write a blog post & leave me the link to your blog in the comments on this post
3. write down your experience as a comment on this post.

I'd love to see what stories you have to tell at the end of such a day. and it would be interesting for you to see what a non-Arabic speaking foreigner/expat/student goes through in the city.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Where to you can buy/shop for cheap used and new books in Cairo

My friend Allison of Cairo compiled this information and since it was so interesting and comprehensive, I requested her permission to re-post it here, which she graciously allowed. Thanks Alli.

Buying books in Cairo.

Went downtown yesterday and went to check out Attaba for books since someone was mentioning it previously.

Take the metro to Attaba Station. Take the exit named Attaba Sq or Attaba Garage. Walk out the exit steps and you will be right next to the booksellers.
There are around 100 new kiosks all with arabesque designs and each has good lighting installed. They are the same size as the previous ones, but now each has an address to make it easier to locate a favourite [Big Grin]

The book kiosks are open every day including Fridays from 10am till 9pm, best time to go would be around 12ish to make sure that they are all open and plan to finish before 7ish as some start to close around then.

Types of books
Thousands of Arabic books.
Medical Textbooks ( in English )
Engineering books
IT books
All sorts of Arabic textbooks
Islamic books , tapes and CD's
All kinds of magazines, and periodicals

Stacks of English books mostly used including thousands of novels in both hardback and paperback, the stuff you see in every bookshops at home. Lots of trashy novelettes [Razz]

The classics i.e. Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte.

Books on learning English and teaching English.

English magazines like Chat, OK, Readers Digests, Cosmo, Good Housekeeping, National Geographic, Bella, Computers, Cars, Body building, Health, etc etc. Both used and new but maybe a few months old.

Miscellaneous Books and magazines i.e. biographies, technical,Politics, History etc.
Tolstoy, Solzenitzen stuff.

There is a fair selection of French, German, Russian,Greek books dotted around, with more languages.

Old rare book kiosks.

Childrens books.

You can find fairly recent books and very old ones too.

I would say that only 1% of the book keepers will hassle you. The rest will let you browse in peace and if they dont have what you want they can direct you to another kiosk who might. [Smile] They are mainly older men who are friendly, but in a nice way [Wink]

Prices vary.
I found one guy who was a real darling. Very polite, helpful who has 2 shops. I bought a load of books and he charged me under 10le a book.

He is at numbers 83 and 84 kiosk.
name Mahmoud Kasem tele:0101218948.

I told him that I would put his name on ES and if any member goes to him and wants to buy books, he will give them a fair and honest price. [Wink]

All you do is tell him the word (ES) he will then know I sent you .

Enjoy your books folks

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Arabic Adventures in Egypt

Yes, I mean the language, not the culture. Not for this post at least.

This post was triggered by an anonymous comment on my Omar Effendi blog post This comment resonated deeply within me as I have faced the same question numerous times here in Egypt "Why don't you speak Arabic?"

Well I did try my best, I can speak enough Arabic to bargain at the khan, with a taxi driver, shop at a grocery store and order a meal at a restaurant. I can understand a fair bit more, provided the person speaking isn't talking at full speed. But that is the limit of my Arabic language skills and I have not yet felt the need to learn any more than that (If I don't use a language regularly, I forget and I have never done well with learning a language in a classroom setting - blame it on the 3 compulsory languages we had to learn in primary school) My Egyptian friends happily and obligingly translate for me when the need arises.

But do I want to explain this to every person who asks me this question - most often taxi drivers, shop keepers and the like? - NO because it really isn't their business. Unfortunately in Egypt a lot of people do think that it is.

A lot of Egyptians do believe that just because you are here in this country (no matter how short a stay) you SHOULD learn Arabic. Its almost like they believe that Arabic is the lingua franca of the world. (Kind of like the Americans -WORLD SERIES in Baseball)

I don't deny that it is a widely spoken language and it is a beautiful language to learn to read, to be able to appreciate some classical works, but this isn't my calling. I already speak 4 languages fluently and a smattering of another 6 or so and that works for me.

I have no objection to an Arabic speaker not being able to converse with me in English, I will find myself a helpful translator. But I do object to the disdainful and scornful looks that I'm given by some who figure out that I've been here for awhile but can't speak the language fluently!
Related Posts with Thumbnails