Monday, January 26, 2009


We have gone camping in Egypt but this was the basic variety. Where the camp guy provided us his sleeping bags and blankets (its good he handed them out in the night, so we couldn't see how clean/dirty they were) and set up a wind breaker (we decided to do away with the tent) in the middle of the desert.

While this experience is extremely close to nature and primal in a way, I've always been curious about the American experience of camping. Like the RV Park North Carolina.

An RV (Recreational Vehicle) is a mobile home. These RV homes are normally equipped with beds/bunks, toilets, small cooking space and eating space.

It has always sounded so adventurous to get into an RV and drive off in any direction that your whim takes you and set up camp in NC RV parks for the night. Stay a couple of days, explore the area and then head out again or head home.

The major advantage in traveling this way is that you can go where your whim takes you. You can spend as many days as you like in an area. You don't have to worry about ticket bookings. Prices are much lower if you travel in an RV across such a wide expanse of area like the US.

The reasons RV's work in the USA is because they have camps like RV park NC which can hook up your RV to water, sewage and other connections. Higher quality camps even give access to amenities like swimming pools, jacuzzi, laundry, planned activities and even cabins (if you are tired of living in a home on wheels)

It may not be too practical in the Egyptian desert though. What do you think?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fatimid Walk

It was such a pleasure to be able to attend a PTP walk again (Its been over a year since I could last attend a walk) yesterday.

As added bonus, my husband was able to come along too and he too got to see the beauty and history of Islamic Cairo through Camel's eyes.

We started at Bab Zuwayla (entry 15LE for foreigners, 1LE for Egyptians) where the gate itself was built by the Fatimids, but the minarets were added about 300 years later. We climbed up the gate and some PTPians even climbed up the minarets. The view from here is lovely. Unfortunately today was not a very clear day, so it was hard to take long range pictures of the skyline.

Our next stop was at the Fakhahini mosque where we heard the stories behind Al Hakim the "eccentric" 3rd Caliph in Egypt.

We then crossed the road to reach the Mausoleum of Al Saleh Nagm ad Din Ayyub which is built on the site of a Fatimid palace - Beit Al Qasreen (which lent its name to one of the books from the Naguib Mahfouz trilogy).

Most PTPians then headed back for some refreshments, but since my husband had come to the area after so long, the 2 of us decided to carry on walking down Sharia al Muizz ud Din towards the Northern Gates.

We looked for some of the other Fatimid monuments that were mentioned during the presentation. We identified the Al Aqmar mosque and Al Hakim mosque before arriving at the Northern wall.

We also wandered into the Beit al Sihaymi which is a beautiful Ottoman house (actually 2 houses), not as well furnished as the Gayer Anderson museum, but some rooms are semi furnished.
We had a wonderful time. The weather was comfortable for walking, the pace relaxed, we met old friends, made new ones, learned a lot, ate roasted batatas, some wonderful local bread stuffed with dates(boreik - sometimes also stuffed with cheese) and some interesting pink and white sweets (moz halawa) and fell in love all over again with Islamic Cairo.

On another note, I would also recommend that you visit the Bein Al Qasreen area in the evening when it is all lit up. It transforms into something mystical in its beauty.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Royal House Supermarket, Heliopolis

I wandered into the Royal House Supermarket in Heliopolis on the advice of a friend who lives in the area.

She sold it to me by saying "its a lot like Alfa Market with the foreign goods, but at much better rates" and she was spot on.

The exterior belies the sheer size of the place. It is almost as large as Carre Four. There is a separate section for home utilities like cutlery, the big cleaning items, crystal, gift items - things I would classify as non-consumables. This is on the right when you enter.

On the left are the consumables. Food, drink and FMCG products. There is also a book shop by Dorling Kindersley, a Cinnabon cafe, a House of Donuts outlet, a radio shack, a Monginis bakery outlet among other shop-in-shops.

This is a place where you can pick up most items on your shopping list. Prices are also reasonable. I would highly recommend this over Spinneys for anyone living in the area.

Edited on 25 Jan 09 to add: Royal House is located next to former Merryland garden, between Roxy and Makhkama square at Hegaz street. (You need to take a turn and go off Hegaz street after the garden - if the garden is on your right)
Phones: 2451 4447 or 2451 4448.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bakery @ Flamenco Hotel

@ Golden Tulip -Flamenco Hotel

A German friend of mine, Gertrud recommended this bakery very highly for their German breads and desserts. She felt their authenticity could be credited to the fact that the GM, Mr. Groebel and his bakery chef are both Germans.

The items she recommended to me were the Brezen-stick (stangerl) and rolls and apple pie (not so sweet) and Zopf (like brioche) and the real German dark bread.

Since I was looking for Multigrain bread for my husbands strict diet, I decided to stop here and check it out.

Read my entire review n my restaurant review blog.

Chinese New Year & Cooks Day off at CSA

26th of January will be the start of the Chinese New Year of the OX.

In honor of this, there was a mini Chinese bazaar at the CSA yesterday. Some interesting Chinese food items from an embassy consignment like red beans flavored noodles and other hard to find Chinese ingredients were on sale.

There was also a stall by China Treasure which offers a selection of interesting curios from China.

There was also some home cooked Chinese food including dumplings, stir fried vegetables and meat in sauces. Some food was being prepared hot on site, including pan fried dumplings, Chinese stuffed bread (like parathas) and kebabs.
Yesterday was also Cooks day off, which is held every Thursday & Sunday between 9am & 1pm on the premises. Normally the food on offer is of the home cooked variety and more reasonable than restaurant food. Over the last few months I have seen Egyptian, Indian, Brazilian, Phillipino, Italian among the variety of cuisines on display.
From past experience, some foods keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, but some of them have to be eaten the same day as the food is packed very fresh and without preservatives.

Sabudana + Garam Masala in Cairo

I saw some sabudana and Garam masala on sale in Alfa Market in Zamalek yesterday.

Garam Masala being sold is from the Raj Masala brand.

The Sabudana is a South East Asian brand, it is sold as Tapioca Pearls. There are 2 sizes available. One is the small size that we use in Indian cooking and one is a much larger size, like groundnuts/peanuts/moongphali.

They are on the expensive side comparing to their price in India, but they ARE available if you need to replenish your stock.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Strawberries in the market

Managed to pick up some wonderful baladi strawberries from the market. Really sweet and juicy. About 4.5LE for half a kilo.

There were some unusually shaped ones too.

Strawberry milk shakes, strawberry smoothies, strawberries and cream, strawberry shortcake - we are having a feast!

I've been told that with baladi strawberries, it is hit or miss, so ask for as taste from the lot (and choose one yourself) before packing some to bring home.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mummy of female pharaoh uncovered

From BBC

Zahi Hawass and other excavators attend to sarcophagus
The discovery of such an old mummy is extremely rare, Egyptologists say

Egyptologists have discovered the remains of a mummy thought to belong to a queen who ruled 4,300 years ago, Egypt's antiquities chief has said.

The body of Queen Seshestet was found in a recently-discovered pyramid in Saqqara, Zahi Hawass announced.

She was mother of King Teti, founder of the Sixth Dynasty of pharaonic Egypt. Her name was not found but "all the signs indicate that she is Seshestet".

Such old royal mummies are rare. Most date from dynasties after 1800 BC.

Historians believe Queen Seshestet ruled Egypt for 11 years - making her one of a small number of women pharaohs.

It took five hours to lift the lid of a sarcophagus, according to a statement by Mr Hawass.

It contained a skull, legs, pelvis, other body parts wrapped in linen, pottery and gold finger wrappings.

The burial chamber was raided in antiquity by grave robbers who stole everything, including most valuables from inside the sarcophagus.

Book Review : The Jewel of Medina

I had written about the controversy surrounding "The Jewel of Medina" a couple of months ago, but it hadn't really inspired me to go out and buy the book immediately. Of course there was the other matter of it not being available in a Middle Eastern country. But when a friend of mine told me she had the book in case I was interested, I decided to see what the fuss was all about.

The book was initially quite ho-hum (compared to some of the other books I have read on the subject) while it covered the childhood politics around a little girl growing up in a polygamous family where her own mother was the second wife. The girl just happens to be Aisha Bint Abi Bakr, herself an extremely controversial character in Islam. After the Prophets death, she led an army against his Son-in-law Ali, which was the cause for the Sunni-Shia split.

Sunnis claim Aisha was the favourite wife of the Prophet, while Shiites believe that he disliked her for her disobedience. Sunni accounts put the Prophet in Aisha's embrace at the time of his death and Shiites believe that he died in Ali's arms.

Why is The Jewel so inflammatory?

Conservative Catholics across the globe were vociferously against "The DaVinci Code" as it was based on the anti-thesis of a non-negotiable fact - that Jesus was married and sired a bloodline. This questioned the foundations of the Catholic faith and the vows of celibacy taken by priests and nuns.

"The Jewel of Medina" portrays each edict passed by Mohamed as being one for personal gain. It also caricatures him as an old man in constant sexual overdrive, whose only interest was in finding the next beautiful young bride. Drawing conclusions and elaborating on the fact that, when his male followers were allowed only 4 wives, the limitations did not apply to him. And other such incendiary conclusions.

For someone who is not familiar with the basics behind the Islamic teachings, it is a disastrous book to read, because it will completely distort the idea of Islam and its foundations. Ms Jones in her interviews has claimed that she wrote this book to make Islam more accessible and understandable to the general public in USA.

If this is her target audience, it will only serve to further aggravate the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims in America where a majority of non-Muslims already look upon Muslims with suspicion and in extreme cases, even hatred. Among the non-Muslims in America, there is a wide spread belief that women are completely dominated by men in this religion, they are forced to cover up from head to toe by overbearing fathers and husbands. This book will only serve to deepen and worsen those beliefs. I do not see any "understanding" coming out of this book.

The problem with writing fiction with characters from real life is that very few readers actually have the ability or knowledge to distinguish the line between the blurred lines of fact and fiction in a novel. And how much of this book is fiction? As a non-Muslim with basic information about Islam from my Muslim friends, I was quite riled up about certain injustices being described in certain sections of this book. This is a normal process when reading a book, the skill of the author is in making you feel for the characters. But the way it is portrayed as fact, brings these feelings out back into the world beyond the reading of a book.

What Ms Jones has written is a piece of fiction and not even a well researched one at that. Friends of mine who are scholars in Islamic studies, say that the inaccuracies are innumerable.

Geraldine Brooks (who has extensively researched the history of this era), author of the 1995 nonfiction book, "Nine Parts of Desire" whom Jones has cited as one her initial inspiration, says this in her review of The Jewel of Medina, "if you wish to claim that your novel is "extensively researched", why lurch around in time and space, grabbing at concepts such as hatun, or leading wife, which Jones knows full well belongs to the Ottoman empire of centuries later, or purdah, which exists in Persian, Urdu and Hindi but not Arabic? Why refer to an Islamic veil by the modern Western term "wrapper"? Why have Muslims bowing to Aisha, when bowing is an alien custom to desert Arabia and to Islam's egalitarian ethos?"

Is "The Jewel of Medina" a good story? - Well, it manages to keep your interest going after the initial chapters, wondering what is going to come next? and How will Aisha manage this latest calamity?. But in most parts it reads like Mills & Boone/ Silhouette kind of Soft Porn.

I ask a larger question : "Is it ethical to write a book like this, which caricatures a person who is the cornerstone of a particular religion?

Disclaimer : I do not want to get into a debate about death threats, riots and fatwas that inevitably follow a book of this kind.

Published on

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Street Food in Egypt

ET came out with a wonderful article on eating out in Egypt this month.

Street Food Done Right
Looking to eat local? Here’s our guide to some of the best places for fuul, koshari, kofta and molokheyya in the city
By Ali El Bahnasawy

A mouth-watering, homemade Egyptian dish is one of a few things that remain on your mind when you leave the country. Along with memories of joking over shisha at a baladi cafĂ© and those all-night celebrations after an Ahly versus Zamalek match, your mind can’t help but return to the taste of traditional Egyptian cuisine.

Unsurprisingly, Egyptian food is just like Egyptian people: it has many layers. From eats as simple as fuul and tameya, to grilled kebabs and stuffed leaves or fatta (a dish of toasted bread, rice, and meat), Egyptian food has something for everyone. And the best place to find that something is Cairo.

The star of local restaurants offering fine dining Egyptian style is, without a doubt, Abou El-Sid. Posing as a posh fifties dining room from Cairo’s heyday, each restaurant is decorated with colored walls and huge chandeliers, artwork and kitsch fifties-style trinkets. The menu of appetizers, main dishes and desserts is simple but full: Food portions are huge so be careful what you order. The kobeiba comes with baba ghanoug, hitting two birds with one stone, while the stuffed vine leaves with peppermint and yogurt dressing are superb.

Abou El-Sid’s main dishes reflect the general atmosphere. Molokheyya with rice and rabbit is an ultra-traditional dish that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in town. I don’t know how you feel about paying LE 18 for koshari but if you want to live the experience, expect to pay accordingly.

A newcomer to the Egyptian dining scene is El-Sit Hosneya in Dokki, an Egyptian-Moroccan blend that is comfy but expensive. The menu is similar to Abou El-Sid, but offers eight — yes, eight — different types of fatta. Try the one with the molokheyya. Another option, Kan Zaman in Heliopolis, offers live music and quicker service and equally tasty food, if El-Sid and El-Sit are packed.

If you’re low on cash, you’re in luck. Egyptian cuisine is famous for being both inexpensive and filling. El-Tekkia’s main dishes are between LE 25–55 and the collection of appetizers appeals to those on a budget as well.

If it’s meat you’re looking for, look no further. Egyptians love their grilled meats, from kebab to kofta, chicken and pigeon. Kebab and kofta are the specialties of El-Refaay in Sayeda Zeinab, where seating is in an alley crowded with old wooden chairs and tables. There is always a crowd, and when the bill comes, you’ll understand why all the cars parked in the alley are expensive ones.

For diehard fans of koshari — a famous and unique mix of rice, black lentils, macaroni, fried onion and hot tomato sauce — there’s no shortage of options. But make sure you’re able to pick out the good ones. While the painstakingly commercial Abu Tariq Downtown is known for its celeb visitors, head out to Heliopolis for Koshary Hend. Expect to share a table as a result of the crowds, or ask for a foiled to-go plate and you’ll be full for hours on less than LE 5.

On the other side of Cairo, in Imbaba, is the best destination for cow and camel liver, arguably in the country. El-Brince, an Arabic transliteration for The Prince, is also an excellent outdoor venue in a traditional, crowded Cairo neighborhood. The walls are adorned with photos of the restaurant owner and a gaggle of Egyptian celebrities — certainly a testament to El-Brince’s good food. For the uninitiated, start with the cow liver. The grilled oriental sausage is made with a special sauce that is unmatchable. The molokheyya comes from a specialized cart at the corner of the restaurant and is one of the best in town. Because of its location and service — quick, but impersonal — many expect El-Brince to be cheap. It’s not. Expect to pay no less than LE 50–70, but know that it’s well worth it.

The Details

Abou El-Sid 45 Road 7 Maadi, Cairo Tel: +2 (02) 2380-5050 Open 1pm – 2am every day Other branches in Zamalek, Mohandiseen and CityStars in Nasr City

Khaled Habib

El Sit Hosneya 47 Michel Bakhoum St.Dokki, Cairo Tel: +2 (02) 3338-6007 Open 10am – 2am every day

Kan Zaman 80A El-Thawra St. Heliopolis, Cairo Tel: +2 (02) 2417-0953 Open 10am – 2am every day

El-Brince 79 Taalat Harb St. Ommal City Imbaba, Cairo Tel: +2 (02) 3311-6265 Open 4pm – 2am, every day

Koshary Hend 5 El-Thawra St.Heliopolis, Cairo Tel: +2 (02) 2418-3946 Open 24 hours, every day

El-Refaay 5 Mongy Alley El-Darb El-Gedeed Sayeda Zeinab, Cairo Tel: +2 (02) 2392-6159 / 2390-6996 Open 7pm – 3am every day

El-Tekkia 105 Hegaz St.Heliopolis, Cairo Tel: +2 (02) 2638 4343 Open 1pm – 2am, every day

Fuul Me Up

Mashed mudammas beans, best known as fuul, is probably Egypt’s most prevalent dish. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s a mainstay of the national diet, and can be found everywhere from fuul carts in Imbaba to posh restaurants in Heliopolis. And because of that, Egyptians have mastered the art of preparing fuul dishes of every type. Here are a few ingredients to add a little flavor to your fuul for little money:

Plain with oil, Egg and tomato, Lemon and red pepper, Sweet potato, Mint, Beef, Cheese, Carrot and cucumber, Pastrami

More Luggage

A short while ago, I wrote on Basics of Traveling - Luggage.

Cairo Typo reminded me on a point that I hadn't mentioned in my post, which is the weight of your luggage. Always check the weight of your luggage in store, because new flying regulations severely limit the weight you are allowed in your carry on baggage. And the heavier your luggage, the less you will be able to put into it.

In this post, I'd like to consider the options of Designer Luggage. Most famous designers have their own luggage lines too. We ourselves did not go extremely high end, but we did pick up a set of matching Giordano suitcases. Unfortunately in less than 6 months, the baggage handlers between Egypt and Morocco managed to break the handle of the suitcase. We do not know if it was a non-sturdy handle or the baggage handling process was bad. Getting the handle replaced in Egypt was close to impossible.

On our trip to India, we did get a new handle put in, but it couldn't match the shape and size of the original. This is one of the problems of being frequent travelers with minimal roots.

Talking about India, another tip is that with the recent attacks, airports in the country have stepped up their security and for some reason known only to them, require you to completely remove your laptop from all packaging when sending it through the hand baggage scanner. I normally put my laptop bag inside another strolley so I can include some basic toiletries and a change of clothes (we have tons of personal stories about luggage gone missing and never arriving, so everything expensive, important or which cannot be replaced is always carried in our hand baggage) I'm not sure about other countries yet, but if you are flying out of any airport in India, do keep your laptop in an easily accessible pocket, so it can be scanned separately.

Coming back to designer luggage, Hartman Luggage and Vera Bradley Luggage are very interesting brands to consider. I particularly like the Victorinox range of luggage, which I find very smart in its finish.

But what I really need now, given the weather in Egypt is a walker like my grandma used to use. The cold is killing my back and sagging sofa springs aren't helping the matter any :(

Trianon Cafe, Dandy Mall

Trianon Cafe
Dandy Mall
Cairo - Alex Desert Road
(Near Smart Village)
CairoThis one is by far the best of the Trianon's that I have eaten at except perhaps for the original on the Corniche in Alexandria. (See my reviews of the Mohandaseen and Green Plaza, Alexandria branches.)

Read my entire review here.

Bora Bora, Cairo

Bora Bora

Located on the Nile, it has a beautiful ambiance and is a wonderful place to relax in the evenings if you visit before 10-11pm, when the party people come in and take over. Until then it is a serene quiet place to unwind, while watching the Nile and the occasional fellucca glide by.

Read my entire review here

Monday, January 12, 2009

Back to Egypt, Back to Reality! - Costa Coffee

After a not so great holiday (dh's gastric problems resurfaced, but at least we got it diagnosed this time - because we were in India - identified as "erosive gastric duodenitis" - now he's on 21 days of high dosage medication and 4 months of low medication but strict diet) we returned to Egypt a day ago.

After spending a day in getting the house liveable and a lot of pending paperwork in order, headed over to Hyper One to refurbish my larder.

Also had confirmed a brunch/coffee meeting with my friends in 6th October at Costa Coffee in the same mall.

Meeting with them was great fun as usual. We googooed at the babies, congratulated the mom-to-be and had a great destressing chit-chat session.

Since it was past noon and I was hungry, I ordered a new item on their menu - "Philly Steak" Sandwich. I was expecting this : but what came to the table was a sandwich with pickles, tomato slices and luncheon meat. There was nothing Philadelphian or any steak in the sandwich!

I thought they must have got my order wrong and tried to explain to the waiter that what I wanted was a Steak sandwich and he insisted that I had received the right order. I then requested one of my friends on the other end of the table, who is fluently bilingual to explain to him in better Arabic than my pidgin version to translate. She had arrived a while before me and said that she had ordered the "Philly Steak" and had the same luncheon slice sandwich delivered and the same conversation, ending in the same result - the waiter insisting that the right order had been served.

Possible Explanations
1. Costa Coffee the UK based chain whose tagline is "Italian About Coffee" has completely messed up the recipe for the American Sandwich.
2. The Egyptian branch of Costa Coffee has messed up the recipe.
3. Today's delivery to the 6th of October, Hyper City branch was messed up at the production/labeling end.
4. The waiter/sandwich toaster made a mistake with my friends sandwich and to validate his story, he gave me the same "mistaken" sandwich.

What do you think?

If you have tried this sandwich at any of the other Costa locations, what were you served?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Diapers ? for Donkeys in Egypt?

From Egypt News

Donkeys ordered to wear diapers in Egypt

Egypt News.Net
Tuesday 30th December, 2008 (IANS)

Donkeys have been banned from walking around in the streets of Egypt's southwestern al-Wadi al-Gadeed governorates without wearing diapers, an official said.

Mohammed Haround said the measure was to 'preserve the aesthetic and cultural scene of the governorate which currently witnesses an unprecedented boom in tourism'.

'Diapers are available in the markets at low prices,' Haroun was quoted by the official MENA news agency as saying Tuesday. He added that owners of the donkeys who violate this decision will be fined.

Donkeys are vital for many Egyptians since they can easily carry 20-30 percent of their body weight and are helpful in farming. Donkeys and donkey-drawn carts are a common sight in Egypt's cities and countryside.

Saqqara: Tombs over 4,000 Years Old Discovered


This was in the news about a week ago.

From The BBC

Two tombs dating back more than 4,000 years have been discovered in Egypt at Saqqara, south of Cairo.

The head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, Dr Zahi Hawass, said the burial sites belonged to a pyramid builder and a singer.

Although archaeologists have been exploring Egypt intensively for more than 150 years, Dr Hawass believes only 30% of what lies beneath the ground has been uncovered.

Egyptian Father offers daughter to Shoe Thrower

I'm sure most of you have heard this news since it is about 2 weeks old.

Due to a hectic travel schedule, I did not have the chance to blog about this.

But I'd love to preserve the link in my blog under "quirky news" :)

From Yahoo News

CAIRO (Reuters) – An Egyptian man said on Wednesday he was offering his 20-year-old daughter in marriage to Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad on Sunday,

The daughter, Amal Saad Gumaa, said she agreed with the idea. "This is something that would honor me. I would like to live in Iraq, especially if I were attached to this hero," she told Reuters by telephone.

Her father, Saad Gumaa, said he had called Dergham, Zaidi's brother, to tell him of the offer. "I find nothing more valuable than my daughter to offer to him, and I am prepared to provide her with everything needed for marriage," he added.

Zaidi's gesture has struck a chord across the Arab world, where President Bush is widely despised for invading Iraq in 2003 and for his support for Israel.

Amal is a student in the media faculty at Minya University in central Egypt.

Zaidi's response to the proposal was not immediately clear.

(Reporting by Mohamed Abdellah, Writing by Jonathan Wright)
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