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The month of fasting known to the Muslim world is coming to an end. With less than 24 hours to go we eagerly wait for the sun to set and for the four days of festivities of Eid El Fitr to begin.

Eid El Fitr ‘The festivity of purification’, I think is the best way to translate the name of the occasion. If you haven’t read my previous writings about Ramadan or know nothing of the month, then this won’t make any sense to you. So, I will try to give you a brief summary. Ramadan, is a month where Muslims world-wide fast from sunrise to sunset, (are not allowed to consume any kind of food or beverage during sunlight hours), this strict act of discipline is to remind them of their blessings, to relate to those less fortunate of themselves, as well as time for reflecting on one’s acts and behavior for the past year. This month is special and sacred to Muslims because they are able to ask for forgiveness and erase their sins for the past year. Hence, the celebration of being ‘purified’.  

How is Eid El Fitr (or the small Eid) celebrated?

Days before the end of the fasting month, families go out and buy Eid clothes, to wear on the first day of the feast. For Non Muslim’s the best way to interpret the act is as new clothes that you receive for Christmas or wearing your Sunday best. Traffic in Egypt after Iftar and the Taraweeh Prayers is always manic! People will be shopping for gifts and clothes.

Ladies of many house holds will be preparing and baking traditional desert, (which is HIGH in calories, but very tasty) to offer visitors. The desert is called ‘Ka’ak’, which means cake in English. It doesn’t look or taste anything like the cakes you may be familiar with. Each Arabic speaking nation has its own unique way of making it. In Egypt is best described as a cookie/biscuit made out of semolina and stuffed with ground dates, nuts or some times Turkish delight. On the outside it is sprinkled with powdered sugar.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ka’ak)

On the dawn of the first day of the month after Ramadan, (Shawal), there is a special prayer, most commonly known as ‘Salat El Eid’ (Eid Prayer). “Eid prayer is performed in congregation in open areas like fields, squares etc or at mosques. No adhan or iqama (call) is to be pronounced for this Eid prayer, and it consists of only two rakaʿāt with additional 6 Takbirs. The Eid prayer is followed by the khutbah (sermon) and then a supplication (dua) asking for forgiveness, mercy and help for all living beings across the world. The khutbah also instructs Muslims as to the performance of rituals of Eid, such as the zakat.[9] Listening to the khutbah of Eid is necessary (wajib) i.e. while the khutbah is being delivered, it is haraam to talk, walk about or offer prayer.[10] It is then customary to embrace the persons sitting on either side of oneself, whilst greeting them. After the prayers, people visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances.”  (The above quoted paragraph is from wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Fitr )

The greeting that is said to those celebrating Eid is ‘ Eid Mubarak’, (Blessed Feast), ‘Eid Saeed’ (Happy Eid) or ‘Kul Sana Wa Inta Tayib’ (Happy New Year).

Traditionally after the prayer families will go to the cemetery to pay their respects to their deceased family members and then go home to enjoy breakfast together. Once home, families either exchange gifts or give money. Children often receive money from their adult family relations; this is known as ‘Eideya’. People will go and visit relatives, neighbors and friends often taking with them ka’ak, other deserts or gifts.

On the second and third day of Eid families usually go out for a meal. In Alexandria the restaurant or meal of choice would usually be fish. The reason for it is because for a whole month Alexandrian’s have avoided eating it because it’s salty and would make them feel very thirsty the following day and it would make their day of fasting more difficult.   Another popular out would be to go to the cinema, to watch the newly released Arabic movies for the feast.  A word of warning to those whom may consider venturing outside their front doors, the food courts, cinemas and arcades in the Malls will be busier than ever!

Now a days fewer people spend time visiting relatives and go away for the Eid vacation. Popular vacation spots are Alexandria and the beaches along the Red Sea. I personally try to avoid the popular vacation spots because, it will be overly crowded. When I go away, I like to go somewhere, where I can relax in peace and not have to worry about bumping in to colleagues, students and other people I know.

During the Eid most shops, banks and all businesses are closed for the first three days of the feast, much like Christmas and New Years in the West and Europe. If you aren’t going away and intend on staying in town, then I suggest you do your shopping before the holiday begins.

For those of you who celebrate Eid, I wish you all an Eid Mubarak and for those of you who don’t, just enjoy the time off!

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At least once a week  the Tuesday Nighters, used to (my friends and I) go out for dinner somewhere in Cairo. The majority of us were residence of the Heliopolis or Masr El Gideeda area, but we try to break the habit of convenience and staying close to home. We wanted to give our friends who don’t live near us a break from having to battle against Cairo traffic.  We had tried quite a variety of restaurants in Zamalek, Mohendiseen, Maadi and of course Masr Gideeda. I think if we were paid to be restaurant critiques every restaurant would dread seeing us cross the threshold of their restaurant. The majority of us all cook for ourselves and for pleasure, our pallets are quite mature and we have high expectations when it comes to our food. Our toughest critique would probably be Fat Sam, founder of Not Hungry Cuz I Ate.

So, in my latest entry I am going to give you the names of restaurants that I have enjoyed dining at. If you can think of others that you would like to recommend then please tell me and I’ll even make the effort to go and try it out myself or with my friends.

If you want a nice light breakfast or meal then I highly recommend Casper and Gambini’s. I have no complaints about the place. Every time I have been, I have enjoyed my meal. They make really nice pancakes and fritata’s

In the Heliopolis Area of Cairo, we are really spoilt for choice. The humongous mall, City Stars is home to many restaurants. When I’m there for lunch or dinner, I don’t mind  Ruby Tuesday’s because they have a fresh wholesome salad bar (I love salad!) and the quality of the meat that they use to make their burgers is really good. The service is friendly and good (located on the same floor as the cinema)

Blaze is a new restaurant/cafe and sheehsa joint that has opened. I have to admit that I like the atmosphere and the food is good too.

One of my new favorite places for a late night of dancing, spirit and cusine is CAVALLINI!! You can find this awesome place at SunCity Mallon the top floor. It reminds me of Summermoon in Agami way back in the day. Thursday and Friday’s rock!!

Opposite where Waga mama used to be is the Macaroni Grill, the times I have eaten there, I have really enjoyed my meal. I have heard mixed reviews about the place, but I have no complaints. There are 5 stone hearts hidden on the walls of the restaurant, if you find them you get a prize. I have yet to find them all. I have found 3 of the 5.

Cafe Supreme has come to Cairo and has hit the Korba area with a BANG!! If you are into healthy choices, sushi, sheesha this is the place for you!

If you like traditional Egyptian food then there is the popular restaurant Abu Sid. I haven’t tried the restaurant in the Mall, so I can’t vouch for that location but I have been to the branch in Zamalek, and I enjoyed it. It can be a bit pricey so make sure you have money with you.

If you are a fast food junky, then City Stars has all the junk you could want to satisfy your cravings. There are 2 food courts to choose from. There’s the one in the old section, the floor before the cinema and the second is on the ground floor in the new section of the mall. You can’t miss either. They are always the most crowded places in the mall and the noisiest too.

Tivoli Dome is the newest hot spot in the Masr El Gideda area. It’s an area where there are many restaurants to choose from  there is Noodle House ( i think you can guess what is on the menu),  Out Back Steak House (it’s an Australian chain, I really enjoy going there. Their steaks and burgers are very tasty, for an appetizer, you have to try the Bloom’n Onion), Crave is another restaurant that is well worth your money. The food is creative and definitely tickles your palate with its interesting flavours. Then you have Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Cilantro, Chili’s, Burger King, Cedars, Popeye and Bon Appetit. Parking there is a pain in the rear end!! So, If you don’t want to drive round and round in circles, then i recommend you walk there if you live near by or take a cab to save yourself from parking frustration!

Sonnesta Hotel

If memory serves me correctly, Sonnesta has an all you can eat Sushi night every Tuesday. I am not a big fan of Sushi, but I will eat the vegetarian rolls.

Makani is a restaurant located behind the famous Asian looking mansion called El Baron. If you are driving on Salah Salem you can’t miss it. It’s a spectacular building. Makani has an interesting array of salads and sandwiches as well as Sushi. I am a big fan of their chicken corn salad.

Le Chantilly is a swiss restaurant located in Korba. It’s very eloquent and simple in its decor but it’s food is yummy. I love their veal sausages with home-made gravy and  their breakfast buffets. There is an inside section and there’s an outdoor are too.

Karven Hotel is the place to go to have Indian food in Masr El Gideda. I used to cringe at the though of indian food before had even  tried it. For some un known reason I didn’t find it very appealing. When I tried it for the first time at Massala  I couldn’t get enough! The taste lingered in my mouth for days and I couldn’t stop dreaming about it. There is also a Chinese restaurant at the hotel. When my friends and I go to Karven, we like to go up to the Roof Garden and have our meal up there. The atmosphere is very pleasant and more spacious to take all of us.

Who doesn’t love Pizza?! I could eat it until I become round and my hear turns in to Mozeralla. I have grown tired of the fast food Pizzas and want to enjoy eating one made with fresh vegetables, herbs and close to the real Italian pizza. The closest I have come so far is Maison Thomas. I have enjoyed ever pizza and bite of their Pizzas.I especially like their Fungi Pizza

Zamalek Area

Zamalek is one of my favorite areas in Cairo. It is an Island in the Nile inhabited by some of the most cultured and influential people. In my opinion it’s the focal point of the original aristocrats that lived and ruled the land. I enjoy walking around Zamalek and looking at the fascinating Architecture, visiting art galleries  as well as going to its many restaurants.

As soon as you come off the 25th of July bridge, on your left hand side above Drinkies (a place to buy alcohol) is a restaurant called, La Bodega. The restaurant takes up the entire first floor. It is split in to two. One is a quiet and dimly lit dining area. While the other is semi casual and is split in to 3 sections. You have a dining area, bar area and the lounge. The food there is leaning towards French cuisine with a twist of oriental. You won’t regret eating there. I have yet to hear of anyone not having gone back again. You will find that a lot of people from the expat community in Zamalek go there. ( I hear this classly place might be closing it’s doors soon…I would go and check it out if you haven’t already)

Cairo Kitchen is the new sha3by chic! It makes traditional Egyptian dishes and drinks.

On the same block as La Bodega, Maison Thomas is a renowned and established restaurant best known for its Pizzas. This I believe is the original restaurant that has been opened since 1922. Once you try their Pizza, you may never order any other  kind again.

Just around the corner from Maison Thomas is a cluster of small pubs and restaurants. But the one many people flock to taste traditional Egyptian food is Abu Sid. If you have guests coming from abroad or have just moved to Egypt, this is where you should try Egyptian food.

Sequoia is another popular place to go in Zamalek. As soon as you come of the 25th of July  bridge, keep going straight until you come to the first set of traffic lights. Take a right at the traffic lights and keep going straight. It will be opposite you. Dinner overlooking the Nile siting in a marquis like tent. It’s a really nice place to go and chill or to watch a soccer/football game with your friends whilst you have diner. The food there isn’t top-notch but it’s good. I like their Mezza’s, salad selection and my friends like the Sushi there. If you are in to smoking Sheesha, it’s a great place to go for that.

Pub 28 is further down the road from these restaurants. It’s a small pub with wooden paneled walls. For some strange reason it reminds me of some of the small pubs you might find in villages in the UK. Not many youngsters go there to enjoy a night out, it’s for a more mature age group. However, the food there is really good.

Zamalek is where some of the AUC dorms are. To make food wholesome as well as enjoyable, students go to Dido’s. It’s a little restaurant on Ahmed Heshmat Street. It’s speciality is Pasta. The meal although cheaper than most restaurants is of good quality and portion. When I need my carb fix, this is the place to go.

On the street parallel to Ahmed Heshmat is, Mar3ashly Street. On that street you will find Tabasco Cafe and Costa Coffee. Both are usually full of students. La Toratoria is a restaurant specialized in Haute Cuisine. If you are taking your lady friend out on a date and really want to impress her with your taste in food, then this is one place you could go to.

Marriot Hotel is a beautiful palace that has since been converted in to a hotel. It’s a great place to go to spend the day in the hotel garden and another great place to bump in to celebrities. I met one of Good Morning America’s anchors there. Hotels, often have great restaurants. The two that I really like there are Roy’s Kitchen & the Italian restaurant. Roy’s’ is more  Western/Country style cooking. Their open buffet is really good and their burgers are made with good quality meat,  and are HUGE.

A long the Nile there are quite a few river boats that have many restaurants. One of my favorite boats to have diner at is Le Pacha, Le Steak. I was taken there on a first date and I just loved the place and the food. I have sensed a slight slip in the standard but not enough to not want to go back. The staff and service they provide is excellent. I recently celebrated my 32nd birthday people with over 20 people!

Blue Nile Boat  is another one of the many boats with a restaurant. Asia Bar has really good Asian food. The decor is really funky and so is the lazy Susan on the table. If you go on a Thursday or a Friday night you may find that quite a lot of the females who are, (hmmm….how should I put this politely?) are willing to provide entertainment services to gents but at a price, (if you catch my drift).

For really good sushi, go to Mori Sushi in Zamalek. Like I said, I am not a Sushi person, but I like the variety they have and it’s a very popular place.

* If you can think of other restaurants in these areas that should make this list, let me know.

Bon appetite!

As the weather in Egypt starts to climb so do the risks of getting food poisoning. I used to think that I had an iron stomach, but 7 years ago I learned the hard way. I had sever food poisoning, I had para typhoid! To this day I am unsure where I got it from, because I would go out quite a lot with my friends in the evening after spending the day on the beach in Bianki, Agami. What made it even harder to pin point was the incubation period, its approximately two weeks. Since then I have become very anal about where I eat out and when I eat out.

During the HOT season, the shelf life of produce is cut in to a quarter, food rots faster.  Any dips, sauces made of cream and especially mayonnaise will go off really quickly if it isn’t refrigerated and covered well. Flys seem to multiply during the summer and they seem to have hyper SENSORS. They can detect food from miles off and before you can tuck in, you are being bombed by kamikaze flies  left, right and center. They will pull out every trick they have just to have a chance to land and spit on your food.

Consumption of water and Sodas sky rockets during the summer too. Before you pop open a can of your favorite carbonated drink to chug down to quench your thirst, wipe the surface of the can really well or even go as far as washing it. When the cans are waiting to be shelved, the roaches have a field day climbing all over them and sometimes even lay eggs on them. When buying bottled water make sure that the plastic seal is on the bottle. If the removable seal is not there, there is a possibility that it isn’t a fresh bottle of mineral water

Restaurants and Cafes get really busy too, so the pressure on the dishwashers in the kitchens is tripled. You will often find that the plates, glasses and cutlery are not very clean. If you have an inkling that it isn’t very clean or you are uncomfortable with the way it looks, then go with your gut instincts and politely ask the waiter to change it for you. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It isn’t fun being quarantined during the summer and having typhoid isn’t anything I would wish on my worst enemy.

Just last week a friend of mine went out to satisfy his sweet tooth and bought himself ‘Ruz Bil Laban’ (Rice Pudding) and regretted it a few hours later. Luckily he only had very mild poisoning, he was fine the following day. AUC (American University of Cairo) has had to have Tobasco close on campus because of cases of food poisoning. (I wish other restaurants would do the same and have a BLITZ clean)

I try very hard to eat at home more during the summer to avoid mild or even extreme food poisoning.  Your home is the only guaranteed place you can be sure of having  well-cooked food and clean utensils.

‘Weekend Trips’ a branch of the Holiday Tours travel company, came up with another interesting day trip. The trip was to spend a few hours trekking across an island located in the middle of the Nile in the heart of Cairo. Gazeerat El Dahab, (Island of Gold) is approximately 9Km in length. It is inhabited by people who farm the land. There are no bridges, roads or cars that take you to the island. The only way to get to and from the island is by boat. Many of the inhabitants work in the city so they take the 1Le Faluka (Egyptian sail boat) to the shore every day. The available forms of transportation on the small island are on horse/donkey back or by foot.
On the morning of the trip my colleague and friend, Nora accompanied me and other eager explorers at Sky Lounge in downtown Cairo, for coffee and mingling before making our way to the deck to board our private boat. The weather was clear, the sun shining as bright as always and there was a cool gentle breeze to dull the heat.
Aboard the boat we were greeted and briefed by the Weekend Trip team. We were told that the residents of the island are wary of strangers. They are constantly being visited by people who are trying to coax and even force them off the land. Rumor has it that the government may want it as a base; there are also other rumors of wanting to turn the island into a resort or a night club scene. We were asked not to ask them any questions pertaining to the ownership of the land and other related questions that might make them feel uneasy. We were highly encouraged to be courteous towards them; after all we would be their guests on their island.
The boat ride was beautiful. The view on the Nile looking towards to shore lines was fascinating. It gave you the opportunity to look at Cairo from a different perspective and angle. It is a wondrous city, and I can understand why many are captivated by it. Having said that, I don’t think Cairo can hold a torch to Alexandria. Perhaps my opinion is a biased because I lived in Alexandria for well over a decade and I am and always will be Alexandrian.
When we docked at the island, our eyes were greeted by a vision of a girl not older than fifteen years old with 2 younger girls by her side washing their clothes next to the Nile bank. They looked upon us like we were intruding on their privacy. I have to admit that I did feel like I was imposing upon their privacy at the beginning of the trek, but as time passed the residents became more relaxed and were friendlier towards us.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day spent walking the length of the island. I found it hard to get my head around the fact that I was on an island walking through fields of plantations in the middle of the city’s capital. Never the less, the scene on the island was a pleasant change from the concrete pillars of buildings and endless streams of vehicles crowding the main land. It was just relaxing to see open space. I was dumbfounded by the locals and their ability to live the way they do. It reminded me of the film ‘The Village’. Where the inhabitants were cut off from the modern-day world and lived a similar life style to the Amish. I felt as though I had stepped back in to a different era, where houses had no electricity or running water. Water had to be pumped and fetched for cleaning, washing and cooking. Their freshly grown produce is part of their nutritional diet. No fast food delivery or microwave meals. Animals were around every corner in every field. The animals that I saw on the island were better looked after than the donkeys and horses you see on the main land. All though the people of Gizeerat El Dahab lead a much simpler life style, they have a better understanding and appreciation for nature and God creatures that the educated individuals on the mainland. The sound of congested traffic was a distant memory. Instead your ears were filled with sounds that are usually downed out by the cars, the breeze rustling through the trees, birds twittering away to one another, sound of your footsteps on the dirt path and the sound of water irrigating the fields.
I am a nature girl at heart. I really appreciated being able to walk in the fields and see the patch work of the fields and not worrying about being hit by a car. It reminded me a little of the summers I sued to spend in England and the pleasant walks I used to take.
 On the island I was surprised to see a gigantic church. I think my surprise is due to the number of mosques I see everyday. So, I automatically presumed that it was Muslim dominated. Seeing the church there actually comforted me. It meant that on the island both faiths co-exist with one another. It also gave me a little hope too. If these people can do it, then so can everyone else.
         The sounds of the call for prayer rang out from the mosque and could be heard throughout the island, calling its followers to come and pray. I can’t remember the last time I went to pray in a mosque. So, since the majority of the group was going to, I thought why not! I washed for prayer (‘wudoo’ is a certain way of washing, before you pray) and went up to the ladies section of the mosque and waited for the prayer to begin.
When the Emaam started the prayer, everyone came together as one and were united in their faith and all quarrels and differences were laid aside. I found it fascinating how things can change in a matter of seconds. Just moments before my friend and I were being looked upon as strangers by curious individuals and then we were no longer strangers, we were sisters of the same faith. If only people of the world could recognize that we are all made the same way. There would be less hatred and more understanding.
      After successfully walking the entire length of the island it was time to retrace our steps and head back to the meeting point under the ring road bridge that runs through the island. When we got there we sat on the ridge, under the shade of the bridge with our feet inches above the Nile. Some of the group wanted to experience the Feluka ride the locals take every day to and from the main land first hand. From there we went to the local bakery or ‘Fino’ as they call it on the island, to have a taste of the traditional ‘Fiteer Mesheltit’. It’s many layers of filo pastry baked in a circle and cooked in an oven. It can be a sweet or savory dish. The locals laid down mats for us to sit on and served us the freshly baked fiteer with ‘aasal iswid’ (molasses) and ‘mish’ (aged and spicy cheese) on the side. From the way everyone dug in, it was obvious they had all worked up an appetite. Once we had satisfied our pangs of hunger, we walked back to the dock to board our boat and headed back to the main land.
       I really enjoyed the hours spent on the island. To me, that was seeing ‘the real Egypt’ in its natural form. I really do hope that the residence of the island will not be tempted by money and give up their land and way of life.

To see some of the photo’s I took, click on the link.

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