Kushari and the Thousand Crunches

When you have back to back meetings the whole day, live on coffee and don’t get a lunch break, what do you do? I know what I do. I have a nice dinner! If this happens on a business trip, I have a perfect excuse to have even a nicer dinner. In a nice restaurant. This was the case practically every day during my latest trip to Cairo.

Cairo Nile at night edited

So now I pay for those late meals…Don’t get me wrong, money-wise I already paid for them, but the calories are still on the credit card. I eat salads and force myself to the gym to reduce my debt little by little. But it was worth it. Let me explain.

The first evening I was so jet-lagged from the 24 hour trip and 7 hour time difference, that I just wanted to eat fast, anything would do. It seemed like colleagues were feeling the same way so we ended up in the hotel cafeteria for a quick meal quite late at night. I had some pasta and slept like a baby for a full 7 hours. You know, waking up every two hours thinking it was morning already.

The second evening, after a full day of work and more than half a dozen small cups of strong Arabic coffee, we decided to explore some Egyptian food in a famous restaurant nearby, Abou El Sid. Walking into the restaurant was like being moved into the glorious era around 1950s. The ambience was spectacular with the antique rugs and furniture, intricate tiling and beautiful light fixtures.

Lightning lamps in Egyptian restaurant Cairo

The menu was both in Arabic and English. After a nice selection of appetizers that we shared, I wanted to try traditional Egyptian food. Looking at the menu – and listening to a friend who spends a lot of time in Egypt, I selected the Kushari (also spelled Koshari or Kosheri), sometimes dubbed as the Egyptian national dish. Under the name of the dish on the menu it said “feel like a real Egyptian”, so my choice was clear.

Kushari (2)

Kushari is a vegetarian dish of rice, pasta, onions, chick peas, lentils and bulgur wheat, topped by a spicy tomato sauce. It was truly delicious! My portion was XL as is customary in Egypt. So like a real Egyptian, I left some on my plate. And didn’t have much room for the delicious desserts brought to the table, just had to taste…

The next day I tried Indian food in a restaurant close by. It was excellent, just as one would get in a first-rate Indian restaurant anywhere in the world.

The following night it was time to try something different: colleagues and I decided to meet some friends at the Cairo Fish Market Restaurant located on the Nile on the Giza side of the river.

This restaurant offers an excellent selection of fresh seafood. You just go and point out the fish or whatever sea creature you want to have, and tell the waiter how you want it prepared. The rest follows “automatically”, all the side dishes come to the table: spicy rice, different types of potatoes, a variety of spicy sauces, salads, a huge bowl of lemons in little squeeze bags, and the traditional, delicious pita bread.

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And then it is just to enjoy, both the plentiful, delicious food and the views of the Nile outside the windows. It was a wonderful and enjoyable dinner sharing many different sea food dishes with colleagues and friends.

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The next day was my last in town and I ended up eating a delicious Indian meal again with colleagues, late at night before leaving for the airport in the wee hours of the morning.

These food adventures were worth every single crunch and plenty of miles on the treadmill. I hope you enjoyed these (completely calorie-free) dining adventures.

Fabric of Life

Fabric of life

Speed of life accelerates

days run to each other

events fade into the past

their colors permanently woven

into the fabric of life itself

seemingly for later use.

Relative importance of the now

becomes increasingly obvious

mind busy evaluating choices

heart silently feeling its path

while the soul is always preparing

for its journey home.

Going to Khan el-Khalili

As I wrote earlier, the fantastic shopping mall close to my hotel in Heliopolis, Cairo, did not offer much in terms of authentic Egyptian shopping experience. So one evening during my recent visit, I and a few friends decided to explore the largest and most famous market in Cairo, Khan el-Khalili.

Khan was established in the 14th century and has a history of flourishing trade for decades. It was called the Turkish Bazaar during the Ottoman period and has been refurbished numerous times over the decades. The market occupies several quarters in the Islamic part of Cairo, bustling with activity from early morning until very late at night. The bazaar district has unfortunately been subject to two attacks in the past 10 years, which has probably somewhat affected its popularity as a major attraction to visitors.

Khan el-Khalili

My first visit to this market was about 15 years ago so I was eager to see what, if anything had changed. Not much had. Maybe the commerce was a bit slower now, but the shops were full of merchandise from clothing and all kinds of household stuff to souvenirs, antiques and jewelery. The many coffee houses and street food vendors were busy even at the late hour of our visit. And the shop keepers were as eager as ever to advertise their merchandise.

Walking through the narrow streets and alleys, I was offered scarfs in many glorious colors and materials. I was wearing a scarf but the eager shop keepers tried to convince me I needed one in each color to match all my outfits as well as for use in different temperatures. But I passed on the offerings of beautiful scarfs as well as the exquisite belly dancing outfits. The latter were a bit too daring and much too unflattering even for my occasional Zumba class.

I was looking for a few small gifts that would fit in my purse as my poor carry-on was already overloaded and also overweight, as it proved out later.

There were numerous shops specializing in souvenirs, mostly replicas of famous ancient monuments and symbols or of figurines found in the tombs of the pharaohs. These souvenirs were made of various metals, bone, wood, stone and clay. Many were hand carved and some were beautifully painted by hand. In one of these shops, my friend found a couple of small scary-looking mummies in their colorful sarcophagi for her grandsons.

The antique shops were many too, literally overflowing with all kinds of “old stuff” from light fixtures, incense burners and jars to cameras, telephones, microscopes, dolls and old decorations, just to mention a few items. Stepping into these dusty shops was like stepping at least 100 years back in time.

Some of the antique shops also boasted nice collections of interesting old photographs and paintings in their original frames. One of my friends ended up adding a beautiful old photo to his daughter’s antique photo collection.

Many jewelery shops offered new fine jewelery, not much different from what one could find in any large city in this part of the world, but others were specialized in more traditional Egyptian silver jewelery, like the ones pictured below.

 I found a pair of beautiful traditional silver ear rings and an interesting key chain. As nothing here has a price tag, I had to hone my bargaining skills to get a “fair” price. Lots of interesting back and forth!

Of course I also wanted to add a couple of scarab beetles, mythical symbols of resurrection, transformation and protection, to our collection. Hundreds to choose from, and another bargaining session! I have to admit I’m still not very good at this “sport”, the shop keeper usually wins, at least that’s the feeling I’m left with most of the time.

A visit to Khan el-Khalili is in many ways an adventure, an excursion into the past and the present at the same time. I hope you liked your visit.