Sunday, March 29, 2009

Food in Cairo

Let's have something to eat before we go to the Giza pyramids. This donkey is feasting on food waste brought back to Zabaleen. Meat is expensive and most Cairenes can't afford to eat meat except on festival days and other celebrations. They eat a lot of eggs, 'the poor man's meat'. A lot of things are subsidised in Egypt, otherwise they can't pay for it with the low wages there. This keeps the populace kind of docile so they won't riot, as one author puts it.
There's lots of these puffed spheres of wheat bread available, they're sold everywhere for very little money. So no one starves. Let them eat bread. Egypt don't grow any wheat for the bread, this is imported and heavily subsidised.

They eat a lot of 'fuul' which is fava bean paste. We didn't try any. So I don't know how it taste. One thing we did try is this in the picture, 'kushari', a vegetarian dish of Macaroni, lentils, fried onions in a spicy tomato sauce. We asked one of our taxi drivers what he was having for lunch. He said, 'kushari', asked if we like to try it. We liked it.

One problem in Cairo is finding some place decent to have dinner, a meal that we, Westerners would appreciate. There's a couple of restaurants in Zamalek that serves serviceable food. One of them 'Abu Seid' is the best for Egyptian food. We ate here twice, it's always full, both of locals and visitors. Mint tea is always served in this old enamel pot, very traditional. We took a liking to drinking sweet mint tea and drink it throughout the day like the locals.

We loved this traditional Egyptian dish of stuffed pigeon. It is so good. Another I liked is stuffed grape leaves.

And of course, the Baba Ganosh, an eggplant paste made from roasted eggplant. It is so good and I loved its smoky flavor.

The remains of the meal of stuffed roasted pigeon. Mmmmmmm good....

Friday, March 27, 2009

The call to prayer

The Giza pyramids are faintly visible at the left corner of this picture.
After seeing the Mohammad Ali mosque at the Citadel, we exited in the back to a big viewing area. We can see the whole of Cairo and as far as the Giza pyramids. It was an amazing view to see the 'mud' colored buildings of Cairo and the oasis that is Giza in the far horizon. Among the palm trees of the oasis, the pyramids are visible. It was surreal. All my life, I've heard of songs, seen pictures and read about them and here am I and there they are, right in front of me, though in the distance. Wow! How great is that.
Just as walked out into the sunshine, the call to pray started. From each mosque in the valley, though not in unison, rang out the call to pray from loud speakers. It was quite beautiful. Before long the call came up out of all the mosques in Cairo. They say to come in the evening, as the sun set and the 6 pm call to pray starts, it is even more incredible.
Imagine a Muslim invader ruler of Egypt, ruling from the Citadel, and looking down at Cairo at your feet..... The Mamluks built a lot of mosques in Cairo and from the Citadel, we can see every one of them, it is minarets and domes all over the skyline of Cairo and mixed in the call to pray, it is a sight to behold. Very impressive.

The Giza pyramids are now in the centre of this picture, its outline, barely visible. In real time, they were clearly visible. It is so amazing. I want to shout, 'I'm in Egypt!'

One thing about our hotel in Zamalek, there aren't any mosques nearby. So we only hear the call to pray very faintly. Most of the time we were too tired and too sleepy to even notice. But wandering around the city in the daytime, we do hear it and it is beautiful. It doesn't go on for very long. It is only a reminder to Muslims that it is prayer time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Khan el-Khalili, Cairo

Is a souk dating back to the middle ages, is a configuration of a few streets. It is a main tourists attraction and therefore all prettied up and sanitized. It still demonstrate character, what we came to Egypt to see and to experience. While it still sell stuff the regular Egyptian needs, most of the stalls today sells touristy kitsch, souvenirs for tourists like miniature camels, pyramids, sphinxes, head scarves, water pipes, metal lamps, spices and sundries. There is a lot of tea drinking. Sweet mint tea and a water pipe is a regular National pastime of the men. The women may shop but don't sit and linger. They are all covered up. We've seen some of them in churches in the Coptic Christian areas. I guess, just as we, Christians are curious about mosques, Muslim men and women are curious about churches. We did talk about religion with one of the taxi drivers. We don't usually unless they bring up the subject. In this case we had this taxi driver drive us to Wadi Natrun, some 70 miles away towards Alexandria to the Coptic monasteries. He went into the churches with us and spoke to one of the Coptic Christian priests who was our guide in Arabic. He asked the priest if he could enter (he is Muslim), the priest said, 'all are welcomed'. On the way back we talked about Islam and Christianity. He said, he couldn't understand how God can have a son. We explained that it is not the human understanding of son ship, where a man and a woman have sex and viola, a kid. He finally understood. The son ship of Christ has more of a spiritual meaning. No where, in our conversation did we agree that we, Christians worship the same God . We, Christians, do not believe that we are worshipping the same God, only authors like Karen Armstrong does. We do not believe in a God that require their adherents to blow themselves up and take others with them. In Egypt, we cannot escape the argument about religion, how a conservative religion could keep their women covered up and poor. Of course, there are modern Egyptian women. One cannot escape noticing the inequitable distribution of opportunities. Even for men, a lot of educated men drives taxis. We had 2 who said they were accountants. When kids asked us for pencils, it was heartbreaking. I was born to a very poor family on the island of Borneo but we never had to beg for school supplies.

I digress. Now back to the souks or bazaars. Khan el-Khalili is sanitized for the tourists. There are others all over the city that are so decrepit. We tried going to some others but was met by a bunch of ragamuffins who surrounded us, asking for money. I cannot take this kind of thing, I get overwhelmed. So we hailed a taxi and left. Looking back, it wouldn't have been appropriate for us to visit and take pictures of their poverty and depravity. What we took is enough to show the living conditions.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The spice market

This was what we came to see, cute little market places. This is Khan el-Khalili, the famous souk that has been in existence since the middle ages. After we were done visiting, we got into a taxi and headed back for our hotel. The taxi driver said,' no tourists at Khan el-Khalili today'. We were perplexed, we were just there. We asked, 'why?' He said, 'there was an explosion the day before.' Indeed there was an explosion, one French tourist was killed and seven German tourists were injured. We didn't know about it, the thing about staying in a cheap hotel, one doesn't get any news in English. Good thing, I don't know if we even would have gone to Khan el-Khalili and missed what we came for. We love pictures of the spice market, of all the pictures we've taken, we loved these the most. Most of the time they let us take pictures. We've met with instances when the jerks demands money or for us to buy something before they'll let us take pictures. They'll put their hands to block your camera. Avoid these places, there are so many merchants there. We saw only a sprinkling of tourists. This is sad, we've would have loved to meet other tourists. Indeed, while there were tourists in town and the major sights, I expected hordes but I didn't see hordes. There were a few bus loads at Giza and that was all. Not even at the Egyptian museum, while spectacular, is small considering the amount of treasures they have. They have a lot still in crates, with no room to house them and no one to catalog them. This is a travesty to mankind. They are finding more and more but it'll probably not be in my lifetime before they see the light of day.

Hibiscus, for making tea. It's kind of sour, not my cup of tea. Give me Chinese or Ceylon or Darjeeling tea anytime.