Monday, April 26, 2010

Eating Egypt: Day 2 - Cairo and Designopolous

Balcony view
Hotel balcony view - room 427

On day two, we did some more exploring in Cairo and visited the Articulate Baboon gallery space [their website doesn't seem to be up yet, as I post this] in the Designopolis district.  Designopolis is located about 40-45 minutes outside of Cairo (though it really depends on the incredible traffic).  The complex, which is currently under construction, looks like it will be a sort of super-high-end strip mall of furniture, art, and interior design-related shops.

What did I eat along the way? 

1. Breakfast at the Hotel President in Zamalek - grapefruit, yogurt, unidentifiable juice (not quite orange.  Guava?).  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the hotel put on a good spread, with cereal, fruit, pastries, ful, and fruit juices.  This came included in our room price (about $100 a night, which was a special deal for a suite), so we ate breakfast at the hotel each morning in Cairo.

2. Euro Deli café, next door to the hotel - Caffe frappe for Dan and mint tea for me.  We went to this cafe several times as part of our strategic plan to end up with small bills.

You see, in and around Cairo, everyone who performs a small or large service for you (bathroom attendant, driver, waiter, etc.) expects a small tip.  And prices are not high, so many things cost only a small number of pounds.  Yet almost no one wants to give change or break larger bills.  It was quite frustrating to plan ahead to have the "right" denominations of paper money and coins at the right time.  The Euro Deli was one of a handful of places we found that would take, and even break, the LE 100 (Egyptian pound) notes we got from the ATMs.

Model of Designopolis plans
Detail of Designopolis model.

Something new; something old

3. Cilantro (café chain) in Designopolis -  Tangerine Schweppes and SanPellegrino Aranciata.  These were very refreshing beverages after a hot morning on the construction site.  The Schweppes drink tastes like fruit juice plus (the US version of) Smarties candies.

Arabesque Arabesque: have the fresh tangerine juice

4. Dinner at Arabesque - Stella beer (not related to the Stella Artois beer I see everywhere in Brooklyn), fresh tangerine juice, fresh guava juice, molokheya or jew's mallow soup (served with chicken, onion, rice, and sauce), pigeon sambusa, chicken kebab, kofta, tahina and bread, mini shawarma, eggplant with garlic and vinegar...  I'm probably leaving something out.  There was a lot of food.

This restaurant is just across the street from the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo.  It's worth braving the traffic to get there.  The tangerine juice was the best beverage I've ever tasted, and the waiter swore there was no sugar added.

I was excited to get a chance to try molokheya, another classic Egyptian dish.  It's made of a leaf that gives the soup a sort of glutinous texture, not unlike okra or egg drop soup.  This is something that seems a little slimy at first, but the flavor wasn't bad.  Once I added in the delicious grilled chicken, onions, rice, and red sauce, I quite liked it.  Like most of the other dishes we ate in Cairo, it was very filling.

I tried the pigeon sambusa reluctantly, but luckily it just tasted like the pastry in which it was encased (a sambusa is like a samosa or empanada, and this one was built with what I identified as phyllo dough). 

Another major highlight of this meal?  Though I had delightful eggplant dishes 6 out of 7 of my days in Egypt, the creamy eggplant with garlic and vinegar at Arabesque was my absolute favorite.

Bakery sweets (bought by us) and roses (from housekeeping)

Sweets - not sure what these are

Kunafeh or Basbousa and Balah Al-Shaam?

Bbouzat haleeb - Misika - Gum Arabic ice cream

5. Mandarin Koueider - Assorted bakery desserts and Misika (Gum Arabic) ice cream.

Returning to Zamalek, the neighborhood that contained our hotel (and which is on an island in the middle of the Nile), we were taken to Mandarin Koueider to pick out some desserts.  Dan and I decided on the four in the top picture of sweets above, Omar chose the two varieties pictured next, and Dan added a cupful of Gum Arabic ice cream (which was reminiscent of cloves or cardamom and contained odd, if not unpleasant, chewy bits).

The baked goods were almost all far too sweet for my taste, and I like sweet things.  My favorite items were a sesame cookie and a buttery, flaky pastry.  I also quite liked the item covered in powdered sugar, which had date filling inside.

We enjoyed our nightcap of sugar back at the hotel, where housekeeping had left us roses in an old water bottle.  Doubly sweet!


And so ended day two!  Five days of food and frolic (and frustration, occasionally) remain.  If you have questions about our trip or what I've posted so far, please feel free to leave them in the comments or email them to me at snackreligious @ gmail.  Thanks for reading!

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