Sunday, October 10, 2010
Eating Egypt: Day 6 - Touk and Cairo
(Touk, featuring skinned camel carcasses; photo by Dan)
On Day Six of our Egypt trip, we hooked up with Casual Cairo Detours, a private tour company that had been recommended to me. Proprietor Debbie Senters suggested we try an off-the-beaten-path trip for two (with guide and driver) up the Alexandria Green Road (the Agricultural Road) into a nearby Nile Delta village and orange grove, which sounded unusual and fun. We decided to go for it!
(photo by Dan)
1. The day started with another hotel buffet breakfast, of course, featuring various things, including Dan's masterfully spiced plate of ful.
(Touk; photo by Dan)
In the village of Touk, our driver, Tarek, stopped to buy eggs. We happened to be parked in the butchery district, and were surrounded by carcasses (marked in red ink for some governmental reason) and knives. Dan got out to take some pictures, for which he was eventually chastised. When Tarek got back to the car to translate (Tarek is from Touk), he told us that the man yelling at Dan was upset because things were dirty and he was embarrased that Dan would be taking pictures of dirty things. But our purpose wasn't to embarrass the people of Egypt or Touk, of course. We just thought everything looked cool.
We stopped in Touk to transfer our party of four to sidecar motorcycle taxi. You might be surprised at the number of people who can fit on and in one of these things! The man pictured here is our taxi driver (not Tarek, our tour driver).
I really enjoyed the open-air ride through the orange grove (and local cemetery).
(Dan; our guide, Jim; and Tarek)
(photo by Dan)
Eventually, we dismounted from our taxi and walked down one of the orange grove rows. The smell of citrus in the air, even at the end of the busy season, was incredible. Tarek carried a cooler and gave us a guided tour (the grove we were in belongs to his family). He talked to us about the farm life, the village, methods of irrigation, and more.
2. We stopped outside of a guard hut (shown above) and had a picnic snack of fresh-picked fruit, juices and water.
(canal in the grove; not used for irrigation)
Tarek was so nice -- he picked 2-3 different kinds of oranges for us to try, and when I mentioned how much I had enjoyed my taste of Omar's tangerine juice at Arabesque, he even found one of the last tangerines growing nearby for me to eat.
Tarek, Jim, and the taxi driver insisted Dan try driving the motorcycle taxi. I was glad to skip this initiation.
After we left the grove, we drove to a nearby restaurant for lunch, passing several "charcoal factories."
While our food was being prepared at Baraka, a newly opened restaurant owned by Debbie's sister's driver (or something like that!), we sat outside by a river and watched the birds. I had a very strong cup of mint shai. I liked Dan's canned peach drink (with pieces of fruit in it) better.
3. Baraka (location unknown; outside Touk and Cairo) -- Jim, our guide, who is an American (if I remember correctly) who has lived in Egypt for years, is a vegetarian. A vegetarian can eat quite well in Egypt, as the meals all come with many breads, dips, and vegetable dishes, but now that meat is more affordable in Egypt (Jim told us), Egyptians eat a lot of meat and don't understand why people would choose not to. It can be difficult to make an Egyptian host feel he or she has fed you well if you opt out of the meat, apparently. Eventually, though, we were able to get across that Jim would enjoy the mezzes and the rest of us would partake in the mystery meats.
The mixed grill and kofta plate was served garnished with potato chips (cheese? BBQ?). Jim was given his own small plate of chips, once the waiters understood he wouldn't be eating the meat. This is the meal at which I think I might have eaten camel, as I read that it is sometimes served in this fashion. But I asked no questions.
We were seated near the grill on the restaurant's patio. It was fun to watch the food being prepared, and lovely to smell.
After eating, Tarek drove us back into Cairo.The whole tour was a gorgeous start to a day that was only half over.
4. Later that afternoon, on Adam's recommendation, Dan and I walked a few blocks from our hotel to buy some cheesecake from "Pumpkin," a cake store. It wasn't particularly special. I think it's a chain establishment. But the cakes looked nice.
(photo by Dan)
That night, Adam and Omar took us to Khan el Khalili market, a famous draw for tourists in Cairo. We didn't buy much. It almost felt like cheating to have two native speakers of Egyptian Arabic with us, but I'm glad we couldn't be taken advantage of by the shop owners.
5. Adam and Omar helped us find Naguib Mahfouz Café, named after the famous writer.
They recommended the hibiscus drink. It was amazing - halfway between juice and tea. They also recommended I order a shrimp sandwich (tiny shrimps stuffed in a pita with a tangy sauce), which was out of sight.
6. We ended Day Six on the outskirts of the market, where Adam suggested we try fatir, an Egyptian pancake served savory or sweet. He hadn't been wrong so far. Needing dessert, Dan and I split a large, sweet pancake. It was sort of crepe-like and covered in powdered sugar. Decadent food for a decadent setting. I was pretty happy, as you might well imagine.