Egypt: Cairo part 1

Posted on March 10, 2010

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Cairo is the biggest city in North Africa and Middle East with over 20million people (a quarter of the total Egyptian population lives in cairo and around 6million people drive in to work each day). It is bustling with a hideous amount of traffic.

We opted to stay at a hotel we had heard great things about, the Marriott in Zamalek. The hotel is built around a 19th Century palace and the rooms are mostly in two towers on either side. There is a walled garden with a good size swimming pool and the health club has a good gym. There are also numerous restaurants of varying cuisines, as you would expect in any large international hotel.

Zamalek is an island in the Nile with downtown to the east and Giza to the west. It is an upmarket area in Cairo with plenty of bars and restaurants that have delicious food and are easy to while away time in.

Not usually a chain store fan, I was actually pleased to find somewhere that did great juices (mango, strawberry, orange and guava all freshly squeezed to order) and good coffees.  The chain is called ‘Cilantro’ which is a little Starbucks-esque in feel but cheap with the juices at E£15 and coffee from E£10 – under half price to the hotel’s offerings, far superior and despite being outside the hotels wall, it was just as close to our room as some of the hotel restaurants.

One evening we went for a drink at Sequoia, on the north end of the island of Zamalek, just half an hour’s walk from the hotel. The bar/restaurant sits right on the Nile, in a large white tent, with sides open when warm and various sized tables are surrounded by white chairs and sofas. There is a good selection of Egyptian and international dishes, limited alcohol selection (as expected in a mostly non drinking nation). There is a minimum charge per person of E£100 (around 15 euros or US$20 which is easy to spend in a few hours of eating and drinking). Sequoia is ideal with a bunch of friends on balmy nights and even better to watch sun go down.

The best restaurant in Egypt was voted as L’Asiatique which is on a boat called Pacha (along with 11 other restaurants) to the East side of Zamlek. As we only have a few days in Egypt we were keen to stick with local food rather than oriental fayre.

The best Egyptian food restaurant was universally voted as Abou ElSid. It took us two attempts to find the place despite us having a map in had and it being next to the hotel. It is essential to book and any hotel will be happy to do that for you. Dinner is usually from 8pm onwards. The traditional lemon juice is fantastic and another egyptian juice called kasab, which is basically sugar cane, is pretty good. The mixed starter is easily enough for four people. As for the food order, an Egyptian friend told me to order the following, and it was all divine: mumbar, kofta mashweya, sujok, kebad ferakh, sharkaseya, and molokheya with kofta dawood basha. Apart from the starters, the dishes are mainly meat based. A veggie should take the  plain molokheya. The food is really heavy so make sure to be hungry and be prepared to go for a nice nap afterwards! Starters are from E£20 (US$4) and mains E£30 (US$6).

Also, check out Arabesque and El Fishawy, more on those in the post: Cairo: getting the most from the vibrant city

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Posted in: Egypt