On my first morning back in Cairo, I declined my hotel’s offer to enjoy a $31 breakfast and hopped a cab to Zooba. Zooba is in the leafy Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo and features local produce, healthy updates to traditional dishes, and a communal table. Sounds like Oakland.
The food was actually nothing very unusual but it was a wonderful place to eat and I met the nicest people there. Three delightful women visiting from Saudi Arabia told me they love to visit Egypt because it is the region’s center for “love and culture.” I shared my Greek salad and they shared their foul (beans that are commonly eaten for breakfast with a variety of toppings). A young Egyptian man who lived in North Beach for a couple of years shared his internet hot spot and phone number in case I got lost on my way to the public market. His girlfriend is from Germany.
After breakfast and a stroll through Zamalek, I had the good fortune to meet my friend Jeanne’s friend, Emad Hassan. Emad is an energy efficiency expert who works for the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism. Coincidentally, the country’s hotel association was having a conference on issues related to Egyptian tourism, so Emad invited me to join him for the last session. After listening to several speakers describing some apparently very interesting things in Arabic, I got to meet the Ministry of Tourism, Hisham Zazou, to say I was having a wonderful experience in Egypt. Afterward, Emad and I talked about Egyptian politics, tourism and social policy over a glass of Egyptian wine.
Today, I made my way to the City’s famous Khan al Khalili, a large market place that is half local and half touristic. I started on local side where a young man showed me a few artisan workshops and a bakery. He convinced me to buy something I didn’t want but it was worth it to get a tour of the rabbit warren alleyways behind the mosque. I liked it better than the tourist side of the market, which was mostly the same souvenirs that are sold everywhere in Egypt. I did enjoy being called “princess” and “my queen” and “beautiful lady” by the young merchants.
Some of Cairo’s best restaurants are in the big hotels and mine has Osmanly. It is Turkish but I would call it Turk-ish because the menu does not include your basic hummus and shashlik options. On my first night back in Cairo, I enjoyed a dish that featured spinach and roasted artichoke hearts on top of a pea puree that had hints of coriander, garlic, cumin and lemon. It was fantastic.
Tomorrow — my flight to Athens and from there to Lesvos!