By: Tia S
Cairo. A city of chaos and faith. History and culture. Palm trees and desert. When people talk about Cairo, the pyramids are usually what come to mind. But there’s a whole other side to this city that many don’t know about. Cairo is a place unlike any other, and the only way to really experience it is through the eyes of a local.
Let me paint a picture of downtown Cairo for you: imagine worn-out buildings, all a light brown, dusty color and stacked about a foot apart from each other. The sky is a light grey, partly from the dust and partly from the pollution. Everything is dry, and coated in dust that has blown in from the desert. On the ground, well-worn cars permeate the streets, zigzagging between each other to get past the traffic and honking noisily just because everyone is bad-tempered… You may also hear yelling, a consequence of frustration and the common bumping of someone’s car against another. Shops line the sidewalks, some with clothes, but others with entire sheep hanging from hooks ready to be cut up and sold or cafes with men sitting outside and smoking on hookahs. Trust me, the scene is chaotic, but its beauty trumps its chaos.
The farther you get to the outskirts of Cairo, the less busy it becomes and the farther back you travel in time. You’ll see fewer cars, more wagons being pulled by donkeys filled to the brim with animal feed and people sitting atop them. Everything becomes more run down, there aren’t any buildings, and the streets turn to dirt roads. Farmers guide herds of goats across the street. I remember driving down one road, with houses on the right and a large stream on the left. Floating in the stream and lining the left side of the road was an abundance of garbage. Burning trash is a common phenomenon in this area, and assaults your senses. Then, as I drove by, I saw a dead cow, lying on its side on the mountain of garbage. It was quite a shocking thing to see, but when you’re in Cairo, the number one thing to remember is that you can see anything here.
Food is a big part of Egyptian culture and can be quite varied depending on what you like. There of course is street food, which I don’t recommend eating unless your body is used to it (you might get sick otherwise). A common sight in Cairo is men holding long sticks with rings of bread on it. The people of Cairo love eating on the Nile, so there are many boat restaurants on the Nile that will give you a beautiful view. One restaurant my family loves and is extremely popular with Egyptians is Andrea El Mariouteya. You can start off with an appetizer of pita and a choice of hummus, eggplant dip, and baba ghanoush. You can also have tabbuli salad or the famous stuffed vine leaves. Their specialty is chicken, so it’s the only main course option. The restaurant is also in the desert; you sit outside under a canopy with beautiful flowers and decoration surrounding you as well as a perfect view of the city. Many other common dishes include falafel sandwiches and Koshary, which consists of a mixture of macaroni, chickpeas, rice, lentils, fried onions, and a tomato, garlic and vinegar sauce. Stuffed zucchini and stuffed cabbage are commonly cooked at home, and you can always have some fried pigeon. For dessert, Bassboussa, Konafa, and Baklawa are the most popular dishes.
There are many things you can do other than visit the pyramids and museums. My family loves taking boat rides on the Nile, where you can relax all day and get an amazing view of the city. You can also go to the Khan el Khalili market if you like jewelry; there are great deals on silver and gold… if you know how to bargain. We also like having lunch at the Marriot by the Nile.
Now that you know this city a little better, it’s time to explore! I encourage you to experience Cairo yourself and you’ll learn of all the wonders it has to offer.