Places to Seek Out in Cairo

Whether conventional or chic, there are a wide variety of places to have a drink in Cairo. Nearly every street in the city also supplies access to a traditional coffee house, which has served as a common male social gathering that dates back hundreds of years. In addition to that, you will come in contact with everything from stalls filled with fruit to bakeries to up-to-date cafes that serve a wide-range of European coffee selections. 
Accompanying the traditional Turkish coffee and tea, patrons gain easy access to the likes of hibiscus tea, kerkedeeh (depending on the season – warm or cold), sugarcane juice, mango and date drinks, Tamr hindi, sahleb (coconut drink for the winter), and fakhfakhenna (fruit salad).

Cairo by Night

Cairo by Night

Conventional Coffee Houses

When it comes to one of the best places in the world to experience the culture associated with a traditional coffee house, Cairo tops the lists. While standard Arabic refers to the coffee house as one thing, the local dialect transforms the term into another entity.

Within any Cairene coffee house, Turkish coffee continues as the unchanging ingredient. Shisha, waterpipe, and tea are also quite popular. Many viewed this practice as outdated for quite awhile, but today, younger people are catching on. They even smoke a waterpipe, which is no longer associated with just the men. Locations are different, as one may offer a small setting (chairs and tables made of plastic that line the street) or provide access to impressive cafes situated in upscale regions.

When paying a visit to a Cairene coffee house, numerous people are looking forward to the sheesha (or waterpipe), which serves as a main attraction. Two variations are typical: pure tobacco and apple-flavored. Additional varieties of fruit are also on hand. Coffee houses tend to vary, as some are decorated in a more elaborate manner, while others are simple counters offering plastic chairs and tables for people to enjoy in the street.

While international travelers are always made welcome, some women tend to feel awkward when checking out the coffee houses in conventionally, underprivileged sections of the city. On the other hand, travel to downtown Cairo and other tourist areas associated with Islamic Cairo and single or female-only groups shouldn’t encounter more than the typical irritation. Turkish coffee (also known as qahwe turki) is handed out either sweet (helwa), medium sweet (masbout), with a bit of sugar (sukr khafeef), or with none at all. 
Sweet in this case means very sweet. Tea (shai) is served either as the customary loose tea (kžshari – which is not to be mixed up with the Cairo macaroni-rice staple kushari), which is also referred to as dust tea in English, or better yet – a tea bag. The majority of coffee shops generally provide fresh mint leaves upon request that is then placed in the tea. People may also enjoy a variety of soda. Many times, hibiscus tea is available, which is served warmed during the winter season, as well as heated throughout the warmer times of the year.

A Communal Tradition

During the 1600s, coffee was first introduced to the Arab and Islamic world, where the Islamic clergy tried to outlaw the drink. Nonetheless, people began to greatly desire the drink, which changed the minds of the sheikhs. To this day, the most devout followers of the Islamic faith would not pay a visit to a coffee house.

However, most Egyptian males saw coffee as a significant communal tradition, which would take place close to their residence, at the local mosque, as well as the church. This became the time to converse, discuss the latest tidbits of news, browse the newspaper, enjoy a television show or sporting event, or simply watch the people pass by while smoking a waterpipe. A lot of people will state that more than 20,000 coffee houses are found in Cairo. As of today, the downtown section and Islamic part of Cairo are some of the best locations to enjoy a rather important piece of Cairene life.

Cairo by Night

Cairo by Night

Cairo by Night

Fruit Stalls

As the heated Cairo summer lingers, fruit stalls are known to sell fresh juice (as well as the occasional fruit salad or soft drink). They really come in handy. At these locations, fresh-pressed juice of fruits of the season is sold.

Common selections include orange, lemon, strawberry, and mango. Depending on the season and availability, a collection of costs and quality are encountered. All over the city, you will encounter these places, which are quite commonplace in the hot spots that tourists frequent. The traditional coffee houses or fruit juice stalls of the city may supply some or all of these drink selections.

Contemporary Cafes and Pastry Shops

The latest cafes and pastry shops are scattered about the city. Usually, they provide light food items, such as salad and sandwiches, which join espresso-based coffees and pastry delights. The majority of these locations are chains that bear names, such as Cinnabon, Orangette, Cilantro, Beanos, as well as the Bakery and Coffee Roastery. Many of these sites, such as the chains previously mentioned, supply wireless Internet connections. Chains on the international level (like Costa Coffee and Starbucks) are also quite popular throughout Cairo.

Entertainment and the Nightlife

For the latest details regarding the movies, nightclubs, and concert halls, check out the daily called the Egyptian Gazette (LE 1; on Saturday, the Egyptian Mail), the weekly English edition of Al-Ahram newspaper (LE 1), as well as Egypt Today (LE 12), which is published on a monthly basis.

The Movies

Though international flicks are offered throughout the year, a higher number of selections are offered in the wintertime and Ramadan. It is suggested to check out the listings posted in the Egyptian Gazette or al-Ahram. Since the movies provide Arabic subtitles, it is not uncommon to hear the audience chat it up while vendors sell snacks. The soundtrack is often interrupted, so it is recommended to position yourself close to the front in order to hear a word.

Over the past couple of years, a collection of pricey new movie theaters have sprung up in many shopping outlets. This includes the Al-Tahrir Cinema on Sharia Tahrir, in Dokki (02/335-4726; LE 15-25); MGM (located on the top floor of the Maadi Grand Mall; 02/519-5388; closed on Saturdays; LE 20); as well as Ramses Hilton Centre, positioned opposite the hotel (02/574-7436; LE 20-25). All theaters possess plush seats, stereo sound, and air conditioning (which is rather cold). 

Talking during movies and smoking are not allowed. When visiting these cinemas, it is suggested to book ahead of time, while in other places – it is OK to purchase tickets (LE 10-15) an hour or more before the start of the film. On the other hand, during Ramadan, arriving earlier is a must, as the performances in the evening (such as the Metro Cinema on Talaat Harb, and the Al-Tahrir) provide various movie selections on a nightly basis. Usually, this attracts a large crowd, where tickets are bought rather fast and seats are not on reserve.

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