Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dokki's Best Koshary

I swear, this Koshary is delicious.
I've recently become a huge fan of this little Koshary cart in Dokki square. I wish I had discovered it forty years ago when it first started (and I was not yet born).
Ahmed al-Sunni Koshary. (I like how the flower is coming out of the customer's head on the left)

Koshary Ahmed al-Sunni (كشري احمد السني) serves Cairo's masses with delicious, complex, homemade koshary. So far I've eaten from there at least a dozen times, and every time I was 101% satisfied.

Here I am, eating away at 'Amr's ahua (see below)

I think the best part about this koshary is the variety of the ingredients he uses. Koshary is always composed of rice, noodles, spaghetti, lentils, tomato sauce, and fried onions (You can then add some spicy sauce and garlic sauce if you want too) but usually each ingredient is limited to one type and rather insipid. Here, he uses a variety of noodles, rice, (brown, white, vermicelli) which gives each spoon-full a nice flavor.

Delicious texture
Vermicelli. Angel's hair.

The beauty here lies in simplicity: there are two sizes (L.E. 3.5 and L.E. 5) both of which are very filling. Make sure to tell him how much garlic, spicy sauce, and onions you want.

The only downside to this place (which can be seen as an advantage too) is that you either have to eat your bowl standing up (next to the cart), OR at a nearby ahua (there are three coffeshops, all of which you can leave your empty bowls at) OR at home (take away, teeka). I prefer the ahua-option so that I can accompany my koshary with a tea and some people-watching (or them staring at me).

He's not usually there on Fridays. Sometimes he takes Saturday off too. During the week he's there from around 11am to 7pm. When he runs out of food, he goes home. Oh, the joys of being your own boss... :-)

As always with almost anywhere in Cairo: Buyer Beware. But for this koshary, I'm pretty sure that his 40-year old reputation is a good guarantee that you'll be safe (just keep off the spicy شطة!). Oh, and Ahmed, the fine gentleman who works there is super honest: once he insisted on giving me 1.5 LE back from a week before when I forgot to take my change.

So, if you're ever in Dokki during the day and find yourself craving koshary, don't go anywhere else but here! By far, it's the best koshary you'll find and at the best price!

In front of Hassouna. If you're coming out from the Dokki Metro station, take the "juhaina street" exit
He's located at Midan Dokki, right in front of Hassouna 

A better view of Midan Dokki, with the Dokki Bridge in the background

In the street that goes off to the right of the photo, there's a coffee shop I usually eat at. 

A view of Midan Dokki and the cart from the ahua I eat at.

'Aamr's ahua. Right next to the Dokki Sudanese restaurant (pictured left)

Me, happy, eating.

Maadi Monday

Monday, April 29th, 2013,

Hung out with ع this afternoon. Good times.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Quote: on love, by Frank Zappa

If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library. 
– Frank Zappa

Friday, April 26, 2013

Photo Essay: Mall of Arabia

A friend and I went to the "Mall of Arabia" in a Cairo suburb close to 6th of October city, to check it out (for me) and buy clothes (for her).
Here's my report:

A very confusing map.

Beautiful inner courtyard thing. with fountains, cafés,

and little trains for kids and lazy adults to ride around in

Hash. for sheesha only...

Intersport and adidas, using Zamalek soccer players for promotion

lots of shoes. and lots of tiny sizes for kids.

Buzzy Cafe. It had advertisements all over the mall. Seemed like a busy place for kids and parents (to relax)

A Zara leather belt. I liked how it was written in so many different languages
Light up the night with your inflamable night gown.

The mall is only half finished. There's going to be a whole underground section soon. 


I had her carrying all my shopping bags. mouhahaha

reminds me of Gap, France, and my little cousin. It's his favorite store.

the Food Court. Green glasses (bottom right). KFC bottom right. Mayhem everywhere.
He's bringing the Sugar Canes to the store called Asabeta (previous photo). There, they press the canes and make sugar cane juice.

movies. James Bond, Django Unlimited

spinneys. boom.
Inside the Spinneys. huge surface area.

Sit el-Koll means "woman of all" meaning "just a normal, Joe lady". I learned this from the lady I used to buy bread from so that I could give the bread to the fuul/tameya shop for them to make my lunch.

A store for conservative Islamic clothes. with only male salespersons inside. weird.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Photo: Going Away, Party

Sometime in February. Lots of Ballons. Good time.

Kikin' it back with stylin' boots.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Photo: Buddha Bar Cairo

Buddha bar is in the Sofitel Gezira. It's usually empty. Not sure why. But it certainly has amazing decor
scroll down a bit for the photo (click on it to fit to screen).

and a great view on the nile

keep on scrolling...

Was hanging out with VJ on his last night, took this picture. I'm always awed by giant statues of Buddha. Especially in Egypt.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Photo Essay: Azba Weekend

One weekend in February, 
A friend invited me to her family's old villa in the Egyptian delta. 
It was about two hours north of Cairo. 
We had lunch, walked around the adjacent village, and generally chilled.

The Dinning Room. Ceiling was falling down, but food was delicious.
Fiteer, cheese, honey, tea... all so good.

A bedroom, with a gorgeous glass chandelier 

Taking photos of old stuff. This villa was made in 1924 by an Italian architect. Egypt used to be so classy.
View from the roof of the villa. Since the revolution, new informal houses (with ultra conservative inhabitants) have sprung up on Laura's mom's land without her permission.

Walking in the villa's surrounding fields. The fields still mostly belong to the Azba (villa) owners.

In the village: Old traditional mud brick homes, replaced by cement.
Above: somebody likes MIA.

Kids with cool poses (notice their feet/legs). One of them (second from the right) was terrified for some reason. Most of them had never seen foreigners before. Adults are in the background.
The village Shaykh, trying to calm them down.
Laura, shooting away, while digesting our lunch under the shady breeze-filled patio.
L's Mom and M were looking through the farm's meticulous old records. Stuff dated back to the 30's. Prices have since super-inflated. We even found an entry bookkeeping the purchase of a "Coca-Cola". 
I liked the sun/shadows on this part of the patio.

Path leading through the garden

Irrigation trenches for the garden.

This is a pretty bad representation of what we saw. I only found inspiration to take photos towards the end of the day. I wish I had taken photos of the family portraits, Laura's mom's village community center-in-the-making, more of the house, and more of our ride there and back.

For more pictures of Egyptian rural scenes, click here and here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Book: “Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt” by Hazem Kandil

I am looking forward to reading this book: 
Hazem Kandil’s “Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen: Egypt’s Road to Revolt” 

"Today, Egypt has the highest per-capita security personnel in the world. There are 25 security personnel to 1000 civilians; 2.5 percent of the society works in security. At its height, the KGB in Russia did not employ more than 150,000 servicemen. Egypt in 2012 had about 2 million."

Quoted from this Egypt Independent article.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Careers in the Middle East

Interesting article and video about opportunities for business-oriented jobs in the Middle East.

I'll be thinking about this for the next few years.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Photo Essay: The Demise of Cotton’s Influence on Egyptian Culture

photos and text by Ahmed Safyeldin (twitter: @ElKharouf)

                  This is the second installment in a series of photo essays about the harvest of traditionally important crops in Egypt, their current state, and the farmers that tend their fields. These articles are an attempt to forge a new bond with my ancestral village of Ahnasya Elkhadra in Beni Suef that my grandfather abandoned fifty years ago to settle in Cairo. The articles also give me the excuse to travel to my village and examine the situation on the ground.

                 The cotton shrub is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The Cotton plant was independently domesticated in India and Central America 7,000 years ago, and woven into textiles for clothing and fishing nets. Egypt’s cotton production began in earnest in the 1860s as a result of the American Civil War disrupting Europe’s supply of raw cotton. The Europeans invested heavily in Egypt, which resulted in a booming economy, and encouraged Khedive Ismail (the Ottoman ruler of Egypt) to borrow heavily from British creditors. After the American Civil War, the Europeans abandoned Egypt’s cotton for the cheaper American variety. This resulted in a financial crisis that forced Egypt to declare bankruptcy in 1873, and the direct intervention of foreign powers in Egypt’s internal affairs, thereafter.

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                  I began a one-day trip to my father’s cotton fields in Ahnasya Elkhadra with the typical train ride to Upper Egypt from the Giza railroad station.  The train station’s Neo-Pharaonic architecture evokes the images of the ancient Egyptian temples of Luxor and Aswan, and reminds the passengers of their financial and ancestral ties to Upper Egypt.  Jostling at the carriage door gave way to a foyer with old red buttons on an open electrical board, and a luggage compartment used as a bedroom by the porters. This led to a dimly lit passengers’ section flooded by a yellowish sickly sleep-inducing color. I inherited my preference for the train as the mode of transportation to and from Beni Suef from my father who prefers its reliability. The uneventful train ride brings back memories and anxieties of the trips my father and I took to Beni Suef and the occasional adventures that entailed. The first pyramid I went inside was on one of our rare return trips by car, my father stopped at the Meydoum Pyramid (the symbol of the governorate of Beni Suef) and paid off the policeman to take us inside.  The ride also evokes the anxieties I have towards my relatives in Ahnasya Elkhadra who I could never relate to due to our differences in backgrounds and cultures. For example, my relatives always ask me to find a job for an acquaintance of theirs in my uncle’s company which embarrasses me into promising that I will, but never deliver.

                  I reached Beni Suef at 7:30 am and Hajj Ali Bakri, my father’s cousin, was waiting for me on the platform to take me to Ahnasya Elkhadra. Half an hour later, I was in the middle of my father’s cotton field outside our village taking photographs of the workers harvesting the crop since dawn prayers.  The Egyptian farmer traditionally harvests cotton in the early morning to take advantage of the dew it which makes the bales heavier and so commands a higher price at the scale. My father has a sharecropping agreement with two farmers to grow crops on this plot of land in return for half the revenue.  I commented to Hajj Ali on the height and size of the cotton bushes this year. He replied that unusually intense heat waves late in the season result in growth spurts that produce spoilt cotton pods.  Therefore, only the lower half of the plant was harvestable. Hajj Ali also complained about the new payment system which allows speculators to control prices and keep them secret until after the harvest. Under the old system which was installed by the Egyptian government after the 1952 Revolution, the ministry of agriculture fixed the prices according to the international commodities market months in advance and was the sole buyer of cotton in Egypt. Then in the 1990s Egypt started borrowing from the World Bank under the stipulation to partially deregulate the agricultural sector causing the government to abandon its role as the sole dealer of Egyptian cotton.

                  One of the groups harvesting cotton was a band of about fifteen teenage girls wearing the niqab. After working, on their way back home, they removed their niqabs. I was surprised at their nonchalant attitude towards the niqab, especially because it is worn by religiously conservative women. I asked an old farmer about the girls’ behavior and he replied with a laugh: the girls wear a niqab during work to protect their fair skin from the sun and attract suitors because they are at the proper age to get married. By late morning the farmers rolled the huge cotton bales out from the field, and on to donkey carts to store them in Hajj Ali’s warehouse, adjacent to his home.

                   Egypt’s relationship with cotton has been fundamentally altered. There are several reasons for this outcome. First, the Egyptian farmer can no longer grow cotton every year because of its detrimental effect on the soil; before the High Dam was built this was possible because the flood replenished the soil with the nutrients consumed by the preceding year’s crop. Second, the quality of Egyptian cotton decreased because after the 1952 Revolution, the government fixed the price, regardless of the quality; therefore there was little incentive to grow quality cotton. Third, the domestic demand for cotton has decreased because of the privatization of Egypt’s textile industry and strong competition from cheaper textiles from China. Cotton’s fall in commercial value was accompanied by an erosion of the cultural trappings that surrounded it. I asked around on my trip if anybody remembered the songs farmers used to sing during the cotton harvest; I was met with puzzled looks. In addition, farmers used to wait until the harvest to have weddings and make financial transactions because of the cash that cotton brought in around this time of year. All of these factors played a role in the demise of cotton’s cultural and commercial value to Egyptians.

                  In conclusion, my trip to Ahnasya Elkhadra introduced me to the challenges facing Egyptian cotton. Poor government policies compounded with the mounting financial challenges of the Egyptian farmer led to this situation. Unless both parties start working together to combine their efforts to raise the quality and cultivation standards of this cash crop, Egypt will lose one of its main resources of agricultural income.