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Egyptian Culture

Food and Drink
During your Nile River cruise, you will be able to taste a variety of Egyptian dishes. Reflecting the country’s melting pot history, Egyptian gastronomy is heavily influenced by Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare and features simple, well-flavored foods. Cuisine in the southern regions, however, mirrors North African cuisine with more robust seasonings.

Since Egypt’s rich Nile Valley and delta produce large quantities of quality crops, Egyptian cuisine contains many legumes and vegetables. Some traditional Egyptian dishes are kofta prepared from ground lamb, rice-stuffed pigeon and vegetables, ful medames (mashed fava beans), a green soup called mulukhiyah, and kushari (a mixture of rice, lentils and macaroni). Aish, an Egyptian flatbread, and rice also are staples of the local diet, as are fresh fish and seafood. A few popular desserts are raisin cakes drenched in milk called umm ali, pastries soaked in honey syrup such as baklava, and mehalabeyya, an Egyptian rice pudding topped with pistachios.

The national drink of Egypt is tea, or shai, and it is divided into two different styles: Koshary and Saiidi. Popular in northern Egypt, Koshary tea is light and almost always sweetened with cane sugar, and it is common to add milk or fresh mint leaves. Saiidi tea, on the other hand, is popular in the southern half of Egypt and is prepared over a hot flame. It usually is sweetened with ample amounts of cane sugar to temper its heavy bitterness. Ahwa, or coffee, is popular in Egypt as well and also comes in various types: ahwa sada is black, ahwa ariha is lightly sweetened with sugar, ahwa mazboot is moderately sweetened, and ahwa ziyada is heavily sugared.

Although devout Muslims refrain from drinking alcohol, beer, wine and hard liquor are available in bars, restaurants and some grocery shops. Local beers include Stella, a light lager; Marzen, a dark, bock beer; and Aswanli, a dark beer made in Aswan. Zibib, an aniseed-flavored alcoholic drink also is a good choice.

The Egyptians were one of the first major civilizations to codify design elements in art, and the country’s long history with art is apparent in its ancient ruins. Egyptian art followed a strict system of visual rules during the era of the pharaohs, and therefore their paintings, sculptures, pottery and hieroglyphics convey symbolic and metaphorical meanings. Most of the surviving art comes from monuments and tombs where life after death and the preservation of knowledge were paramount themes.

Contemporary Egyptian art is diverse, and some of the most recognized modern Egyptian artists include abstract painter Farouk Hosny (a former Minister of Culture), sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar and Gazbia Sirry, known for her vivid canvases. Original and distinct handmade crafts can be found in souks across Egypt.

Generally, Egyptians dress conservatively and do not show much skin. This is especially true for women, whose skirts and pants fall at least below their knees. While many Egyptian women wear hijabs that cover their hair and shoulders, female tourists are not expected or required to cover their heads. Most Islamic and Coptic Orthodox churches require appropriate dress and may not let you enter otherwise. Both men and women must remove their shoes before entering a mosque.