Sunday, July 29, 2012

Egyptian Baking Substitutes

I've had a few people who follow the blog ask where you can get certain baking supplies in Egypt. After many years of searching and trial and error, I present to you a list of available items in Egypt for baking, where you will find them, and appropriate substitutes.

  • Baking Soda. Called for in many, many recipes, you might be extremely puzzled when you walk into your local supermarket's baking section and find it missing. Fear not, it's because you're looking in the wrong place. Pharmacies here carry baking soda, and it is known by its scientific name, Sodium Bicarbonate. If you're in Hurghada, Spinney's has a big bin of it along with all the olives and pickled foods. So next time you're in need of baking soda, now you know. 
  • Corn Starch. Originally this was something that if you needed in your recipes, you were going to have to bring from outside the country. Fortunately however in the past few years a company called "Cooks" has started producing corn starch locally. You'll find it alongside flour and sugar in your supermarkets baking aisle (but don't expect to find it in the smaller markets). 
  • Corn Syrup. Alas, this is still not readily available in Egypt. Fear not however, you can easily make your own at home. All you'll need is sugar and water and a stove. To make approximately 2 cups of sugar syrup, you'll need 2 cups of sugar, 3/4 cup of water, and combine over a medium/low heat and stir until syrupy. You can always store any remaining syrup in a jar. 
  • Food colouring. Normally something that you could not find in Egypt, food colouring is making its way into the market here. For this addition to your cooking, you'll need to purchase from a local sweet shop. For those in Hurghada, check my "Where to Go" section for Bargout, and you will find many varieties of baking items available here. 
  • Gelatin. This is something I have yet to find on the market here. If anyone knows anywhere that does in fact sell it, please let me know. I usually bring stocks with me from overseas - but I have been told that certain sweet shops will sell Gelatin (although I have not seen it myself, particularly powdered Gelatin)
  • Glycerin. Again, something else I have yet to find on the market here. If anyone knows anywhere that does in fact sell it, please let me know. 
  • Sugar Glucose. If you're into making fondant or any other sugary recipe that requires sugar glucose, you probably encountered the same problems as me thinking "Where in the world can I find that!!" Fear not, again for this you can go to a local sweet shop and usually find this item. Again, check the post for Bargout if you're in Hurghada to find out more. 
  • Vanilla Extract. Not something you can find in Egypt due to the ethanol content in the extract. However, what you can readily find here are little packets of vanilla sugar, that can work perfectly as a substitute in any recipe calling for vanilla. 
  • Wet / Dry yeast. Wet yeast is a mystery to me, I have never seen it here. Dry yeast however has worked just as well in recipes for me that called for wet yeast, and this you can find in your local supermarket alongside the flour and baking items. It comes in small green packets that are about 2 tsps each. 

Key Lime pie, yum!

As always, any questions let me know and I will do my best to find out where you can get a hold of some of the elusive baking ingredients! :)

Update, a wonderful friend of mine also very into baking has let me know that for those in Cairo, check out Bakeaholics on FB. They not only have everything on the list but will deliver to your door! 

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Egyptian Olympic Blunder

While the eyes of the world are trained on London for the next two weeks, any mistakes are immediately noted and broadcast (*cough* Marhaba Bikum London backwards anyone? *cough*). Although it's unlikely for any Olympics to ever go off without a hitch, the least that can be expected is for the athletes to show up ready to compete and full of team spirit, right?

Image courtesy of AFP

Well, that is unless you're part of the Egyptian Olympic team. Unfortunately due to "dire economic circumstances," the Egyptian Olympic Committee (EOC) decided it would be best to outfit their athletes with counterfeit Nike gear.

Yes you heard me, counterfeit Nike gear.

The Egypt Independent featured quotes from Egyptian Olympiad Yomna Khallaf, competing in the women's synchronized swimming. During an interview with Cairo Stadium Radio, Khallaf explains:

 "We went to the Olympic Committee, and they gave us funny things. I wear X-small but they gave me Nike gear that was size double X-large ... They gave us a bag that has a Nike logo on the front, but the zipper has the logo of Asdidas [sic] ... we had to buy LE17,000 worth of real things from Nike for the team to look good.”
Of course this blunder didn't take long to leak into the media, and as the world was watching, the EOC scrambled to find excuses to justify their actions - or shall we just call it what it is: corruption?
News leaked that the head of the EOC had in fact been budgeted to buy genuine Nike gear by the Egyptian National Sports Council, but instead bought the counterfeit gear while the rest of the cash just 'disappeared.' Initially, the head of the EOC, General Mahmoud Ahmed Ali, claimed, "We signed with a Chinese distributor in light of Egypt's economic situation."
Seems however that this *shockingly* is not entirely true, as the Tourism Industry has had to fork over 200,000 LE to make up for his blunder. Now my question is: Did they do this because they genuinely care about the athletes all being in appropriate Nike gear, or was this more of a "we've been caught time to cover our asses" type situation.

Oh Egypt. Even in the Olympics, an event that is meant to boost national pride and patriotism, you have people in power who can't help but show the world just how corrupt to the core the system here remains.

And with that, my Olympic fever can begin! GO TEAM GB!!! And US!! And Ireland! WEEHOOO!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Help Rescue Animals in Egypt's Zoos

Zoos around the world draw criticism from animal activists on a regular basis. Most argue it is wrong and inhumane to keep an animal locked up in a cage for the duration of its life when it is meant to be born free. Biologists and zoologists will counter with the incredible opportunities to study animals that zoos provide, not to mention being able to save certain species from extinction with zoo breeding programs. But zoos in Egypt are of a different breed.

I've previously blogged about my experiences at the Giza Zoo, but a recent push to draw the world's attention to the plight of zoo animals in Egypt is resulting in an explosion of online activists clamoring for something to be done. A facebook page set up on July 13, Help Rescue Animals In Egypt Zoos, already has over 1,600 members and counting. The social networking skills of activists are hard at work.

Images featured on the page are more than shocking. Photographic evidence from a number of zoos throughout the country depict starving lions and tigers, animals being used as no more than photo props, camels with tumors being worked, dead animals left in enclosures, and many having no access to water.

Even more heartbreaking are the so-called vets running up the facilities. Fayoum Zoo is managed by a vet who graduated from the Cairo University Faculty of Veterinary Science, yet the images show a zoo that takes no consideration for animal rights or treatment whatsoever.

Wolves in Fayoum Zoo.

Alexandria Zoo is no better, but I feel that I cannot write enough to describe the situation. I'll allow the photos to speak for themselves. I can only hope that this lioness has since passed on and is no longer suffering.

Starving Lionness in Alexandria Zoo. 
The road to Alexandria is also notorious for the lion house, where you can pay a fee to have your pictures taken with lions and lion cubs. The lions are prodded and poked with long iron rods to prompt them to roar to please the crowd.

Kafr el-Sheikh zoo is home to this poor camel.

As well as this beautiful tigress. This is how she is fed, and visitors have to first pay the guard to witness this. Note how thin she is.

Kafr el-Sheikh Zoo.

Note the long metal rod, and the obvious fear
in what should be a proud lion.
Kafr el-Sheikh Zoo.

So what can you do to help? First and foremost, use the Internet as your best tool to spread awareness about this issue. Dina Zulfikar, renowned animal activist has provided this e-mail to send to anyone and everyone who might be able to help, not to mention the following e-mail addresses of people in Egypt who should have the authority to do something about this. Dr. Ossama Selim at:,,; Mostafa Hussein GOVS at: 

Dear Military General and Doctor Osama Selim
Chairperson of GOVS

We have been reporting and complaining since long. We have evidences and pictures of All governmental zoos , managed by Central Zoos Director. We kindly demand: dismissing current Central Zoos Director, reforming, either we (Egypt) can provide care, or, we shut down the zoos if we cannot care for animals in captivity.

We have started a worldwide campaign to try to put an end to this. Please support us.
The animals are starving and dying in the seven governmental zoos of Egypt and they need YOUR help!

The animals in the zoos of Egypt are in dire need of medical attention and proper care, and the Egyptian activists need our help to put pressure on the authorities that turn a blind eye.

We must put international pressure on them to save these animals. 

Here's how YOU can help:

Please watch the pictures at the link and share this page with as many as you can:

Sign the petition here:

Leave a comment about the shameful treatment of animals in the governmental zoos of Egypt at the Facebook-page of Egypt's president, Dr. Mohamed Morsy, here:

Thank you very much in advance for your support!

Egypt the ONCE land of the Pharoahs. where Lions were held in look how they treat them...

**All images above courtesy of the Help Rescue Animals in Egypt Zoos**

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Expat's Guide to Ramadan

It's that time of year again, when Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world come to a virtual standstill for the holy month of Ramadan. The majority of Egypt will be fasting, and this blog aims to provide expats and visitors with some quick and easy tips to help you understand the significance of this period.

For a brief history of Ramadan, check out my previous blog here.

A traditional Fanous Lantern
If you're new in Egypt, Ramadan can feel a bit hectic. To begin with, the first few days are met with jubilation and celebrations throughout the country. In this time you can expect a lot of post-sunset firecrackers, loud music, traffic on the streets, and if you're in Hurghada hours of power outages (hehe).

With the temperatures this year soaring to 41 degrees in the shade fasting becomes more difficult for many people. Most Muslims admit that not eating during the day is not the problem, it's not being able to drink (or for some - to smoke a cigarette). Accordingly, the hour before the adhan (prayer-call) announces the end to the fasting day, you can expect heavy traffic on the streets and extremely irate drivers. One thing that always struck me during Ramadan were the people that would stand in the heavy traffic and hand out dates, bottles of water and boxes of juice to the drivers passing by. An important aspect for fasting Muslims is that they must break the fast the moment the adhan announces it, so for drivers that got caught in traffic this is a God-send.

Of course the advantage here for expats is the hour of sunset and just after, the streets throughout Egypt are virtually empty. Everyone is inside having their iftar (breakfast), praying, and spending some time relaxing before the night's festivities begin. Essentially, once they have filled their bellies most Egyptians will spend the rest of the night until 3 AM eating, drinking, and socializing with their friends at cafes.

One of the big disadvantages that many find during Ramadan in Cairo (as here in Hurghada we do not have this problem) is that the night clubs and bars / locations that serve alcohol will close. If you manage to find a few places that are still serving alcohol and you have an Egyptian with you in the group, you will face the very awkward conversation with managerial staff refusing to allow your Egyptian friend to enter - regardless of whether or not they are fasting.

Another disadvantage is the level of productivity dwindles to virtually zero during Ramadan. For those that actually go to work fasting, their work-level is no where near what it usually is. Construction work comes to a virtual halt - even if they are mid-construction (wait what am I talking about, this happens even when it's not Ramadan) and if you have a project that you need completed, expect it to take twice as long.

It is customary to provide tips during this period; whether you choose to give it in the beginning of the month or at the end just prior to the Eid feast is up to you. Many people opt out of tipping money as there are many other things you can also gift. A Ramadan bag presented to your bowab (doorman) will be graciously accepted. These bags are sold in most supermarkets, or you can make your own and include things like rice, pasta, cooking oil, sugar, spaghetti sauce, lentils, etc. For the end of Ramadan period you can gift clothes (as Muslims will wear new clothes during the Eid) or you can also gift meat for the huge feast that comes in the Eid.

If you're ever invited over for an iftar dinner (which I highly recommend), go very hungry! Remember people are fasting during the day and will fill themselves come iftar. Often the meal begins with milk and dates to line the stomach, followed by a wide variety of Egyptian dishes.

The Khan el-Khalili in Cairoduring Ramadan
For expats in Egypt, Ramadan can provide a fantastic opportunity to really immerse yourself in the Egyptian culture and to soak up the lifestyle here. I've previously blogged about some of the things you can do around Cairo at this time of year, and similar events are also held throughout Hurghada.

Finally, find here a blog about tips for driving during Ramadan. Stay alert and conscientious on the road and you can avoid accidents, the responsibility lies with you.

And as they say in Egypt, Ramadan Kareem!

Easy Pasta Bake Recipe

If you're like me, you're always on the hunt for a quick to make yet tasty meal option. Yesterday I made a wonderful pasta bake that can be ideal for meat eaters or vegetarians. I used ground beef in the recipe, but if you want a vegetarian pasta bake, leave that out or substitute it with lentils - yum! The quantities were intended to feed two, but we ended up with a load of leftovers and with a salad on the side could easily feed four. If you're looking for a heartier dish to feed 4 - 5, just double the quantities.

So here's what you'll need. 

Fresh ingredients ready to go
  • 1/3 kilo of ground beef
  • 200 grams (1/2 bag) of pasta, your preference. I used bowtie. 
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 large tomatoes 
  • 1 medium green pepper
  • 1 small packet of tomato paste (~150 grams)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon meat spices (I used McCormicks Grill Mates Montreal Steak - yum!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional - but Egyptians love cinnamon in all their cooking!)

What to do: 

  1. Chop your onions into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Heat your EVOO in a medium sized pan over medium heat. 
  3. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to your warmed EVOO and saute until clear.
  4. Add ground beef to sauteed onions, stir well. Cook until beef is slightly browned. 
  5. Add vinegar, remaining pepper, meat spices, garlic powder and cinnamon to your meat, and let cook over medium heat under browned. When your meat is finished, set aside for final step. 
Finished ground beef

In the meantime: 

  1. Chop up your green pepper and tomatoes. 
  2. Combine your tomato paste and 2/3 cup water, add your chopped up veggies, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar and let cook over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. 

While your sauce is cooking: 

  1. Heat up pot of water with 1 teaspoon salt and cook pasta to desired level. Drain pasta and set aside. 
  2. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. 

Love bowtie pasta!

And now the fun part. 

Using an oven safe non-stick dish, layer your ingredients. Start with a lower layer of pasta, then add a layer of beef, topped with a layer of sauce. Repeat for a second layer.

Throw this in the oven for about 25 minutes. If you want crunchy pasta on top, leave uncovered. If you don't, cover the dish with a layer of tin foil. After 30 minutes, remove the dish, top with grated cheese, and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes - or until the top is golden brown.

**Tip: while you're waiting for the pasta bake to come out of the oven or if you have downtime while your ingredients are cooking - clean the dishes. It will save you a ton of clean up time after dinner!**

I love this dish for a variety of reasons. It's tasty, it's easy, and it keeps great if you have any left-overs.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Where to Go - Hurghada "Home Made" Bakery

Baking is one of my favourite hobbies as I find that nothing helps to unwind your mind more than the simple process of combining one ingredient after the next, all in an orderly fashion, to end up with a delicious treat. But as anyone living in Egypt who is also a baker can tell you, finding the right ingredients is nigh on impossible. Accordingly, finding decent bakeries and pastries is also impossible, particularly in Hurghada. Unless you are looking for sweets dripping in honey, the chances of you finding quality home-made baked goods are slim. That is until Hurghada "Home-Made" Bakery arrived on the scene. 

Started by Anca Rusu who shares a passion for baking, the premise was simple; why not fill the demand for quality baked goods that are straight out of the home-made oven. She started small, learning as she went along and Hurghada "Home-Made" has blossomed with a growing customer base and offering real works of  art to tickle your tastebuds. When asked what the inspiration behind everything was, Anca says she never thought she'd end up making cakes. She started out baking for her family and the motivation to continue just arose, leading her to where she is today. 

Items on offer through Hurghada "Home-Made" Bakery include Anca's legendary cheesecakes with customized toppings, decadent fruit tarts, biscuits and sweets for children and children's parties, and of course her now-infamous birthday cakes. 

Anca's cheesecakes have proven to be a hot
seller. The choice of toppings just adds
fuel to the fire!

Anca offers a wide variety of
biscuits for children.

Not to mention seasonal cupcakes such as
these Easter delights.

And finally, Anca's very own edible artwork
in the form of birthday cakes. Yum!

So if you're looking for a cake for that special someone or have a children's birthday party you need goodies for, get in touch with Hurghada "Home-Made" Bakery at 01145103333 or check out their facebook page.

Bon appetit!

Customized Egyptian Silver

One of the great advantages of living in Egypt is access to beautifully handcrafted 100% Egyptian silver and gold. Now, I'm not a gold person, but the wide variety and ability to customize any piece of jewelry means that whether you're a silver or a gold lover, you can find something to suit your tastes.

K and I recently embarked on a new venture, offering customized Egyptian jewelry for sale at affordable prices. Included in the items for sale are Hieroglyphic necklaces or bracelets, on your choice of silver or gold, individually tailored to each individual order.

Alongside the hieroglyphic bracelets and necklaces, decadent earrings are available for purchase, again tailored to each individual's specifications.

Check out a sample of a necklace pendant, custom-made to order.

5" in length, bearing the name

If you are interested in customized Egyptian jewelry, be it for a birthday, anniversary, Christmas or other special occasion, get in touch to find out how you can order your very own piece.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Only in Egypt

In another edition of "Only in Egypt," this photo was sent to me this morning by a friend in Hurghada. Newly tarmacked street, with pavements even included. The construction engineers had obviously heard of the problems people were having with their HEPCA bins being stolen, so decided to lend a helping hand.

From Equalizer Red Sea

Hurghada as a Testing Ground

In my last blog I detailed the webpage that helps people track individual promises made by Mohamed Morsi, new President of Egypt. Among these promises were lofty expectations of how to improve traffic in the capital city Cairo and how to address the increasing problem with rubbish.

According to RSN news, it seems that Hurghada may be the initial testing ground for these promises. First up, restricted hours for the rubbish trucks to monitor the streets and actually remove the waste. (I hope this happens...the rubbish in Hurghada in the past years has grown to astronomical proportions. It's disgusting).

Alongside this, with an estimated budget of 15 million LE surveillance camera's are to be strategically placed throughout the city to combat theft, and for those placed on traffic signals to reduce speeding and breaking of traffic laws (I think there will be a few drivers who need refresher courses).

In addition, Hurghada's flour rations will be increased to provide more bread to the province, and the bakeries will have their work strictly monitored. Fuel rations will also be increased to the province - with nothing being said about fuel subsidies.

So, if Hurghada is the testing ground for this it is news to my ears. Of course they have to try to run such implementation programmes in a province that is already fairly "modern" and already has some semblance of order before trying to impose it in Cairo. Hopefully in the next few weeks I will be able to report positive changes coming out of the Red Sea with indications of positive changes for the rest of the country!