Most tap water 'mayya baladi' in major towns and cities is safe to drink and fine for cleaning your teeth, but it's heavily chlorinated and most people prefer bottled water to drink - it's cheap and you can get it all over the place. (Especially in Dahab, check the seal or you might end up with tap water anyway!). If you've access to a fridge, put bottled water in the kitchen freezer (pouring off small amount first). As the frozen block thawed out during the day they either drank the melt-water - very refreshing - or squashed the softening ice into pieces that you can squish out of the bottle. Chilled slices of water-melon straight from the fridge are also a tasty source of water - yum!
Although Egypt is a Muslim country tourists can buy alcoholic drinks in the restaurants - but they are usually quite dear. The cheapest drink is often local beer.
To buy alcohol for drinking at your apartment ask a restaurant if they can help - most of the time they can, but it will be expensive. A bottle of wine worth £4 - £5 (GBP) at home can cost you roughly £15.00 (GBP) per bottle. Spirits are extremely expensive because they all have to be imported.
"Shurub shai?" is an invitation to share a cup (or glass) of tea. Egyptian tea is normally boiled, black and extremely sweet. These days milk is sometimes offered, but is certainly not traditional.
The daily drink of Egyptian tea - Egypt's national beverage - is minty and very sweet, served in a small glass. Egyptians love to drink tea, and to chat - you will often be offered tea in shops, not only to help along a potential sale but also as an opportunity to talk, as many Egyptians love to practise English and discover common ground. 'Shay menno feeh' is a very milky tea. English-style Mint Tea (just mint leaves in water, with or without sugar) is not usually served unless you request it - and you may have to explain what you mean!
Hibiscus tea is a sweet tea made from the dried Hibiscus flowers - you can see gorgeous sackfuls of the flowers on the spice seller's stand in the market. The Egyptians call this jewel-red brew 'Karkade' (pronounced "KAR-kah-day") or 'Ennabis' and served it hot or chilled with ice. The cold version is likely to be called 'Einab'. Once a drink of pharaohs, special occasions like wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea.
A bright yellow 'tea' may be 'helba' (fenugreek), or you might come across 'yansoon' (aniseed) or 'irfa' (cinnamon).
'Kahwas' or 'Ahwas'can mean either 'coffee' or 'coffee shop'.
Egyptian coffee is thick and strong, sometimes flavoured with cardomom, with varying quantities of sugar. Some coffee shops also serve 'Vanilliameans' (hot chocolate). In coffee shops, coffee and milk may be also spiced with powdered ginger (zanjabil) or other spices.
Coffee shops are important places for social gatherings. A game of dominoes and a shared sheesha pipe (syn. shisha) or hookah sometimes seems more important than the coffee! The waterpipe is a complicated way of smoking tobacco.
The 'hookah' or 'hubbly-bubbly' (or 'hubble-bubble' and variants) is only used for smoking hashish (cannabis) - and is illegal.
The most popular type of tobacco used in waterpipes in the cafes of Cairo is ma'assel - a mixture of crude tobacco fermented with molasses. Fruit ﬂavours such as apple or strawberry and other additives such as honey and glycerin may be added.
Amongst Egyptians there is still a commonly held - but dangerous and wildly inaccurate - belief that smoking a waterpipe is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
Before 2005 there had been a few studies on waterpipe smoking in Egypt, but no studies to measure links between waterpipe tobacco use and lung cancer in Egypt, and no epidemiologic study of mortality and smoking in Egypt. Then a set of studies, by ESPRI, were commissioned by the World Health Organisation in 2005. Flavourings do lower the nicotine content per gram of ﬂavoured tobacco, but rather than 'diluting' the effect of the tobacco, smokers actually experience raised blood plasma levels. In some ways smoking one single 'head' of ﬂavoured tobacco is equivalent to smoking about 7 cigarettes, but the smoker's body is subjected to a 20% higher plasma nicotine level.
Other health hazards such as infections are also associated with waterpipes (especially when mouthpieces are shared). The rate of tuberculosis is rising again in Egypt, and the humid closed hose of the sheesha pipes appears to be an important breeding ground for a drug resistant strain of the disease, so becoming a source of tuberculosis infection among public waterpipe users.
Egyptian pomegrates, oranges, watermelons and other fruits taste wonderful and grow luxuriantly, irrigated by the waters of the Nile. Fruit has been grown here from ancient times - a large, dry pomegranate was found in tomb of Hapshetsut's butler.
Roadside stalls sell unusual but delicious fresh juices - look out for the great heaps of fresh fruit, easily spotted for a distance!
Normally you pay at the stall and are given a token which you then hand over in exchange for your juice.
The shockingly virulently green jusice is probably 'Kasab' - sugar cane juice. It looks even more lurid when sold in plastic pouches! Egyptian 'burtu'aan' orange juice may not sound like anything special, but some of our visitors rave abut how delicious it is! Prickly pear (cactus) is available only in August and September. 'Asiir lamoon' is a strong, sweet lemonade. Canned or packaged juices have recently become common, are nowhere near as tasty as the freshly made vegetable juices.
'Khiyar' (cucumber), 'tamaatim' (tomato), and 'gazar' (carrot) are great, alone or in combination with fruits (for example, carrot and orange) or milk ('mohz bi-laban' - bananas and milk.
To combine two flavours, ask for 'nuss wa nuss' ("half-and-half") of the flavours you want. If you don't specify the flavours you'll probably be given carrot and orange.
If you look around you should be able to get 'asiir' made from virtually any in-season fruits - and many vegetables.
Other fruit drinks include 'tamar hindi' (Tamarind Cordial) and the bitter-sweet liquorice-water.
Cans and bottles of fizzy stuff are also easily available - expect to leave a small deposit if before you take away a bottle though! Usualy you are expected to drink it on the spot and give the bottle back.
In winter, 'Sahleb' simmers in shiny urns on street vendor' carts. Failing that, try a pastry shop.
'Sahleb' - 'orchid' in Arabic - is both a flower a comforting hot milky drink for winter, halfway to being a 'custardy' desert. Traditionally, fresh goat milk was thickened with starchy root of the Early Red Orchid (Orchis mascula), a Mediterranean species of orchid and sweetened with honey or sugar. However, ground 'Sahleb' is rare and expensive, so today corn starch is usually substituted. Flavourings include rosewater and crushed mastic resin (mistiki), or coconut, vanilla, banana or orange blossom and rose water. Toppings are equally delicious - perhaps toasted coconut caramel, cinnamon and coconut, sultanas and chopped nuts, crushed pistachios, coconut and spice (perhaps cardamom or cinnamon), almonds and raisins or sesame seeds.
To promote orchid conservation, consider avoiding this drink or opt for the cornflour version of 'Sahleb'.
In summer the milk drink of choice amongst the local Egyptians is 'rayeb' (soured milk). -
The heat makes a few differences to the way you do your food shopping in Egypt - but mainly with regard to foods which melt. It is possible to buy chocolate - it's kept in fridge and comes out rock hard. Butter is sold frozen in lumps hacked off a bigger lump.
Meat is simply sold on street markets, with pieces being hacked off the carcasses as required.
The quality of the fresh fruit and vegetables will make cooking for yourself a pleasure, and Luxor is renowned for the quality of its fresh herbs and spices. Make sure you buy herbs and spices loose - the packaged ones are just for tourists and may have sat on the shelf for years!
For enthusiastic self-catering holiday makers we've chosen a selection of books about Egyptian food and cookery.
Even if you eat out every day in Egypt, a good cookbook means that when you get back from your holiday in Egypt you can recreate your favourite holiday meals.
Your cookery books will also make a good 'alternative' souvenir - especially if you actually cook from them when you get home! Taste and smell can evoke very powerful memories!
The Egyptians grow and serve wonderful food, and there are excellent restaurants on both sides of the Nile aat Luxor.
Our personal favourite restaurant on Luxor's West Bank restaurants are both on rooftops.
At the rooftop Nile Valley Restaurant, the food is very good indeed, so is the view (straight across the Nile to Luxor Temple) - and so is the price. We spend much of our eating time there, as we were so impressed with the food and service.
Main courses (served with rice, french fries, mixed vegetables or potatoes carree) cost £3 - 4 (GBP). We particularly enjoy including Tagen Beef & Vegetables (LE 30), Beefsteak with Mushroom or pepper sauce (LE 37.50), Stuffed Pigeon (LE 25.25), Grilled Half Duck (LE 40.75) and Grilled Fish Filet (LE 37).
Many travellers consider that the best restaurant on the West Bank is the rooftop Tutankhamun Restaurant - perhaps partly due to the good - and well-deserved - write-up it receives in the Lonely Planet guide.
The fixed menu at the Tutankhamun Restaurant has a choice of seasonal main courses - typically in a gently spiced Egyptian style, with a hint of French, because the chef has worked some top French hotels (and for a French team of archaeologists) in his time. The very generous meals are served with a wide variety of seasonal vegetable dishes - and are extremely reasonably priced.
A full meal with side dishes and mint tea costs about LE3 - 4 (£3 - 4 GBP). If you only have a small appetite you could opt for a light meal such as tomato soup, bread and babaganoug (tahini and aubergine dip) for about LE7.50 (75 pence).
Two East bank restaurants definately win on luxury and style . . .
For a restaurant on the east bank, in Al Manshiya (the old part of the city of Luxor), you can't beat Sofra. The name means 'dining table' and is synonymous with Egyptian generosity and hospitality. Located quite a way back from Luxor temple (walking away from the Nile) at the far end of Mohamed Farid street, Sofra is set in 1930's Egyptian house with traditional decor - antique oriental furniture, colourful copper lamps and beautiful mirrors. You can eat inside or outside, or on the roof terrace or patio.
If you want to put on a bit of (European) style, try the Old Winter Palace Hotel restaurant, where they still 'dress for dinner'.
ICE-CREAM IN THE OLD WINTER PALACE GARDEN
Even if you don't want to have a meal here, we recommend going for the excellent ice-cream. You can just walk in off the street, buy an ice cream from the stand near the back door and wander into the amazing garden behind the hotel. It makes a luxuriantly refreshing break - the grass is often being watered (and enjoyed by strutting hoopoes) and plantings are beautiful and varied, including many flowering trees and exotic plants. Gorgeous - and a very different style from the rest of Luxor!
Some Nile river sightseeing trips will include meals aboard