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Egyptian Culture

Food and Drink
Egyptian gastronomy reflects the country’s melting pot history and generally is a cross between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare. Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian influences all can be found in traditional Egyptian cuisine, which is hearty, simple and well-flavored, but rarely spicy. Food in the south is more closely linked to North African cuisine with zestier seasonings.

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

Tea, or “shai,” is the national drink in Egypt and comes in two varieties: Koshary and Saiidi. Koshary tea is light and popular in northern Egypt. It almost always is sweetened with cane sugar, and adding milk or fresh mint leaves is common. Saiidi tea is prepared over a hot flame and found in the southern half of the country. Heavy and bitter, it usually is sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar. Coffee, or ahwa, comes in several versions: 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.

Art
The ruins left behind by the ancient Egyptians are a testament to the country’s long and rich artistic legacy. The Egyptians were one of the first major civilizations to codify design elements in art. Wall paintings created during the time of the pharaohs followed a strict code of visual rules and often incorporated hieroglyphics. Egyptian paintings, sculptures and pottery convey symbolic meanings. Most of the surviving art comes from monuments and tombs where life after death and the preservation of knowledge were prominent 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.

Dress
In general, Egyptians dress conservatively and do not show much skin. This is especially true for women. Skirts and pants should fall at least below the knee for women, and men and women rarely wear sleeveless shirts. While many Egyptian women wear hijabs that cover their hair and shoulders, female tourists are not expected or required to cover their heads.

Tourists should note that many Islamic and Coptic Orthodox churches require appropriate dress and may not let you enter otherwise, and both men and women must remove their shoes before entering a mosque. Within the confines of beach resorts, Western beachwear such as bikinis, shorts and miniskirts are accepted.