It’s that time of the year again where Cairo turns into a kaleidoscope of lights and glitter. The holy month of Ramadan is here; the most important time of the year for Muslims worldwide. For expats or tourists who have never experienced Ramadan before and don’t know what to expect, it all might be a bit intimidating. Although most nightclubs close during Ramadan and alcohol is completely prohibited, Ramadan is the most exciting month of the year in Egypt with lots of food, gatherings and activities. Egyptians after all wouldn’t be Egyptians if they didn’t find a reason to celebrate; Ramadan is no exception to that.
Daily Routine during Ramadan
If you’ve just got used to Cairo traffic and you thought it couldn’t get any worse; think again. About two or three hours before the time of fetar (breaking of the fast), Cairo roads are more packed than ever with commuters all rushing home at the same time. During fetar, the streets are virtually empty except for mercy tables on the streets where the underprivileged can eat for free.
After the evening prayer, the streets begin to fill up again as people have digested their heavy meals and have caught up with all the Ramadan TV shows. The city is lit up by colourful fawanees (traditional lanterns) and filled with music and theatre festivals. It’s customary at this time to go for a shisha while watching more Ramdadan TV, catching a late film in the cinemas and going for a full-blown second meal, also known as sohour, which continues well until the dawn call to prayer.
About two hours before sunrise a mesaharaty walks down the streets, banging on a traditional drum and chanting, signalling the start of the new day and reminding people to eat sohour before it’s too late.
Bear This in Mind
Alcohol is available in hotels to foreigners only or through delivery in the mornings. Drinkies delivers till 1PM. It is recommended that you be sensitive to those fasting around you by not eating on the streets in full view of everyone.
Do remember to dress modestly, though. Shorts, short skirts and sleeveless shirts are not advisable. In the spirit of Ramadan, find gathering points near your house where Ramadan packages are made for the underprivileged, and donate some food.
What’s On the Menu for Fetar and Sohour?
Ramadan has its own traditional cuisine in Egypt. To break the fast, many people eat dates and drink milk, the customary meal of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH). Normally, the fetar meal is a massive feast of several kinds of meats, potatoes and rice; heavy on the fat and protein, light on the vegetables.
Dessert is just as popular with traditional oriental sweets such as baa'lawa, atayef and konafa. Although there are various types of konafa, the mango version is a popular choice for Ramadan in the summertime. Sohour is a somewhat lighter meal that starts around midnight, with staple dishes such as foul and taameya, sambousak, sahlab and cheeses. Traditional Ramadan drinks are the apricot-based amar el din, the hot and milky sahlab, kharoub and cold hibiscus, also known as karkadeh.
Where to Eat During Normal Dining Hours
Just because it’s Ramadan doesn’t mean you won’t be able to eat at normal hours. Hotels still serve during the day as do most restaurants in Zamalek, Mohandiseen, Maadi and Heliopolis. You could also head out to the many hotels that are hosting Ramadan tents set up for fetar and sohour. If you want a more authentic Ramadan experience, then head to Islamic Cairo and have fetar on the streets of Khan El Khalili.
Pottery Café will stay open and serve 24/7. However, food will only be served inside the café and not on the terrace, which is not really a punishment given the August heat. La Trattoria is a favourite option for Italian cuisine, or you could try Blackstone Bistro. For a drink, head to the Marriot’s garden, the Nile Zamalek Hotel’s rooftop or Pub 28. Please note that alcohol will only served to holders of foreign passports.
Downtown Cairo offers several options for daytime eating. Estoril is open and so are the French and Italian clubs. Café Riche’s operating hours fluctuate, but when open, they do serve alcohol. If you want a drink at the Greek Club, search for their secret location. If you think it’s too hot for searching; then go to Odeon Hotel rooftop bar for a refreshing drink.
When in Maadi, you can have lunch at Villa 55 or Lucille’s, which is open for breakfast in the mornings as always. Have a sushi lunch at Sakura or some Thai food at Bua Khao. For a drink, head over to the ACE Club or the BCA, or pick up some beers yourself at Massoud Market on Road Nine.
If Ramadan is really not working out for you, then you can always head to the North Coast or the Red Sea, where many resorts will be cutting down their prices in anticipation of the low Ramadan season. But believe us; in the end, celebrating Ramadan in Cairo is a truly unique experience and we hope you enjoy it to the fullest.