No Reservations ~ Egypt

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Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations on Earth.  Known for its famous Nile River, vast Sahara Desert, and Great Pyramids of Giza and its Great Sphinx, Egypt has—while maintaining its culture and ancient history—become a mecca for tourists around the world.  But Anthony Bourdain's not here for the sight-seeing; instead, he visits with Egyptian locals to get a taste for what it means to be Egyptian.



Egypt officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia.  Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world.

Egypt is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west.

Over the ages, and as far back as four thousand years, Egypt stood as the land where civilizations have always met.  The Pharaohs together with the Nubians, Greeks, Babylonians and the Romans have left their imprints here.  Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula, led by Amr ibn al-A'as, introduced Islam into Egypt.  Khedive Mohammad Ali, with his Albanian family roots, put Egypt on the road to modernity.  If anything, the cultural mix in this country is natural, given its heritage.

Egypt can be likened to an open museum with monuments of the different historical periods on display everywhere.  Basically, Egyptian history can be divided into 6 major periods:

  1. Prehistoric Egypt — The Prehistory of Egypt spans the period of earliest human settlement to the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period of Egypt in ca.  3100 BC, starting with King Menes/Narmer.  The Predynastic Period is traditionally equivalent to the Neolithic period, beginning ca.  6000 BC and including the Protodynastic Period (Naqada III).  From about 4800 to 4300BC the Merimde culture flourished in Lower Egypt.  This culture, among others, has links to the Levant.  In Upper Egypt the predynastic Badarian culture was followed by the Naqada culture.  Human remains from both the Naqada and Badarian cultures are more closely related to Nubians and East Africans than with northern Egyptian remains.

  2. Ancient Egypt — A unified kingdom was founded c.  3150 BC by King Menes, leading to a series of dynasties that ruled Egypt for the next three millennia.  Egyptian culture flourished during this long period and remained distinctively Egyptian in its religion, arts, language and customs.  The first two ruling dynasties of a unified Egypt set the stage for the Old Kingdom period, c.  2700–2200 BC., which constructed many pyramids, most notably the Third Dynasty pyramid of Djoser and the Fourth Dynasty Giza Pyramids.  The Thirtieth Dynasty was the last native ruling dynasty during the Pharaonic epoch.  It fell to the Persians in 343 BC after the last native Pharaoh, King Nectanebo II, was defeated in battle.

  3. Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt — The Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt began with the conquest of Egypt from the Persians and ends with the death of queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and the Roman conquest in 30 BC.  The Roman province of Egypt was established in 30 BC after Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) annexed the Egypt to the Roman Empire.

  4. Arab and Ottoman Egypt — During the initial Islamic invasion in 639 AD, Egypt was ruled at first by governors acting in the name of the Righteous Caliphs, and then the Ummayad Caliphs in Damascus but, in 747, the Ummayads were overthrown.  In 1174, Egypt came under the rule of Ayyubids that lasted until 1252.  The Ayyubids were overthrown by their bodyguards, known as the Mamluks, who ruled under the suzerainty of Abbasid Caliphs until 1517.  Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1517, following the Mamluk-Ottoman war (1516–1517) and the loss of Syria to the Ottomans in 1516.  Egypt was administrated as an eyalet of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 until 1867, with an interruption during the French occupation of 1798 to 1801.

  5. Muhammad Ali dynasty — The Muhammad Ali Pasha dynasty (1805-1953) spanned the later period of Ottoman Egypt, the Khedivate of Egypt under British patronage, and the nominally independent Sultanate of Egypt and Kingdom of Egypt, ending with the Revolution of 1952 and the formation of the Republic of Egypt.

  6. Modern Egypt — The definition of Egypt's modern history has varied in accordance to different definitions of Modernity.  Some scholars date it as far back as 1517 with the Ottomans’ defeat of the Mamlūks in 1516–17.  However, most scholars have agreed that the modern history of Egypt starts with Muhammad Ali's rule and his launching of Egypt's modernization project that involved building a new army and suggesting a new map for Egypt.


The economy of Egypt is one of the most diversified in the Middle East, with sectors such as tourism, agriculture, media, petroleum exports, industry and service at almost equal production levels.  A rapidly growing population, limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress the economy.

The government has invested in communications and physical infrastructure.  Egypt has received U.S.  foreign aid (since 1979, an average of $2.2 billion per year) and is the third-largest recipient of such funds from the United States following the Iraq war.  Its main revenues, however, come from tourism as well as traffic that goes through the Suez Canal.

Since the turn of the new millennium, the pace of structural reforms, including fiscal, monetary policies, privatization and new business legislations, helped Egypt to move towards a more market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment.  However, corruption is often cited by Egyptians as the main impediment to further economic growth.

The reforms and policies have strengthened macroeconomic annual growth results which averaged 5% annually, but the government largely failed to equitably share the wealth and the benefits of growth have failed to trickle down to improve economic conditions for the broader population, especially with the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment among youth under the age of 30 years.

A youth protest demanding more political freedoms, fighting corruption and delivering improved living standards forced President Mubarak to step down on February 11, 2011.  In the Post-Mubarak Era the Egyptian economy faces a rocky road to stabilize the economy after 18 days of protests which may cut economic growth in the Fiscal Year ending June 2011 to about 2%.


Today Egypt is one of the most populous countries in Africa and the Middle East.  The great majority of its estimated 80 million people live near the banks of the Nile River.  The large areas of the Sahara Desert are sparsely inhabited.  About half of Egypt's residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centres of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities in the Nile Delta.

Egyptians are by far the largest ethnic group in Egypt at 91% of the total population.  Ethnic minorities include the Abazas, Turks, Greeks, Bedouin Arab tribes living in the eastern deserts and the Sinai Peninsula, the Berber-speaking Siwis (Amazigh) of the Siwa Oasis, and the Nubian communities clustered along the Nile.

Egypt also hosts an unknown number of refugees and asylum seekers, estimated to be between 500,000 and 3 million.  There are some 70,000 Palestinian refugees, and about 150,000 recently arrived Iraqi refugees, but the number of the largest group, the Sudanese, is contested.  The once-vibrant Greek and Jewish communities in Egypt have almost disappeared, with only a small number remaining in the country, but many Egyptian Jews visit on religious occasions and for tourism.

The official language of the Republic is Modern Standard Arabic.  The national language of modern-day Egypt is Egyptian Arabic.  The main taught foreign languages in schools are English, French, German and sometimes Italian.

Approximately 90% of the population adheres to Islam and most of the rest to Christianity, primarily the Coptic Orthodox denomination.  Apart from religious affiliation, Egyptians can be divided demographically into those who live in the major urban centers and the fellahin or farmers of rural villages.


Monuments in Egypt such as the Giza pyramid complex and its Great Sphinx were constructed by its ancient civilization.  Its ancient ruins, such as those of Memphis, Thebes, and Karnak and the Valley of the Kings outside Luxor, are a significant focus of archaeological study.  The tourism industry and the Red Sea Riviera employ about 12% of Egypt's workforce.  More than 12.8 million tourists visited Egypt in 2008, providing revenues of nearly $11 billion.


Cairo is the capital of Egypt.  Cairo is located is along the Nile River in northern Egypt, known as Lower Egypt, 165 kilometres (100 mi) south of the Mediterranean Sea and 120 kilometres (75 mi) west of the Gulf of Suez and Suez Canal.  With a population of 6.7 million, Cairo is by far the largest city in Egypt.  With an additional ten million inhabitants just outside the city, Cairo resides at the centre of the largest metropolitan area in Africa and the 16th most populated metropolitan area in the world.

Cairo was founded by the Fatimid dynasty in the 10th Century, but the land composing the present-day city was the site of national capitals whose remnants remain visible in parts of Old Cairo.  Cairo is in every respect the centre of Egypt, as it has been almost since its founding in 969 AD.  The majority of the nation's commerce is generated there, or passes through the city.  The economy of Cairo was ranked first in the Middle East and 43rd globally by Foreign Policy's 2010 Global Cities Index.

Cairo has the oldest and largest film and music industries in the Arab World, as well as the world's second-oldest institution of higher learning, al-Azhar University.  Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life.  Cairo is also associated with Ancient Egypt due to its proximity to the ancient cities of Memphis, Giza and Fustat which are nearby to the Great Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza.

Cairo, like many other mega-cities, suffers from high levels of pollution and traffic, but Cairo Metro—currently one of only two on the African continent—also ranks among the 15 busiest in the world, with over 700 million passenger rides annually.

The Western Desert

The Libyan Desertis located in the northern and eastern part of the Sahara Desert, comprising the desert of western Egypt, eastern and southern Libya, and northwestern Sudan.  The Egyptian portion is called the Western Desert.  Like most of the Sahara, this desert is primarily sand and hamada or stony plain.  Sand plains, dunes, ridges and some depressions (basins) typify the region, and no rivers drain into or out of the area.

There are eight depressions in the eastern Libyan Desert, and all are considered oases.  Those located in Egypt include:  Siwa, Kharga, Al Fayyum, Bahariya, Farafra and Dakhla.  Limited agricultural production, the presence of some natural resources, and permanent settlements are found in the other seven depressions, all of which have fresh water provided by the Nile or by local groundwater.  In most of Upper Egypt, the desert encroaches very near the Nile, with a flood plain only a few kilometers wide.

The three sand seas, which contain dunes up to 512 meters in height cover approximately one quarter of the region.  They include:  Great Sand Sea, Calanshio Sand Sea, and Rebiana Sand Sea.  The dunes were created by the wind.

The Gilf Kebir plateau rises to around 1100 metres in the south and lies in the south west corner of Egypt.  It is similar in structure to the other sandstone plateaus of the central Sahara; its southern rim rising in sheer cliffs separated by wadis.  The northern part is more broken and supports three large wadis of which Wadi Hamra and Adb el Malik are the most distinctive.  Here there is scant vegetation but a profusion of Neolithic artefacts and rock art.  Indeed the southern Gilf and Uweinat are among the richest troves of rock art in the Sahara.  The "Cave of the Swimmers" as featured in The English Patient film is actually Wadi Sora, discovered by the real life László de Almásy, a Hungarian desert explorer, in the 1930s.

Effy Jewelers

Episode Recap:

Anthony Bourdain begins his exotic Egyptian journey exploring the bustling commercial streets of Cairo.  In an effort to avoid the hordes of tourists, he opt to forego visiting the Pyramids, choosing instead the paths less traveled.

Cairo Street Food:  Anthony starts his day with a traditional breakfast of fūl, an Egyptian dish of cooked and mashed fava beans served with olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon juice.

Spice Market:  Anthony meets up with his guide Dr. Sayeed, a professor at the American University in Cairo, who explains the cultural significance of everything Anthony sees.  They visit a vibrant, aromatic spice market, where Anthony learns how Egypt was once a spice trading Mecca for spices from Africa and the Far East to the rest of the western world.

Farahat Restaurant:  Anthony and Dr. Sayeed dine on seasoned and stuffed pigeon, served with tahini, the usual salad side of cucumbers and tomatoes, pickled vegetables, and pigeon soup.  The powerful breast muscles characteristic of pigeons make excellent meat, and they are still considered a delicacy in Egypt, as in many other countries, including France.

Abou Tarek Restaurant:  Anthony meets up with local businessman Maza who takes him to Abou Tarek restaurant to try koshary, a popular traditional Egyptian national dish and fast food.  It consists of a base of rice, brown lentils, chickpeas, spaghetti, and fried onions topped with Egyptian garlic and vinegar and spicy tomato sauce (salsa).  The dish is an import from India.

Qoshtomor Ahua Cafe:  Maza takes Anthony to Qoshtomor Ahua Cafe for tea and shisha, which is tobacco smoked through a hookah—a pipe connected to a small bowl of water to purify and cool the smoke.  Qoshtomor is one of the older, more traditional cafes exclusive to men in Cairo where they gather to socialize and play backgammon.  It's popular with politicians and people in the film industry.

Nile Cruise:  Anthony takes a cruise down the Nile on a felucca—a traditional wooden small sailing craft especially popular among tourists.  His guide Hasan, who is an Egyptologist, discusses the historical context of the Nile.  The cruise ends abruptly when the boat's sail hits a bridge breaking the mast and leaving them and the crew stranded on the Nile.

El-Rafi Restaurant:  Anthony and Hasan head to El-Rafi restaurant for a sizzling grilled meat feast.  El-Rafi is one of the best restaurants in Cairo, and is frequented by the Egyptian elites—journalists, singers, TV announcers, writers, etc.  They feast on kafka, which is ground beef mixed with spices, sausages, lamb chops, and lamb testiciles, along with some tahini and baba ghanoush and salad.

Home-cooked Meal:  Anthony hops a train to visit Seds, lush farming village on the Nile, where he joins up with Yasmine, a Caironese designer whose family is from this small town.  They visit the home of her childhood friend Ayed for some home-cooking.  His family prepares everything fresh:  Egyptian bread; cheese and butter after being vigorously shaken in a goat-skin vessel; and molokheyyah, a pharaonic dish that's been made the same way for thousands of years.  For this meal, they use duck in the molokheyyah.

Western Desert Cookout:  Anthony then heads even further south and into the Western Desert where he meets with some Bedouins, a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group.  Anthony watches as the men slaughter a lamb.  The lamb is then rubbed inside and out with a mixture of onion, garlic, cumin, chili pepper, and black pepper, and then buried and baked in a sand pit that acts as a natural convection oven.  They conclude the meal with singing and playing folk music around a campfire late into the night.

Bedouins are well known for practicing folk musicfolk dance and folk poetry.  Bedouins are traditionally divided into tribes or clans.  Specifically the term Bedouin refers only to the "camel-raising" tribes, but due to economic changes many are now settled or raising sheep.  Starting in the late 19th century, many Bedouins began to transition to a semi-nomadic lifestyle.  In the 1950s and 1960s, large numbers of Bedouin throughout the Middle East started to leave the traditional, nomadic life to settle in the cities of the Middle East.  Government policies in Egypt and Israel, oil production in the Persian Gulf, as well as a desire for improved standards of living, effectively led most Bedouin to become settled citizens of various nations, rather than stateless nomadic herders.  

The following morning they pack up and move on, as the Bedouin have always done.  But before leaving, Anthony contemplates the beautiful vastness of the desert and how it really does change a person.



ARGENTINA:  From the Tango to paragliding to cattle rustling to trekking along icy glaciers, Anthony experiences it all.

AUSTRALIA:  Melbourne has been described as San Francisco without the fog.  Anthony is off to discover what makes it so special.

BERLIN:  Anthony finds himself in Berlin, a city that is for him both good and evil, Eastern and Western, repulsive and appealing.

BRAZIL:  Some say São Paulo feels like LA threw up on NYC.  But Anthony's back for the great food and its welcoming people.

Anthony revisits his love for India's vibrant culture, cuisine & communities with a trip to Kolkata & Mumbai.

COLOMBIA:  A bright and beautiful country that has gone from drug capital to food capital.  Anthony explores its unique cuisine.

GHANA:  Anthony heads to Ghana, West Africa, a land of old forts and slave castles, and a culture filled with great food and music.

GREEK ISLES:  Anthony is on a culinary odyssey to discover if Greece really does have the world's healthiest diet. 

HONG KONG:  A wonder-land of colors, lights and speed, a perfect marriage of modern and traditional, and home to great Asian cuisine.

IRELAND:  Ireland's steeped in history and traditions, both oral & written.  Anthony dispels the myths that it has the worst food on the planet.

JAMAICA:  Jamaica is a vibrant, colorful land full of resorts and reggae music.  Anthony is there to uncover the lesser-known Jamaica.

KOREA:  Anthony gives in to his employee's pressure to visit Korea and, next thing you know, they're in Seoul and the adventure begins.

MEXICO:  Carlos, a head chef in NYC and good friend, gives Anthony a culinary tour of his hometown Puebla and nearby Mexico City.

OSAKA (Japan):  Anthony learns all about kuidaore, which means to bankrupt oneself with extravagance in food and drink!

PARIS: In this very first episode of the series, Anthony heads to the "City of Light" to show, at least the Americans, why the French don't suck.

PERU:  Anthony is on a mission to obtain personal enlightenment in a land of ancient culture, rich cuisine, and vibrant people.

QUEBEC (Canada):  Anthony is off to Québec to indulge in one of his most hedonistic pleasures–foie gras (fatty duck liver).

RAJASTHAN (India):  From gorgeous sights to enticing smells, Anthony explores the magical and delicious offerings of Rajasthan.

ROME:  Anthony adopts the mindset of the Roman people–living a simple life and eating fresh, seasonal ingredients.

RUSSIA:  Anthony explores Russia, where the food is hearty.  Along the way he meets a former Cold War spy and Miss Russia.

SHANGHAI (China):  Anthony is back in China.  From Shanghai to Tibet, he searches for the mythical Shangri-La.

SICILY:  Anthony starts his gastronomic tour through Sicily in style by sharing a spleen sandwich with Sicily's president.

SINGAPORE:  Singapore is serious about food and offers up a cuisine like no other.  Anthony dives in head-first.

SPAIN:  According to Anthony, outside of Asia, Spain is the single greatest place for culinary achievement in the world.

TOKYO:  Anthony is off to Tokyo in search of the relationship between a perfect piece of sushi and a perfect knife blade.

TUSCANY:  Anthony travels to the beautiful Tuscan countryside to visit with friends and enjoy some homemade pasta that's out of this world.

URUGUAY:  Anthony and his brother are on a mission to connect with their roots in Uruguay after learning that Bourdains once settled here.

Anthony visits Vancouver, home to a thriving film industry, gorgeous scenery, and an evolving food scene.


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