Egyptian tea culture
The British know a thing or two about tea, but there are few countries that can rival Egypt when it comes to the popular drink, or shai as they call it here. After all, Egypt is a Muslim nation, so the local drinking culture doesn’t feature alcohol in the same way it does in the UK.
Egyptians will only import the best tea from places like Kenya and Sri Lanka where the flavour is unrivalled. In Northern Egypt the shai is called koshary and is prepared with mint leaves and sweetened with sugar. In the south it’s called saiidi, and is drank black with a large helping of sugar. Much like we would have a hot toddy, tea is often used for medicinal purposes, either mixed in with traditional medication or with other herbs such as ginger, hibiscus and salep. Obviously, the main difference is the lack of alcohol.
Cairo is home to large amount of tea houses, but they can also be found all over the country including the Red Sea resort areas. It was customary for men to congregate, socialise and discuss politics while sipping a shai. But these days there are plenty of modern places which draw in curious visitors, most just after a break from bartering in the Egyptian souks.
The great Egyptian civilisation
Egypt is better known for its remarkable monuments. These statues were commissioned by the many pharaohs who ruled Egypt between 3150 BC and 30 BC, and were known as the God-like kings of ancient Egypt. The first and largest pyramid, Giza Pyramid on the outskirts of Cairo, was built as a tomb for the ancient pharaoh Khufu. But that’s not the country’s only claim to fame, you’ll also stunning temples, mummies and other artefacts on holidays to Egypt.
It’s easy to think the Egyptians were obsessed with death, but it was a culture that revered both life and the afterlife. Gratitude was a big deal in ancient Egypt much like today. They once conducted a ceremony called The Five Gifts of Hathor, where poor labourers were encouraged to raise their left hand and name the five things they were most grateful for.
Ingratitude was considered the ‘gateway to sin’, and was said to bring about negative thoughts. In fact, this ancient philosophy has been relayed in modern self-help books.
The desert people
With two thirds of this magnificent country covered in sand, they are many desert communities with their own traditions and cultures.
The Siwa Oasis, Egypt’s most isolated settlement, is home to 23,000 people of Siwi origin. Most are descended from Berbers, people who are indigenous to the Western Desert and who once roamed North Africa.
They survived this harsh landscape by selling dates and olives, which they’d transport across the arid landscape on camel tracks, their only contact to the outside world. But today the world comes to them looking for once-in-a-lifetime desert adventures.
Their culture developed in a host of ways, making fantastic basketry, pottery, embroidery and silverwork – though with fashions seeping in from the outside world, silver was eventually replaced by gold. Wedding garments were especially decorated with symbols related to Siwa’s history, beliefs and superstitions.