Oasis Magazine Articles

Christmas Provisions in Egypt

By Nermin Viner

November 30, 2011

Christmas is just around the corner, and you can’t make it home for the holidays, for some reason or another! But you did promise yourself, your family and your friends, who are living in Egypt or will be visiting you for the holidays, to make the most of, your first non-white, but sunny Christmas. How do you do that?! A bit of a difficult question, but easily answered!

I’ve lived in Cairo for twenty years with my husband and son, who left Cairo last year with his wife. We celebrated Christmas every year in Cairo, as a family and with the many friends we made here and family and friends who visited from the UK. Here are some tips I’ve learned through the years for getting as close as possible to decorating the house for Christmas and making a traditional festive dinner.

Firstly, the tree, what and where are the best places to buy your tree? That also depends on whether you prefer a fresh or plastic one. I always opted for the fresh ones because they’re bigger and Christmasier! But if you prefer the plastic ones, it’s not a bad option, as you can use it for all the Christmas’s you’re spending in Egypt. Fresh trees are sold starting the 10th or 12th of December at flower and plant shops. There are two types of trees, the Egyptian grown, which are shaped like a plush feather, and the imported ones that resemble proper fir trees. Of course the Egyptian grown are much cheaper than the imported, and you can put loads of decorations on them due to their thick layered branches! It might not look the part, but it still gives you that Christmasy feeling! Two years ago those trees cost between LE 80-140 while the imported ones, were above LE300 for a small to a medium sized tree. Since our son and his wife have left Cairo, we’ve had a little plastic one which is equally suitable and nice looking. These are sold in big supermarkets, like Carrefour Maadi, Dandy Mall on the Cairo Alex road, Hyper 1 also on the Alex road, Spinneys at City Stars Heliopolis, Mall of Arabia, again on the Alex road and Alfa Market Maadi. You can get a reasonably sized tree for about LE200 (mind you all these prices are subject to change this Christmas so who knows!)

Of course you can’t have a tree without decorations, lighting and tinsel! Don’t worry these are in abundance everywhere, in supermarkets, gift shops and little nik nak corner shops. Prices range from quite affordable to very expensive.     

When it comes to Christmas cards, unfortunately it’s a bit difficult to find the right choice, but, looking on the bright side, Hallmark opened up in City Stars Mall, so maybe this Christmas we’ll get a better variety.

Let’s get to the subject of food! The traditional Christmas dinner that you need to make you feel at home for Christmas! Whatever type of Christmas roast you’re accustomed to at home, it is available in Egypt, except pork, unless you know somebody who knows someone else who can get it! There is always The German Butchery that sells pork products, but maybe you’ll have to order your joint a long time in advance. We can’t overlook pork sausage rolls or “pigs in blankets” (sausages wrapped in bacon) that are served as appetisers at Christmas in the UK.  Pork sausages or the closest you can get to pork sausages and bacon are easier to find. One place that sells them is Oscar’s supermarket in Heliopolis. A KG of bacon costs around LE 80 and 50 to 60 small pork sausages would be about LE 50, pork frankfurters cost around LE 40 per packet for 7 or 8 big franks.

What about the “big bird” the turkey?! They’re all over the place, but be warned, you have to get yours as early as possible, like end of November, although the supermarkets may not have restocked after Thanksgiving, but it won’t hurt to look, so if you can’t find any, try again the first week of December, but don’t leave it too long!         

Stuffing, unfortunately rarely will you find instant stuffing, I’ve noticed some in Spinneys and probably you’ll find it in Alfa Market, but don’t despair if you don’t, because the ingredients for making your own are very easily attainable e.g. sage, dried fruit, sausages that you can mince etc. So you can improvise and make your own stuffing recipe with whatever ingredients are suitable and available.

Cranberry sauce or jelly is available in big supermarkets, it usually costs between LE 25-28 but always check the expiry date because sometimes it’s got November 2011 as the expiry date and this is usually sold a bit cheaper! I went to Spinneys today and found cans of whole cranberries for around LE25, so if you prefer the whole ones you better get there fast!            

Vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are available everywhere. Brussel Sprouts have scarcely been around the past couple of years, but if you look hard you might be able to get them in the big fruit and vegetable shops all over Cairo and New Cairo districts.

Christmas cakes and cookies, you can find in big 5-star hotel bakeries and in a place called Chantilly in Korba, Heliopolis, it’s a restaurant/coffee shop/bakery. Very rarely do you find them in supermarkets, and unfortunately the supermarket bought cakes are not that rich or moist. If you like to make your own, you can easily buy the ingredients e.g. dried fruit, nuts etc. from the herbal and nut shops in the shopping malls and food shop streets in downtown Cairo. If you want to add brandy or whisky to your cake or confectionary, the local brands are sold at Drinkies or Cheers liquor stores at a reasonable price, they also have a delivery service to all areas!

Christmas pudding, if you haven’t brought some back or asked your Christmas visitors to bring it, you’re in a bit of a fix! Maybe you can find it in Alfa Market and some of the 5-star hotels.              

Mince pies, last year I was able to find a few jars of mince pie filling by Wilkin & Sons in Spinneys supermarket, you can add some local dried fruit and brandy to make it go a long way. A jar of Wilkin & Sons costs about LE 28.

So, as far as Christmas provisions in Egypt are concerned, I think that about sums it up. I hope I was of some help in pointing you in the right direction to make your Christmas in Egypt a home away from home! Have a great one!

Nermin Viner is the British Food Vendor at CSA Maadi

E-mail: scrumptious_catering@hotmail.com

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