Diners in Cairo should take advantage of the unique, plentiful, and very cheap restaurants serving Egyptian favourites. By sitting down in the neighbourhood café and enjoying some light eats and sweet drinks travellers can easily immerse themselves in the local dining culture. This is also a great opportunity for people-watching and mingling with the locals. Favourite Egyptian meals to try include falafel (made out of crushed fava beans), kushari (a tasty mixture of staples like rice, lentils, pasta and caramelized onion) and fattah (a meat, bread and rice dish similar to Biryani).
Although Egyptian cuisine is worth investigating and has a lot to offer, some of the best restaurants in Cairo have an eclectic international focus. Previously largely restricted to hotel restaurants, everything from sashimi to cheeseburgers is now prepared by top chefs in trendy venues. Even traditional local food is getting a creative facelift.
For your pick of the trendiest restaurants in Cairo, Zamalek is a dining hotspot. The downtown areas near Khan al-Khalili are great for cheap local haunts.
In Cairo it is considered unclean to eat with the left hand, and visitors should remember that alcohol is usually not served unless at a hotel restaurant. It is considered good manners to leave food on your plate, as it shows that the host has been generous. It is considered impolite to stare at another person's food in a restaurant. During Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day, many restaurants are closed and, again, travellers should head to a hotel restaurant and avoid eating in public.
Shopping in Cairo is fun and distinctive, characterised by market haggling and the pursuit of antiques, or at least, souvenirs that look like antiques. Many visitors to this vibrant city will have a wonderful time just wandering through the souks (markets) taking in the diverse sights, sounds and smells.
Just about everything can be bought at the largest market in Cairo, the Khan al-Khalili. Most visitors dare not venture deep into the interior as the market can be intimidating, with very persistent touts and a mind-boggling maze of stalls and shops. Bartering is an essential skill when in Cairo and a good rule of thumb is to halve the first asking price and start haggling from there. While haggling, visitors should try to stay unruffled and retain a sense of humour but should still be firm. If you feel you aren't getting a good deal it's always a good idea to show your willingness to shop around. The markets, especially those most popular with tourists, are frequented by petty thieves and conmen so travellers should be on the alert. Women in particular may find that they experience a lot of harassment in Egyptian markets - it is best to dress conservatively and explore in groups. Many travellers prefer to hire guides to give them tours of the markets and help them negotiate with merchants. Hotels can usually recommend reputable guides for this kind of service.
Popular souvenirs in Cairo include painted papyrus scrolls embellished with hieroglyphics, copper and bronze items, jewellery, carpets and leather goods, which can be found away from the main tourist drags. The quality is normally excellent. The Wekalet al-Balah is a must for lovers of beautiful fabrics and Egyptian cotton.
Most shops opening hours depend on the season and shops in tourist areas generally keep longer hours. The majority of stores open at 9am and close at 7pm during the winter months, while during the summer stores often stay open later but close for an extended lunch hour during the day. Opening hours during summer are usually about 9am to 1pm and 4pm to 9pm. During Ramadan opening times can be disrupted.
Cairo nightlife swirls around the aromatic social centre of the city, the coffee shop. The , as they are called, are day and night social gathering spots for locals. Many Muslims don't drink alcohol (although some do) and the ahwas serve the same social purpose as the bars and pubs in many other countries; they are great places to mingle or relax and take a break from frenetic Cairo. In the night hours some cafés also sell alcohol to a select local crowd and foreign visitors are usually welcome.
Most large hotels house a pub, bar or large club. These are very popular spots with locals as well as visitors, and bookings for club tables may need to be made in advance. Clubs usually have relaxing lounge or restaurant atmospheres, often centred around a performance of music or dancing. While this can be great entertainment, some belly dancing shows and clubs in Cairo are fronts for prostitution and travellers should be wary. Large hotels have reputable shows as well as popular western-style discos, usually with an Egyptian-themed twist.
Westerners are generally welcomed everywhere, although women should dress a bit more conservatively than they might at home. During Ramadan, alcohol is only served in 'foreigners only' establishments and drinking and eating in public during the day is frowned upon.