Travel Egypt – Part Two – the Hotel and Bread

Usually when you take a cruise, your itinerary begins when you board the ship. Unlike other cruises, this one started and ended at a hotel. Let me explain. We arrived in Cairo, toured there for a couple of days then flew to Luxor to board the ship; sailed for a week and then flew back to Cairo for another couple of days culminating with a trip to Giza and THE pyramids. And I ate ALL. THE. BREAD.

A better than average breakfast

We were lucky enough to stay at the Four Seasons and it is a lovely hotel. Like every Four Seasons in the world. The service is lavish, rooms are spacious and the food…well let’s just say it’s not all great. There is definitely some room for improvement. The breakfast buffet included with our room was above average.

The pastry shop in this hotel knows a thing or two about croissants and all of the bread was delicious (more on that further down the page). They offered American and European staples, along with traditional Egyptian fare, like ful (pronounced fool). Ful is the national dish of Egypt and it is stewed fava beans. The most surprising thing about the breakfast bar was the gorgeous honey display. Several varieties to choose from, plus a local honey that you could scrape right off the comb or break off a piece of the comb to enjoy. Delish!

Dinner however was another story all together. I am not sure what it is about the meat in Egypt, but they cook it to death. It doesn’t matter which meat – beef, lamb, veal – it is all COOKED. The meat dishes at the Four Seasons were cooked within an inch of their life. Almost to the point of being inedible. The fish and chicken were treated beautifully though, and were really tasty.

Great Bread is a THING in Egypt

As in most cultures, bread is a staple in Egypt. And nearly all of it is better than the average bread here in the states. Even the street markets had better bread than we get in the states. The croissants I enjoyed at the Four Seasons were some of the best I have ever had. The little rolls and mini baguettes, served with the cheese and charcuterie on board the ship, were really well executed. Bread making is a THING in Egypt. We saw housewives laying dough in the sun on balconies so it could rise. These were average housewives, not Martha Stewart-y kinds of women with too much time and money on their hands.

It’s not just the big hotels that make their own bread, small Mom & Pop places make their own bread daily as well. We had lunch in Alexandria at a bright fish place filled with tile and large glass windows to see the Mediterranean. They had a gas fired brick oven and turned out their own pita. Yes, it was delicious. While in Aswan, we enjoyed high tea at the historic Cataract Hotel. All of the finger sandwiches were exceptional, even though they had been sitting out waiting for our arrival.

I am forever ruined for the pita that we have access to here; those are pale imitations of what a pita can truly be. Walking through the souk you can smell the bread being made and then you round a corner and see it. Imagine one of those toasters you see on a buffet that takes your bread on a little conveyor belt, and spits your toast out of the bottom. Now imagine it as big as the hood of a mid-sized SUV spitting out perfectly puffed pita that are so hot you have to pass it back and forth in your hands like you are playing “hot potato” with yourself. (Yes, I took a pic. No, it didn’t come out well.) Shawarma wrapped in light thin lavash and petite baguettes filled with all manner of things. The fillings were immaterial, the bread was the star of the show for me. Hi, my name is LeAnne and I am a carb-aholic.

fresh pita is everywhere
New pal Sameh holding the pita fresh from the oven in the souk

Can terroir change the flavor of produce?

Sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to speak with a culinarian or agriculturalist with a really good grasp of the English language to find out why all of the bread was so damn good. All of the staff on board the ship spoke English, but those who spoke it most fluently didn’t have deep culinary or agricultural knowledge. Is the wheat the same variety as we use here in the states? Is it grown differently or milled differently? Is it like grapes, where the terroir can change the flavor and the properties?

I may never know the answer. What I do know is that my husband is looking at a vacation home in Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea and I am not mad about it. At least I will get to eat the good bread again.