- Middle East/North Africa
It was a longstanding family ritual. My mother, little sister and I--with nicely braided hair and colorful dresses--would take a taxi downtown to buy halawet el-moulid, the delicious sweets traditionally distributed to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohamed.
Halawet el-moulid was first introduced by the ruling Fatimid dynasty in the tenth century, in an effort to win over its Egyptian subjects. It is a delicacy that combines honey with nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts and sesame, in addition to a horse and doll made of pure sugar. As time passed, other non-Arab items were added to the repertoire of halawet el-moulid, including the celebrated Turkish delight.
Nowadays, halawa is no longer a political tool, but rather a social habit designed for the gratification of in-laws, children and wives. At the same time every year, many Egyptians embark on an intensive search for the best halawa in town.
One of the best-known patisseries and specialized outlets for halawa is Ahmed Attia on Kasr el Nil St., in downtown Cairo. The old, marble-covered shop has been in the pastry business for more than 70 years and the staff is friendly and helpful. But one is advised to visit Ahmed Attia a full day or two before the Moulid in order to avoid crowds of disoriented customers. Don’t go by car--it's impossible to find a parking spot--and try their basbousa with cream, considered the best available. Prices ranges from LE50 to LE150 per box.
Another good place for Halawa is Al-Abd. Aside from boasting the best nuts in Cairo, Al-Abd offers a wide range of halawa during the Moulid. Prices couldn't be better: nothing exceeds LE100. Stores are located at 25 Talaat Harb St. and 26th of July St. Like all places downtown, though, parking is hopeless.
Since establishing itself as the poshest patisserie in town, Le Carnaval has also become a major halawa supplier for those elements of the upper crust that appreciate quality sweets. Despite its exorbitant prices, the store--located at 48 Michel Bakhoum St., Mohandessein--is always busy. Le Carnaval offers tasty sweets, creative ideas and great service. There is valet parking and your purchases will be conveniently carried to your car.
La Poire, meanwhile, has branches all over Cairo, and is often the savior of last-minute buyers. Their skillful staff can provide you with a nicely arranged box of sweets in five minutes. Boxes cost between LE120 and LE150. Their shop, located at 1 Latin America St., Garden City, is never crowded, but make sure to drop by in the morning for guaranteed freshness.
As for Zamalek and Heliopolis residents, these have been graced with the famous Kweidar Mandarine, a veritable nexus of oriental confections. People are constantly mulling in and out, and customers risk waiting up to 45 minutes in line. Prices are reasonable, ranging from LE80 to LE150 per box, and the sweets are heavenly--much better than the service. Don’t forget to order the Turkish delight with cream, their signature creation. The Zamalek branch is located at 17 Shagaret El Dor St.; the Heliopolis branch at 5 Baghdad St. in El-Korba.
Sale Sucre, meanwhile, also guarantees high-quality sweets. Prices are on the high side, but service is good and fast. Although they are well known for their gateaux soiree and cake, Sale Sucre’s oriental delicacies still rank among the best in town. For Mohandessein residents, this cozy confectioner is the place to be.
No matter where you go, or how much you spend, Moulid el-Nabi is a social--and spiritual--occasion for people to exchange tasty treats and friendly visits.
Ahmed Attia: 239 386 96
Al-Abd: 239 244 07; 239 521 21
Le Carnaval: 333 88 902 or visit them online at www.lecarnaval.net
La Poire: 19515
Kweidar Mandarine (Zamalek): 273 550 10; 241 865 55