Egypt Independent

Taste of Zamalek: A Saturday picnic at the Aquarium Grotto Garden



On Saturday, as I was trying to get through my usual weekend rituals, I noticed that Zamalek had come to a complete standstill. As we approached the Aquarium Grotto Garden, I saw that groups of people of all ages were gathered to explore what seemed to be a huge event.

We decided to park the car and check it out. We soon discovered that this was “Taste of Zamalek” — the first event of the sort, a picnic in one of the most beautiful gardens in Cairo.

Different booths had been set up selling a wide range of products. Unlike many of the popular bazaars, however, these focused on selling handmade products, like Fathet Kheir, or organic products like Khadra, which had a beautiful display of colorful pots of flowers and was definitely one of the signature items of the event.

As you walked past the bazaar booths, you came to the food corner — the heart of the event — which brought together many of Zamalek’s up-and-coming deli businesses. Zooba, Lychee, Makani, Cairo Kitchen, Khamira, Zo and The Medley were just a few of the familiar Zamalek hangouts present at the picnic.

Across from the food corner was the children’s corner, which was managed by Cairo Sitters, a group that offers its services in different languages to either tutor or babysit children. As a mother of two myself, I was very interested to see what Cairo Sitters had to offer, which ranged from caregiving, extracurricular activities and help going to events with moms.

At this particular event, they were responsible for the children having a great time, with treasure hunts and tours around the Aquarium Grotto Garden, as well as more focused activities such as crafts and face painting.

The event also featured a photo booth for little ones, with a wardrobe full of funky and stylish costumes to choose from — from hats and boas to glittering accessories and colorful sunglasses. Children excitedly posed for pictures while making silly faces and wearing their best smiles.

Nature Conservation Egypt, a nongovernmental organization, also took part in the festive event aiming to raise awareness about the history of the Aquarium Grotto Garden. Visitors were invited to take a tour to have a look at the aquarium, birds and plants scattered throughout the garden.

An artistic touch was added to the event with the exhibition of eye-catching paintings and sculptures created by Arts Mart, Le Souk, Rania al-Hakim, Fadia Badrawy and other distinguished artists.

The Zamalek Association, which organized the event, also held an auction for new Blackberry mobile phones offered for a lower price than their actual market value. The total proceeds raised that day would go toward the association’s quest to make the upscale neighborhood a cleaner and more environmentally friendly place. At the main gate, there was also a booth for whoever wanted to donate to the cause.

After seeing all the organized parts of the picnic, there came my favorite part — the chill-out zone. In no particular order, there were beanbags thrown on the green areas surrounding the booths where people could just relax and enjoy the fresh air and greenery, two things that we in Cairo seem to totally lack.

Some played board games, others ran after their children in a safe, open space, and many others just enjoyed good conversation, all with the backdrop of bands that were entertaining the crowd.

At the heart of the garden, people were seen letting loose and swaying softly to the music played by a number of promising bands, including Like Jelly, Ahmed Harfoush, Abou W El Shabab and Mariam Ali. It came as no surprise that the songs’ lyrics, featuring anti-regime ideas, seemed to be appealing to the elite residents.

Whether dancing to the music or just listening, the endless smiling faces that surrounded this little oasis could not be missed. For a moment, I forgot what Cairo had been going through all these past months, and was able to genuinely enjoy some quality time in my beloved city.

Additional reporting by Heba Helmy

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.