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Cairo's Back-Street Markets

Cairo, Egypt

Wandering through colorful market streets in Cairo's Islamic quarter, you feel the clash between traditional and modern, religious and secular, and east and west.

Complete Video Script

Cairo's a fascinating clash between traditional and modern, religious and secular, east and west. While its chaos can be exasperating, it can also be a rewarding challenge for the adventurous traveler.

I find that simply venturing a few blocks away from the tourist-friendly bazaar — suddenly, the tourists are gone, and I'm swallowed up in a completely local scene. Wandering through the colorful market streets here in Cairo's Islamic quarter, you feel that it goes on forever.

Three-wheeled tuk-tuks weave through the action. I love to hop in one for a quick joyride. There's something strangely graceful about this chaotic dance of careening vehicles, merchants, and pedestrians.

Exploring the Islamic quarter creates a montage of memories. It's a commotion of activity. Everywhere you look, something you've never seen before is happening. Somehow, bikers balance rustic racks of bread.

Craftsmen inscribe marble tombstones with verses from the Holy Quran: "The peaceful soul, after a blessed life, will finally rest in heaven." With a little effort, you'll find it can be easy to become part of the scene.

In this shop, a man spins delicate strands of flour that will become a favorite local pastry, kanafeh.

The classic street food here is koshary: lentil, rice, pasta, garlic, and tomato sauce, all mixed together into a quick and cheap treat. The distinctive clanging stokes local appetites.

And small bakeries are steadily producing hot balloons of pita bread — destined to be filled with falafel. Bread is subsidized by the government to make life easier for people struggling to feed their families.

Walking through neighborhoods like this, you gain an appreciation for how just making ends meet is a daily struggle for millions in a teeming city like Cairo.