The Middle East in New York City

Hookah bars, hummus meccas, and great Middle Eastern art make New York City an exotic, affordable place to live out all of your Arabian Nights fantasies

For a more atmospheric, albeit slightly pretentious spot to watch a belly dancer, head to Casa La Femme, a lavish Egyptian restaurant on the Upper East Side. Brace yourself for bankrupting cocktails ($12 and up), but the ambience is hard to beat: cushions lie scattered about, tents line the walls, and cool Arab drum beats weave their way through the crowd. (Casa La Femme. 1076 First Avenue, 212-505-0005)

If you're in the mood for some mellower entertainment, try Cafe Cairo, where you can play chess, backgammon or dominoes for hours, sipping tea or coffee and listening to Egyptian street pop from a rickety stereo. Definitely sample the hookah ($10), a water pipe used for smoking tobacco soaked in fruit syrups. Traditional flavors include strawberry, apple and honey, although novelties like cola and cappuccino are making the rounds now too. (Cafe Cairo. 189 East Houston Street, 212-529-2923)

Shopping, shopping and more shopping

What's an exotic vacation to the ends of the earth without some souvenirs to prove you were there? From elegant kilim rugs to coffee beans scooped from large burlap sacks, New York's Middle Eastern stores stock gifts for every budget.

If you just have a few dollars to spare, check out Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue. Dotted with Arab video stores, travel agencies and delis whose windows are stacked with imported treats, Atlantic Avenue serves as a popular shopping drag for Brooklyn's large Arab contingent. Sahadi, famous for its eclectic selection of dried nuts, grains and spices, is a New York landmark where you can also buy old fashioned candy and a variety of olives by weight. (Sahadi Importing Company, 187 Atlantic Avenue. 718-624-4550)

A few doors up, Damascus Bakery churns out hundreds of pitas every day for sale to many of the city's restaurants and supermarkets. Eastern pastries make great gifts because they stay fresh for a long time, so load up on baklava or konafa ($2), a dessert of crispy angel-hair filled with nuts and soaked in fragrant syrup. (Damascus Bread and Pastry Shop. 195 Atlantic Avenue. 718-625-7070)

For a shopping experience that's easier on the hips, visit Tribal Concepts, a crammed, winding store that feels like a real oriental bazaar. From hand-painted Turkish bowls and evil eye ornaments made of blue and white glass, to Afghan runners and upholstered chests, this established Upper West Sider offers good value for the money and some really beautiful goods. (Tribal Concepts. 231 West 58th Street. 212-957-6504.)

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