The Tribune, Preeti Verma Lal
If you are heading to Egypt, pack an extra stomach, please. For the food in the country is so scrumptious and varied that one stomach will never suffice. Koshari. Ful Medames. Kebda. Keshk. Mahshi hamam. Falafel. Asih Merabrah. Hummus. Fetir. Dolma. Kebab 7 kofta. Molokheyya. The names on Egyptian menu card can flummox a new-foodie, but the taste will linger. Do not get surprised if you see a man carrying hundreds of flatbread (roti) on a wooden trellis-like contraption and walking around the bazaars. By the roadside, men sell bread that look like gigantic pretzels and juice sellers carry large samovars on their back filled with hibiscus or tamarind-laced drinks.
All stories of Egyptian cuisine begin with kosheri, a mixture of lentils, rice, pasta, and other ingredients served with tomato puree and caramelised onions. Often called Egypt’s national dish, the best kosheri is served in Cairo’s historical Abo Tarek restaurant where the meal is concluded with roz bel laban, a sweet rice porridge.
Egyptians have been eating bread since times immemorial. Pyramid workers were paid bread and onion as salary. Excavations and dental analysis conclude that ancient Egyptians ate bread made of emmer wheat. Interestingly, bread in Egypt is used more as pocket to stuff things, to scoop food or to ladle soup. The most popular take-away lunch is sandwich — not the usual bread sandwich, but pita bread filled with falafel or meat.
If you love words and tea, head to the coffee shop in Cairo’s Khan-e-Khalili market where Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfooz sipped his mint tea and narrated stories. Walking through the waif-thin alleys can be treacherous, but the tea is soulful and the stories about Naguib enthralling.
The sweet-toothed travel to Alexandria, the old capital of Egypt which was established by Alexander, the Great, and famous for Alexandria Library and the Lighthouse, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. No one steps out of Alexandria without having large scoops of ice cream in a cone. Or buying crunchy presca (a cross between cookie and chiki) outside the Citadel of Qaitbay. Other desserts include khushaf (dates and dried fruits in water), baked sweet potato, gullash (filo pastry filled with cream or custard and dipped in sugar syrup), kunafa (baked noodles with nuts and double cream).
Pope Shenouda III once said, “Egypt is not a country we live in but a country that lives within us.” You’d agree with the Pope if you ate the Egyptian falafel, flu and kosheri.