Halfway along our Egypt trip, Gabriel messaged me. "Hope you guys are having a great time - what is the strangest thing you have eaten so far?"
I think this random message just about perfectly sums up my relationship with food - I eat most things, and cannot honestly say that there is ANY food I downright dislike. There are foods I prefer, for sure, but definitely nothing I would outright say no to. I'm also enthusiastic about eating new foods, and even if I'm feeling squeamish about them, will never say no to something at least the first time. So, basically, it's established that I'm NOT FUSSY about food.
When I'm travelling though, it's like the ravenous belly of curiosity is opened, and I want to try EVERYTHING I see. ESPECIALLY the street food, the local food, the food the grandmothers cook at home. This proves sometimes a little trying for S - he's very much more cautious, careful and might I whisper with a lisp, sensitive, about the various belly issues one sometimes encounters with street food in strange cities.
Yes, I am calling him a wussy belly.
Anyways, being in Egypt was no different to normal. Here S is, taking me on a fabulous cruise down the Nile, and there I am whining about the lack of authenticity in the meals ("If I'd wanted Western fine dining, I'd have stayed in Australia!") the lovely crew provided.
SO off I went looking for local food, and opportunities to make S groan at my culinary choices.
By the end of the trip, I'd sampled a bit of Egyptian food - and have to say, it was pretty tame. It was DELICIOUS, but not strange - it's pretty similar to Lebanese, Greek and Turkish food, and seemed like a particularly YUMMY cross between all of them.
Case in point - here was the first meal we had upon arrival. See? Very standard and NOT STRANGE AT ALL (but still VERY delicious and chomped down with pleasure).
Still, food doesn't have to be strange to be exotically delicious and mind bogglingly memorable, and in our time in Egypt, couple of meals truly stood out for me.
Firstly, ON the cruise, our chef gave us a lovely cooking lesson in how to cook a classic Egyptian dish - Kushari.
And I fell in love with it PRETTY IMMEDIATELY.
"Kushari, often transliterated as koshary, kosheri or koshari, (Egyptian Arabic: كشرى, [ˈkoʃæɾi]) is a popular traditionalEgyptian national dish. It consists of a base of rice, brown lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, and a topping of Egyptian garlicand vinegar and spicy tomato sauce (salsa). Fried onion is commonly added as a garnish. Koshary is normally avegetarian and usually a vegan dish, possibly reflecting the meatless diet of Coptic Christians during Lentand other fasts and/or the high cost of meat for the lower classes. It is becoming common to add fried liver or shawarmameat as an additional topping.Koshary is one of the most popular, inexpensive, and common dishes in Egypt, and many restaurants specialize in this one dish."
Basically, it has rice, noodles, a tomato based sauce and lentils. It's like my perfect meal, with Chinese, Indian and Italian influences! SUPER WIN! It's such a SIMPLE meal, so utterly effortless, so rustic, earthy and homely, and yet, a taste that had me craving for it for days after, and curious to replicate in my own kitchen at home. I guess it's like the Egyptian version of fried rice, or spag bol, those meals you just whip up, but for me it was heavenly. And perfect.
The other really memorable meal for me, and that has me smacking my lips at the thought, was where our driver decided to be our escort for the day in the bazaar. For lunch, he wanted us to have the Egyptian experience, and led us to a dinghy little Egyptian restaurant, filled with smoke and meat smells, with large, clear plastic bags of raw meat sitting open lazily on the counter tops waiting to be cooked in the 44 degree heat. Egyptian old men sitting about watching the afternoon go by in the market, weak fans barely stirring the heavy air. Slightly unhygienic looking. AH, MY KIND OF PLACE. My tummy leapt with excitement with the dodgy-ness of it all.
Here was the menu:
I really really really wanted to try the ONE STUFFED PIGEON, or at the very lest, the rice with liver. But S just gave me disapproving looks and I knew to stay safe, or I would be ignored with no sympathy should I incur Cairo belly.
So we ordered some very regular fare, with the guidance of our lovely driver.
The flatbread was interesting - very dry, and also very hard. Like a cross between chappati and rye toast. As we ate, Muhammed explained to us the flatbread's cost and method of baking, and also how the government provides it to the poor subsidised. This was VERY standard Egyptian food.
Of course, I had to have some more of that spectacular rice-noodle mixture.
Oh and then, because my name IS SHARON of the "ate almost a kilo of meat at that Churresca in Brasil" fame, we also had some meat. SOME MEAT. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Ok, we ordered a kilo of meat, of variety - there was kebab meat, kofta, some kind of rib... lots of variety. But it wasn't just meat - I'm starting to realise that though we are spoilt with quality of meat in Australia, I've never quite tasted the exquisiteness that comes with skilfully prepared meat in countries like Brasil and Egypt. TRULY (well ok, except that wagyu steak at Rockpool, that was a legend). This meat was physical - it dripped with juiciness, was tender yet robust, and tasted of smoke, bacon and rare meat ALL at the same time. It was perfection, and we chomped our way through its magnificence RATHER happily. Oh god. That meal. *shakes head*
So that's it folks, the best meals I had in Egypt. Tame perhaps, but certainly exploding with flavour and memories.