11 December 2009
Egypt Through My Stomach
This always happens. I think to myself, “the weather is hot, I’ve never “loved” cuisine x in the past,” I’ll be fine and not gorge. Incorrect. Instead, I’ll get obsessed with a set three dishes and eat them over and over and over (and over) again until I have to pop the top button of my pants to not burst at the seams. Egypt is - miraculously - no different.
Somehow these foods of the pharaohs don’t hit you right away. At the beginning you just see the streetside vendors hawking giants pots of pasta with “stuff” for 65 cents and you wonder what on earth is in it. Then you decide - after a great deal of thought - to just go for it, so you walk up to the counter, point to the thing the same way you’ve watched Egyptians point and think to yourself, “success, it’s chow time.” Then the guy asks you a question in arabic and I have no clue what he’s saying. Not wanting to look ridiculous and assuming that it’s something like “now, would like sauce x on this?” or “is this to go?” I plaster a big grin on my face, nod and give the man a “thumbs up.”
At this point he apparently changes his course of action based on my response, though I can’t be certain because I haven’t seen the full ceremony without the question. I only prepared for one stream of interaction and that stream is now derailed. He goes about his merry way shaking this, dumping that, spinning this, pouring that; all with a giant grin that says “man, this guy has no idea what I’m saying or doing.” With every passing glance I just smile and nod (possibly one of the greatest traveling tips possible). More questions. More smiles. More nods.
The food preparation dance ends, I pay my 65 cents and minutes later I am forking into whatever it is I have both smiled and nodded to obtain. It is spectacular and I can’t hind it, shouting with a full mouth, “oh my god, this is so good.” I’m stopping locals on the street to let them in on the greatness. “Just smile and nod to every question and you’ll be as happy as me. Hey, why are running away? No, wait, this food is really good. Please go buy some.” Alas, I must fly solo in my happiness.
What, might you ask, is this dish that I have eaten at least once a day every day? Well, it’s apparently the “dish of the people” here in Egypt. Called koshari, it is a low-class filler consisting of pasta, rice, tomato sauce, grilled onions, lentils and chickpeas drowned in a blend of garlic and spice. Basically, it’s heaven on earth. Combine this with the greatest schwarma known to man, 10-cent falafel that’s delectable, Egyptian tea that must be sweetened with crack and a desert made entirely of vegetable oil and six types of sugar and you’ve got the five extra pounds I’m taking with me to Israel. I hope the border officials don’t mind...