Eating Our Way Through Egypt
Sometimes food is more just a meal. In Egypt, food is a vehicle for hospitality and we experienced this several times on our trip.
We had a great time in Alexandria and as I've blogged elsewhere, this was a nostalgia trip focused on revisiting my childhood home. The first afternoon we were walking near the Catacombs, this area is typical old Alexandria, narrow roads, lots of street life, men playing dominos on the street and talking in the coffee shops. It was all very familiar. As we walked we passed a beautiful fish and seafood stall where they fry and grill up fish for local residents. I really wanted a meal of fresh fish, which I remembered so vividly from my childhood. I asked the local guide if we could stop and said I'd be happy to sit on the street and eat." No", he tried to explain to me, "this is just for taking food to go", as he pointed at two women waiting to take their orders home for lunch. But without understanding a word of each others language, the owner understood what I wanted. He explained to the guide if we returned after the catacombs he would have a lunch ready. What serendipity!
It's hard to explain how magical this experience was. The young cook (above) used to work in a tourist restaurant kitchen but lost his job when the cruise ships stopped coming to Alexandria. So now he is selling fish on the street. When we arrived back he had set up a table in the back, behind the stall and there was a feast for two. grilled butterflied fish with peppers, small fried fish, rice with shrimp, baba ganoush and tahini as well as a salad and vegetables. We were stunned, the guide couldn't believe it either. In addition they brought D. a coke from the shop across the street, mint tea and a wonderful pomegranate juice served over crushed ice for me. It was all fresh, local and delicious, we appreciated every bite. It was one of the most memorable lunches we've eaten.
Alexandria is know for it's seafood but it's also known for the preparation of offal. After our enormous lunch we weren't looking for a large meal but in the evening we had a lovely walk around The Cecil where we were staying. A few blocks from the hotel we saw a small food cart and stood for a moment to watch the owner prepare the famous Alexandrian liver dish as well as sausages, heart and brains. As we stood watching, the cook started offering us small tastes and we struck up a conversation with a young couple waiting for their meal. It was a lovely interaction and we ordered some of the sausages which were served with peppers in a small roll. The young man we were talking to wanted to pay for our snack which was far too generous, but it speaks to how friendly and welcoming people are in Alexandria.
Overall the food in Egypt isn't a good as the food we enjoyed in Syria and Lebanon but we certainly ate very well. At Mena House we ate at the wonderful Indian restaurant I remembered from my childhood. In Luxor we had a lovely lunch (below) at Sofra compliments of our travel agent Mr. Simman of Djed Egypt. who also owns the restaurant
In Cairo we had a stimulating evening of conversation and food with a friend of my brother-in-law's, on one of the boats floating on the Nile -again we were enjoying more Egyptian hospitality. It was also a great opportunity for us to learn about the political realities in contemporary Egypt.
Some of the best meals we ate were at the Al Moudira hotel in Luxor and on the dahabiya. I particularly loved the vegetarian lunches on the boat which were fresh interesting and varied, day after day, see above.Good food was an advantage of picking a dahabiya where the owner owns a restaurant too! They prepared so many wonderful dishes just for the two of us.
When I think of all the food we enjoyed in Egypt I think about the companionship that went with it.