A Wealth of Gruel

A few images from Egypt:

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To begin with, this is Egyptian fast food, from the chain restaurant GAD (as in “e-GAD, this is good!”). Egyptian cuisine is heavily reliant on legumes, so most dishes resemble a vegetable or bean stew of one kind or another (such as the famous ful medames). Fresh pita bread comes with everything. It’s fun to watch people ride a motorbike while balancing a massive tray of freshly baked bread on their head.

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Deep fried feta, also from GAD.

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Sandwiches available from GAD. I was not brave enough to order that last one, to my eternal regret.

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Mint tea is always required when cruising down the Nile.

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Meze! Humous and tabouleh. I will never get sick of these foods.

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You know how you always crave dolmades and when you get them they’re kind of boring? Well, Egyptians fry their dolmades. Dolmades are now perfect.

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Did I mention the spices? Egyptians love spices. Some of the brightest smelling spices I have ever smelled. Makes me wonder how old that stuff is in the supermarket.

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Another entertaining menu. I was on a mission for stuffed pigeon (or ‘crammed’ if you prefer).

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Order a crammed pigeon, however, and that’s the cue for the restaurant to bring you out a feast. Whoops. And no, pigeon doesn’t taste like chicken. Well, not really. Okay, it tastes like chicken.

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Camel stew. Boy, is camel good. It doesn’t taste like chicken either, more like a very tender and slightly gamey beef. I want some right now.

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I can’t remember what this was but it was good too.

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I can remember what this was because I wrote it down because I wanted to make it. Mulukhiyah soup, bright and green and delicious. Unfortunately, mulukhiyah turned out to be jute leaves, which are not readily available in this part of the world. Also starring: shwarma, deep fried cauliflower, more fried dolmades, and Heinz brand hot sauce. Tabasco has yet to hit the market in Egypt.

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Beef and onion fiteer, aka Egyptian pizza. Kind of like bourek, which I used to live on in the Turkish district of Melbourne.

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This humble-looking dish of pasta, chickpeas, cumin-infused tomato sauce and fried onions is koshari. In Egypt entire restaurants are dedicated to this dish – you just say small, medium or large (this is small). Koshari is sometimes called the national dish, and like all national dishes, there is no consensus at all as to how to make it. I thought it was going to be kind of bland, but it was probably the highlight of the trip. This restaurant served it with a little dish of hot sauce and a pitcher of vinegar on the side, which really made it. I’ve been experimenting at home, but have yet to perfect the recipe. Stay tuned.

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8 comments to A Wealth of Gruel

  • Muzhik

    While I’d like to learn to make the crammed pigeon (I imagine Cornish Hens could be substituted if you didn’t want to make a trip to the park), what I’d REALLY like to do is learn how to make that cup of coffee in your last photo. (That IS coffee, isn’t it?)

  • Turkish style coffee boiled up with sugar. Good stuff.

  • Anonymous

    Just reacting to the layout and pictures, I suspect you’re going to convince me to become a world traveler. Really beautiful; looking forward to reading in full later.

  • war pig

    It’ll put hair on your chest, that’s for sure. That coffee is not for the young.

  • BCM

    And that is what we call a food hardon, folks. I am going to have to make Egypt a point of travel.

  • Muzhik

    OK, give. It’s been over a week since you posted those pictures and descriptions, and NOT ONE RECIPE? C’mon! Throw us a bone. Or at least a cup of coffee.

    You say, “Turkish style coffee boiled up with sugar.” So, is that something a noob can cook up using items found around the house? Can I use the cheap stuff I usually buy on sale or do I have to buy some specially-grown/specially-ground exotic coffee that’s available in the US only if you know the right importer? Do you boil it with white sugar? Brown sugar? Or is this a chance to use up some of that maltose I bought at the Chinese food store a couple of years back?

    P-p-pleeeeaaassseee???

  • Hi Muzhik, I try not to post recipes unless I’m confident I’ve come up with either a) something original b) something rare or c) something too good not to share, and I’m not there right now. But Turkish coffee I can help with.

    Turkish coffee is a technique, not a varietal, so you can use any bean you like to make it, but the important thing is the beans are ground as fine as humanly possible. It’s boiled in a special pot which is taller than it is wide called a ‘cezve’ (although my mother used to make it in a regular tiny saucepan). You measure out the powdered coffee beans, white sugar to taste, and cold water, then slowly bring it to the boil. My mother also added cardamom pods. Some swear that you have to bring it to the boil three times, but I don’t think this is a good idea because back when I was a barista my fellow baristas and I tested it and it wasn’t. The idea is to retain as much of the foam as possible when you serve it, and we found repeated boilings destroyed the foam. It’s served in demitasse cups for full effect. The coffee is so finely ground you can actually eat the dregs with a teaspoon and they taste good. Crazy, huh?

    Also, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_coffee

    I will try to provide a recipe soon. Sometime after fourth of July.

  • Muzhik

    Hmmmm…. This actually reminds me of the stories of my late father-in-law, who served during WW2 down in Louisiana. There, they always had huge urns of coffee boiling the whole day through. Come evening, the kitchen workers (who were all local Louisiana boys) would take the very thick remains of the boiled down coffee and mix it with about a quarter-cup cream and a quarter-cup sugar for every cup of coffee. The guards loved that, because it would keep them awake the whole night through!