صباح الفل Sabah il-full from Egypt! This colloquial greeting literally means “morning of jasmine” in Egyptian Arabic. With a history spanning more than twelve thousand years, Egypt is one of the oldest and most populous nations in the world. Today, evidence of its global influence is easy to find in Buffalo’s historic Forest Lawn Cemetery (above) where we discovered not only a stately sphinx but also dozens of pointed obelisks rising high into the air.
For breakfast on Saturday morning I made the Egyptian version of what had been one of our favorite dishes from Syria in 2015: fool, made with fava beans (puréed, this time) and lots of chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, and onion. We enjoyed the platter with some oven-warmed pita.
After breakfast, we turned to Geography Now not only for an overview of the country itself (below) but also for a second video about the history of its flag.
Shortly before noon, we boarded a bus to North Buffalo and found ourselves at the House of Hummus, a new Middle Eastern restuaurant on Hertel Avenue. We both ordered steaming cups of mint tea, an Egyptian favorite, which was first to arrive from the kitchen. Not long after came Jess’s “vegan suprise” (a pita wrap with falafel, hummus, Jerusalem salad, fried eggplant, and cauliflower) and my shawerma platter (lamb and beef with hummus, pita, Jerusalem salad, and rice). Lots of delicious food!
After lunch, we headed next door to the Jerusalem Halal Market, a grocery store where we managed to find some fresh pita, ghee (clarified butter), and imported figs. Hertel Avenue is also home to the North Park Theatre, which was hosting—by complete coincidence—a screening of The Mummy (1999) that very afternoon.
Although it depicts some of Ancient Egypt’s more notorious cultural traditions—including mummification, pyramids, and a general fascination with the afterlife—this American blockbuster was actually filmed in Morocco and would probably have taught us nothing new (nor particularly accurate) about the country itself.
We tried watching this tourism film about Egypt after we returned home in the afternoon, but the endless parade of dusty temples and pyramids got old fast.
For dinner, Jess prepared a popular Egyptian meal called koshary, which her recipe described as “a strange combination of macaroni, rice, lentils, chick peas, and a spicy tomato sauce, topped with fried onions,” plus two additional sauces. What a feast!
Before watching our feature film for the evening, I baked a batch of ghorayeba, or Egyptian butter cookies. We pressed a dried clove into the top of each cookie before putting them in the oven. A few of them got burned, but the rest care out buttery and delicious.
The film was The Closed Doors (1999), in which a disadvantaged Egyptian youth falls under the spell of Islamic fundamentalism as he struggles to find a place in society for himself and his loving mother.
The next morning, I whipped up another batch of fool. This time, we ate it with the fresh pita that we had purchased the day before at the Jerusalem Market. We continued to learn about modern Egypt by watching this report from Vice News about some recent protests against the presidency of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi:
For lunch, I made an Egyptian stew called louvia filled with tomatoes and black-eyed peas. The recipe is not so different from the Ikarian (Greek) stews that I often like to make when we’re not globetrotting. And some of the stews that we prepared for Cyprus also fall into this category. Gotta love the eastern Mediterranean!
We tried the stew together with some more pita bread and then settled down to watch a documentary called People of the Nile, filmed by Al Jazeera in 2015. Life on the river for Egypt’s poor fishing families has grown more difficult in recent years as their own population has increased while the population of fish has moved in the opposite direction:
This fascinating documentary felt more authentic than some of the narrowly focused films that we had watched earlier. We became similarly engrossed by another documentary, below, which highlighted some “Egyptian Food Essentials” as found in the kitchens of several Egyptian-Australian chefs.
As we enjoyed more of Jess’s koshary for dinner, we also got to sip some of her freshly brewed hibiscus iced tea (karkade). Hibiscus can be found growing up and down the Nile river valley, where it is prized for the rich flavor and color of the tea that its flowers can produce.
After dinner, we watched a fascinating documentary about Cairo’s medieval quarter called Living With the Past (2001), which chronicled some modern efforts to preserve the city’s architectural heritage without turning its vibrant streets into a tourist museum:
Egypt may be home to one of the oldest and most storied cultures in the world, but our weekend globetrot gave us a more detailed look at its food, its history, and its people. After spending a few globetrotting weekends entirely at home, we were also glad that Egypt gave us the chance to get out into the community and visit some local businesses. Until next time, safe travels!