If there is one food that is essential to most Arabs, it is bread and nowhere is it more essential than in Cairo which I like to call the city of bread. Wherever you go, you will see bread being baked, or sold, or consumed or simply carried home a little like the ubiquitous French baguette, except that in Egypt it is aysh baladi or shami that is the national loaf. Aysh means life indicating the importance of bread — elsewhere in the Arab world bread is called khobz — while baladi means local; it describes bread made with wholewheat flour while shami which means Damascene describes bread made with regular white flour.
Yesterday was our first day at Koshari Street, an Egyptian inspired vegetarian street food experience, and it was a great day. Everyone loved our koshari except for a few hardened souls (actually two and both male) wanting meat. So, I thought I’d do a post on Cairo butchers. Perhaps our next concept will be inspired by them. Or perhaps not. In any case, for those who crave meat there is plenty of it on the streets of Cairo and in particular all around the beautiful Al-Hussein mosque. It doesn’t take very long before you come across butchers hard at work like the one above, butchering their beef, lamb or camel carcasses in full view of passers-by.
As some of you know, I have written a whole book on Mediterranean street food and while researching it, I tasted almost all there is to taste on the streets of Spain, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt to name a few of the countries I covered. Most of what I tasted was great. Sometimes delicious and fun and sometimes more fun than delicious. But there were a few specialities I did not take to. In particular pani ca meusa, a greasy sicilian spleen sandwich. Nancy Harmon Jenkins who is one of the great writers on Mediterranean food and a friend couldn’t undrestand my repulsion but as much as I love spleen (my mother makes a divine braised version that I will blog one day that I am with her in Lebanon), I couldn’t see the point of this sandwich. Well, not until another great friend, Mary on whose farm we were staying, sent us to Porta Carbona where not only did I finally discover that a greasy spleen sandwich could be absolutely scrumptious but I was also able to convert Amy to it.
I have a new favourite belly dancer. She will not replace Tahiya of course but I just found her on youtube and I love her. I love her perfectly formed body and her sexy yet elegant movement. And I love the mise en scene and how her gorgeous body is shot en silhouette before it appears on the stage of what must have been a very upmarket night club, in the film at least. I wonder why she never became a big star. She appeared in only a dozen films. Perhaps she married and had lots of children and decided to devote her life to them. Our loss!