Saturday, October 01, 2005

My first taste of Egypt

Touchdown! As we landed in Cairo I pressed my face against the plane's window. Was I really here? Yes, yes, yes! And happy to be here too. As we disembarked and were met by our tour coordinator, I greedily took it all in. Cairo is a bustling city, but the atmosphere was so different from anywhere I had ever been. Men hurrying about in gallabiya (traditional long robes worn by both men and women) or just chilling outside a cafe, smoking a sheehsa (water pipe). Groups of women in veils, chatting happily amongst themselves. But also lots of people in jeans and sport shirts, McDonald's and Pizza Hut. It was both tradtitional and cosmopolitan. Relaxed and frenetic. The citadel (the heart of medieval Cairo) loomed in the distance. Beside me taxis zoomed by at insane speeds. There was an intense dry heat that lulled me into a very contented state of being. Just landed and I was already under its spell.

All my excitement however could not mask the fact that I had just come off a veeery long plane ride, and was very, very hungry. When Nour, our cassanovish tour coordinator (he has 15 girlfriends and never sleeps), asked if we needed anything I immediately piped up, "Food!". So he took us to a street side snack bar where we had two of the most classic and common of Egyptian foods -- fuul and t'aamiyya.

Appropriately enough (for me at least), Egyptians have fuul and t'aamiyya for breakfast. Hooray! My first egyptian breakfast food! Well, they have it throughout the whole day as well, but let's not rain on my parade. We grabbed some goodies chosen by Nour and hopped back into our van.

The picture above is a platter of t'aamiyya. Not seen in the picture is the big vat of oil in which they were fried. Below, is the t'aamiyya snugly ensconced in a pita, with chopped tomatoes, onions, parsely, and some tahina (sesame seed paste), half eaten by me.

T'aamiyya is the Egyptian version of falafel. It's more crisp though, and more green, owing to the fact that they have lots of coriander leaves or parsley together with the ground fava beans. It was definitely similar to the other falafels of my past, but had a slightly different taste...perhaps because it had more greens? Anyway, I loved it!

Below is the fuul. Also neatly spread into a pita, also with some chopped veggies, and also being eaten by me. I was on holiday, so it was "do everything, eat everything" time. Wahoo! Fuul is greenish brown Arabic fava beans. They are boiled and mashed to make a paste, which in turn can be mixed with a score of other ingredients from chickpeas to eggs. This would fall under your Mediterranean bean pastes I suppose, like hummus, but with a different flavor altogether...closer to the taste of the darker bean varieties. It became a quick favorite, and we had it many times throughout our trip.

Together with the fuul and t'aamiyya, we had a side of pickled vegetables called turshi (pictured below). Their sour/sweet crunch went perfectly with the heavy nutty-ness of our bean based snacks.

Our first meal in Egypt, though simple, was still a thrill. And looking back, probably one of my favorites. Jumping around the snack bar and pointing at all its offerings (and causing quite a stir in the process), stuffing our faces in a van that careened wildly at top speed, stopping in a side street to get some orange soda at a corner shop and meeting its cute proprietor Mohammed...all delicious fun.

Here's a little collage of street scenes (apt since our first meal was bought on the street). That cute little fellow in the green and yellow soccer jersey is Mohammed of the orange sodas. The two shawarma grills were from the snack bar where we purchased our goodies. And the other two pictures are of donkey-pulled carts of fresh produce, one of various vegetables and one with a crate of freshly baked bread.

That's it for now...until my next Egypt post!

Note: I must apologize for the quality of some of the I said, I was in a wildly careening van while a few of them were taken :)


Mona said...

That looks soooo damn good I can't believe it..reminds me of my NYC curb-bought falafel pitas. But from Egypt!! Wow, can't get better than that! Oil? Who cares! You were on vacation!

boo_licious said...

Wow, the food looks so yummy that I wish I was visiting Cairo now.

megwoo said...

What an auspicious start! The food looks and sounds so good. I recently found a recipe for fuul (except it was spelled foul) and it was amazing. One of my new favorite dips!


jo said...

thanks for sharing your first glimpses of egypt. it also would've been nice to put in a sneaky shot of cassanova.. :P

i may be wrong, but i think sesame seed paste is tahini (not tahina). it's a key ingredient of hummus.

quick question: are the streets really uncemented (as seen in the donkey pic)?

look forward to seeing more of egyptian food!

p.s. i always have a problem with breakfast--never seem to think of enough dishes to eat early morning, so will patiently go through your blog for ideas. thanks again. :)

ChichaJo said...

Hi Mona! Yes, vacation time is time to indulge. As if! :) I always indulge :P You have such a variety of food in're lucky to be there :)

Hi Boolicious! Yup, it was! Will try to recreate some of the stuff...

And just as I was mentioning recreating some of the dishes...thanks Megwoo for the fuul/foul link! Can't wait to try that one :) Actually, in my guidebooks and on the internet I found both spellings, so I don't really know which one to follow...

And speaking of spelling...hello Jo! Thanks for stopping by! I think it is indeed tahini (the stuff in hummus), again, found various spellings for it including "tahin" :) In fact, there are different spellings for t'aamiyya too! The street in the donkey pic is near the pyramids in Giza. The city streets are all paved :) Will post more breakfast posts soon!

tattum said...

the falafell looks delicious, it reminds me of Morocco, the nearest I've ever been to Egypt. But it was great to have an idea of the culture and food, that are so similar. that caotic look of the streets has a special charm, you may love it or hate it, but it never lets you indifferent...I learned to love it. Besos

Farid said...

The shawarma is making me crazy!!!!

I can eat about 2-3 normal people portions!

Melissa said...

Looks like you had a ball! I must admit, I love Falafels. I've tried to make them, but darn it, they just aren't as good as the local places here in Paris!
Funny, sheehsa bars in the Latin Quarter are very popular with the teenage kids....guess you just can't find Sheehsa bars in 'the states'!
Great post!

Paz said...

From your post, I can imagine standing on one of the streets of Cairo, feeling and seeing the activity around me.

How appropriate that the first Egyptian food that you tasted was "breakfast" food. Really cool!

I LOVE falafels and tried to make it once when I started cooking, but I was not very successful. Your post has inspired me to try again. ;-)

Great pictures!


stef said...

joey, you have such a way with words you transport me to Egypt with this one! looking forward to reading more.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Tattum! Morocco is another place I want to visit! Maybe next time :) I can imagine the cuisines to be similar. Agree with what you said about the chaos of the streets...I love the vibrancy and excitement of it all :)

Hi Farid! I love shawarma too...I can probably eat more than a normal person also, heehee :)

Hi Melissa! I like falafels too...picked up a cookbook in Egypt with a recipe for T'aamiyya and I will try my hand at it :) Funny about the Sheesha, we have them here too in some middle eastern restaurants...the kids here find it cool too :)

Hi Paz! Thanks! I'll let you know how the T'aamiyya comes out when I do try it also...Glad I was able to "paint the picture" for you :)

Hi Stef! Thanks for your nice comments! I'll be writing more soon :)

deborah said...

wow - what an interesting way to start your trip. the pita sounds delicious - i can just imagine the freshness and tastiness of it - especially after your journey. look forward to reading more about your culinary journey

Kai said...

I also love felafel, and it's so exciting to know there is an Egyptian version (but maybe it's quite the other way around, it all started in Egypt and was brought back by the Israelis).
So, shawarma is authentic, huh, I thought it was just a Filipino modification of something Arabian.

The Panda said...

I truly, truly envy you.

dexiejane said...

ahh, i'm so jelaous. it's nice experiencing other cultures. thanks for sharing. i'm just going to live vicarously through you, if you don't mind :)

Lori said...

That shawarma stand is unbelievable! Enough meat to feed a small barangay. :P

the typesetter said...

Wow those goodies look so yummy! And that is one humungous shawarma!

augustusgloop said...

Food looks great and I love your infectious enthusiasm!

You've described the food and atmosphere really well too. I can almost taste it!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Saffron! Yes, it was a welcome change from the airline food! :)

Hi Kai! I'm not quite sure which version came first but I sure do enjoy all of them :)

Hi Panda! Thanks for dropping by :)

Hi Dexie! I love discovering new cultures too...our differences is what makes this world so interesting :)

Hi Lori! Yup, had to snap a pic :)

Hi Bee! Thanks for stopping by! They were really yummy :) I love street food!

Hello there Augustusgloop! Thanks for your lovely comments :)

Lou said...

Egypt's not in my top-10 places to visit before I kick the bucket - but your stories are close to persuading me!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Lou! Thanks for stopping by :) Egypt is great...full of history and mystery :)

Mila Tan said...

Keep posting those pictures, careening van or no, I'm enjoying them a lot! And thanks to the link to the recipe for fuul/foul. Looks easy to make and probably a good item to make in bulk for days when I don't want to cook antying.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Mila! Thanks for your encouragement! :) Megwoo's link to the fuul/foul recipe is great, no? I will try to reproduce it friends are bugging me to make it also because we all loved it! :)

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Lori said...

OH, great! this is beautiful and it's so great you loved the food here! I am living in Cairo right now and although I get a little tired of the fuul and taamiya, it's so great to pick up when I'm starving and in a rush.

For a different variation of the fuul, I am lucky to live with a beautiful Eritrean cook and will post the Eritrean/Ethiopian version of fuul soon enough, as it is our Friday breakfast tradition!!

I love your site!

Ann of Australia said...

I found this page when Googling egyptian food - What a beauty! I leave for Cairo in 2 days and am hungry already. Many thanks for the pictures.
Ann of Australia