Friday, April 21, 2006

Camel Burgers


Karen, Princess of Power, hear me!

Yes, yes indeed. It is time for another one of my comprehensively researched and not at all boring articles about food. An army marches on its stomach and diet has a profound effect on the esprit de corp of the OC. You should have seen the look of elation on Jason's face when we tucked into his first plate of Brazilian beans and rice. It was like watching a junkie find a fresh vein. Similarly, my morale has never been as low as when I realized that what I thought was a bowl of Vietnamese cat soup was actually pork intestine stew. Charlie always gets the last laugh. This time, it is the cuisine of Egypt under the knife. Let me know if all this writing about eats is getting tedious.

I think it best to start with a brief discussion of the two staples of Egyptian cuisine: tea and bread. The former is consumed all the time and everywhere. Sugar is optional, but conventional, and liberally applied. Milk is unusual. Sometimes you get a refreshing sprig of mint thrown into your glass (there are apparently no mugs in the country). The hot syrupy mix is just the tonic for the throat-roughening effects of desert dust and dirty Cairo air. Bread comes in two major varieties and also appears at just about every meal. My preferred form is a spongy flatbread thicker and darker than what you might expect from the Middle East. This loaf is no flimsy bit of pita upon which to heap humus - it is a sturdy material to be reckoned with on its own level. The other variety is lighter, thinner, and drier. Its ubiquity is matched only by its inferiority. Shame.

Egyptians that live in mid range hotels start their day with a simple breakfast of bread, butter, cheese, jam, and tea. Those that live in somewhat nicer hotels may also indulge in a boiled or fried egg. I can only assume that people that live in normal homes or apartments eat something similar. Lunch is taken around noon and is no more filling than the Western equivalent, although the content differs quite a bit. Common meals are a bowl of pasta and lentil starch mush topped with a tasty tomato sauce, mashed fuul beans and bread, or any of a variety of pizza-like savory pastries. Dinner is served around six or seven. It can be similar to lunch, but there is a definite tendency toward grilled meats. Kofte-style mince is big as is sausage and chicken pieces. Pork is, of course, just not on. Main dishes are frequently accompanied by shared spreads (humus, eggplant), salads (cucumber, lettuce, and tomato), pickled vegetables, and either really nice buttery rice or soggy french fries.

Some details of particular note:
  • Bedouin bread - Our desert guide carried with him a bag of very stale Western-style bread. From time to time, he would break off bits and dunk them into water before eating. I am guessing that this is more of a preservative than a flavoring technique.
  • Booze - They do make beer and wine in Egypt. We did not drink any, though. Allah forbids it.
  • Meat cylinder - You know those rotating meat cylinder things they have in "Turkish" kebab places? They got those in Egypt, too. Maybe its the sand, but the crappy meat you get in Cairo is much better than the crappy meat in Bethnal Green.
  • Salty nuts - Everywhere that a US city would have a Starbucks, Egyptian cities have a snack shop. They sell all kinds of nuts and dried fruits and such by the bagful. My favorite is the pumpkin seeds.
  • The big squeeze - Juice bars occur almost in parity with snack shops. I never went in one, but it looks like they stock a huge pile of some seasonal fruit (oranges when we were there) and juice 'em one glass at a time.
  • Okra and venison tagine - Some of you may know of my deep affection for slimy food. The okra is the clear king of the slimy vegetables and my favorite green thing. In Sharm, I had a tagine (tangy stew) made from a big hunk of venison and an ocean of groin-grabbingly good okra in a thick, salty tomato sauce. My underwear is getting tight just thinking about it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have forgotten my blogger login, so will have to be 'Annon' (it's Lazza)...relieved to read your latest food installment as I managed to have my first OC inspired dream which actually didn't go too well for you Mike (you took a bullet and let's just say the scene that unfolded surpassed anything ever seen in Matrix) and Jason tried to steel your resolve to live by making a list of all the girls in the world that would be sad at your passin (I kid you not, I had this dream!). Anyway, long story short I woke up and being a superstitious thing wondered if there was any meaning and if I should try to get in touch...but lets say I let laziness win! Alrighty, glad you are both intact...and well, as you were. xx (one for each as I'm fair with my affections)

4/22/2006 12:41 AM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard that vast amounts of Okra and venison tagine can cause these types of dreams...

I'm just glad your desert trek did not end with: Mike has died of dysentery.

4/22/2006 4:08 PM gmt

Blogger Mik3 said...

Lazza - I could not have written a better death scene for the OC Movie myself. Out of curiosity - who is on the least of soon-to-be-distraught damsels?

Derek - Only if you make the tangine with Guatemalan Insanity Okras. Also, the desert trek was more Gauntlet than Oregon Trail. Mike needs water...badly.

4/24/2006 5:26 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahhhh...King Mikey you haven't forgotten about me! boring articles nonsense! keep them coming.....

4/26/2006 7:10 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG...that pix is hilarious!!! I cant stop laughing!!! I remember when you took that pix-while we were in that 2 occupancy elevator.... good times....

4/26/2006 7:13 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mik3 --- Larissa did actually recount to me the list of said damsels shortly after she had the dream. IIrc it was:

1. Yer maw

Jason's maw wasn't on the list. Apparently she said you were shite, ergo you could go ahead and merrily expire for all she cared.

Love, Al

5/01/2006 4:18 AM gmt

Blogger Mik3 said...

Al - You cut me. You cut me deep. What about your ma?

Anonymous - King Mikey?

5/01/2006 2:23 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous-King Mikey=Karen, Princess of Power, hear me!

5/01/2006 6:42 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

silly billy....

5/01/2006 6:42 PM gmt

Anonymous Anonymous said...

up the apples and pears....

5/01/2006 6:43 PM gmt


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