Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Exoticness of Standard Fare

The more time I spend in Egypt, the more I see that reminds me of my grandfather. He's not Egyptian, though the fact he was born in Alexandria confuses most people. And until the British were force-ably removed in 1952, he lived and work in Alexandria. He worked for a ship-chandler but in cohesion with  the natives (terminology from his day) enough that he wrote and spoke the language and partook of many of the meals that were typical of the roadside eateries of the area. Still, 50 years along, I hear stories of meals they ate, learn first hand how to make delicacies, the ingredients of which are only now becoming available in our spice markets and foreign grocery stores. Dishes like Ful Mesdames have become a standard part of my diet, a quick and refreshing meal to make on a lazy evening when takeaway just won't cut it.

It is a strange feeling as I feel I should be exhibiting feelings of interest or excitement at trying something new and exotic, and yet more and more I find I it to be something I know from my own unexciting, perfectly standard childhood. For me, the delight of watching baba-ghanoush being made before my eyes was missing: here is not an exotic dish that was only ever found in the aisles of the supermarket, but one I've seen before, I've made before, one even the most un-ethnic of my family have perfected the art of making.

And then to hear the standard fare of the local Egyptians when meat is short or unavailable, the strangest and most unusual (un-western may seem a more appropriate term if such a term exists) of the Egyptian dishes to which we were introduced. It's a dish I recognise, if more by taste, by name, by story, by my Mother's reaction: a gelatinous soup made for the leaves of a local plant of the name Molokhia.

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