Planning to go to Egypt? Don’t forget to take a sip of Karkede. You will fall in love,” the staff from the embassy of Egypt in Muscat had said while he handed over my passport and the necessary travel documents. This was way back in the year 2009, when I was literally over the moon at the thought of being able to visit the land of the Pyramids.
Food was perhaps the last thing on my mind and I was taken aback by his statement. An Egyptian going ga ga over a beverage more than their heritage, history, and most of all the most sought after Pyramid, was quite unexpected.
Nevertheless besieged with history, I landed in Cairo a few days later. While I waited to go on a cruise down the River Nile, I was welcomed by a purplish drink.
“Welcome to Egypt. This is Karkede and you must try this,” said the cordial staff at the lobby. He endorsed the drink in almost the same enthusiasm as the staff at the Egyptian embassy in Muscat had done and I could not say no. I embarked on an Egyptian food voyage, with history in heart and a glass of Karkede. Karkede is hibiscus tea made out of dried red hibiscus flowers boiled in water and in which sugar is added. “The unique feature of this drink is that you can have it both hot and cold,” he added.
He also told about Egyptians’ love for this drink, which was sold at almost every nook and corner of the city. It was also known to be a preferred drink of the pharaohs, he said. During my four days cruise, while I got plenty of time to seep into history, each time the cruise docked at a particular historical site, I also realised that when it comes to their food, the portions reveal an inclination towards generosity. Never expect small portions if you are in Egypt and that’s exactly the lesson that I mastered right on the first day itself.
While the meals, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, in the cruise had plenty for us to choose from catering to different palates of different regions, it was natural for most of the tourists to be drawn towards Egyptian cuisine.
Egyptian cuisine caters to all types of palates and even if you are a vegetarian you will have plenty of choices. On the first day, a co-traveller recommended us to try Taameya. Being a complete novice on Arabian cuisine during those days, it never occurred that Taameya was actually falafel, a popular snack in Egypt.
It was followed by Koshari, a famous street food made of rice, lentils, fried onions, and pasta and coated in a thick tomato sauce. It’s an all-time Egyptian favourite. It was not all. The next few days at the cruise, food was novel in all aspects as we were introduced to the authentic Egyptian cuisines. From exquisite dishes like Hamam Mahshi; small pigeons stuffed with rice and wheat and then roasted, and Mouloukhiya; a stew cooked with chicken or lamb chunks flavoured with coriander and garlic, to the famous ones like Baladi or vegetable salad, Dolma; stuffed vine leaves and Ummaali, the most sought after dessert. We also had milk cake called Aziaiya and Sheikalama, almond coconut cookie. While Egyptian cooking is mostly done by baking, grilling, sautéing, and smoking, the spreads each day made it evident that Egyptians are ardent meat and fish lovers. They are liberal while using spices and seasoning, and that is reflected in their choice of food.
Like other Middle Eastern cuisine, in Egypt too, no meal is considered complete without bread that is usually made with a mixture of whole meal and white flour.
And if you are in Cairo, while there are plenty of up market eateries don’t miss the food sold in the streets at the heart of the city.
But if you aren’t and still want to taste their street food right here in Muscat then a visit to Kusharina is in order. (Kusharina is in the Badr al Qurum Building, Ras Al Hamra Street, in Qurum next to Chez Sushi. They have no contact number at this time). This new Egyptian joint serves the finest roadside delicacies of Egypt from their bright, hip space. Their Koshari is not to be missed.
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