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Carrying back the many flavors of Egypt

February 6, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH, For The Leader-Herald

I just returned from Egypt. Soon after Christmas, my husband and I began a long awaited adventure in the ancient Middle Eastern country of Egypt. For two weeks, we experienced the Jewel of the Nile, this country with the oldest and richest history of any country in the world. And we visited modern-day Egypt, with its 80 million Muslims, Christians and others crowded in cities or farms along the fertile Nile valley.

We joined the 15 million tourists that visit Egypt each year. We rode a taxi in the overcrowded streets of Cairo. We visited the Great Pyramid at Giza. In Cairo, we slept in a hotel that overlooked the Nile. We visited Tutankhamen, Nefertiti and Rahotep at the spectacular Egyptian Museum. We bargained at the famous market of Khan el Kahilih. We awed at 5,000-year-old mummies. We cruised for a week along the Nile. At Luxor, we visited the tombs of Karnack and the egocentric Ramses the second. At Aswan, we viewed the great dam project and the 350-mile-long manmade Lake Nasser. We posed in front of the Colossi at Abu Simbel. We learned to write Arabic.

Before returning home, we took a train to the historic and beautiful seaport of Alexandria. We visited the internationally designed Bibliotheca Alexandria with 2,000 seats for reading. On the street, we ate a hot puffy crust of pita bread purchased right out of the wood fired brick oven. We ate at the Abu Qir Restaurant on the Mediterranean location where Admiral Horatio Nelson had fought. We selected our fresh sea bass, caught daily, and had it grilled on the spot. We supped for the last time on a spread of classic mezze offerings.

On the ride to the airport, we stopped to buy a thin sweet Egyptian pancake. We watched as the chef tossed the thin fateer in the air before firing it. We then devoured the sweet folded cake sprinkled with honey and nuts. At 4 in the morning, we boarded our plane and returned home safely and satisfied, carrying with us the many flavors of Egypt.

Our phone has been ringing these past few days. "Are we all right?" they ask. Close friends and distant acquaintances who heard of our travels wonder, "Did we get home safely? What was it like?"

I tell them. It was safe, but it was different. It was beautiful. We learned so much. Yes, there were tourist police, but they were helpful and friendly. No, there was no unrest. Yes, the guides mentioned their dissatisfaction with the government. Yes, our guides were very knowledgeable and well educated. Yes, we loved Egypt. Yes, we recognize the spots on the television and, yes, we are glued to the news every day.

I have only been home for a few days and I still can taste Egypt - its history, its sand, its beauty, its people, and its cuisine. I spend much time flipping through my 900 pictures.

Always a "foodie," last night I cooked Egyptian. It seemed the appropriate thing to do. For my dinner, I prepared a typical Egyptian Mezze, an array of small bowls filled with Middle Eastern delicacies. These are really appetizers, but the amount is so plentiful we actually omitted the main course. The items in the bowls are picked up or sopped up with hot Egyptian pita bread. I made my own.

At a restaurant there are eight mezze choices, four hot and four cold. At my house, I made my favorites:

Lentil salad - warmed lentils served with lemon vinaigrette and herbs.

Khiyar bil zabadi - yogurt with cucumber, mint and dill. Delicious as a bread dip.

Baba ghanough?- this eggplant dip is a staple at all meals.

Gebna wa zatoun - white cheese and olives with herbs. I didn't have any Egyptian, salty cheese so I just included a medley of spicy olives.

Falafels - yes, I managed to make a baked version of this fava beans meatball. I spiced it with cumin (typical), parsley and cilantro.

Tahini - mixed with plain yogurt, this is my favorite choice.

Egyptian salad - this is like a tossed salad only there is no lettuce, only cubed cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs.

Khodar mahshi - this is mixed grilled vegetables.

While preparing the special items, I e-mailed our guide, Imen, to let her know what I was doing and to voice my support and concern for her and her family.

The e-mail came back.

I took a picture of my attempt at making Egyptian food and again sent her an e-mail with the picture.

Again, it came back.

I re-sent my e-mails and they didn't come back. I hope to hear from her soon.

Imen, an educated Egyptologist and devout Muslim, has not voted in her country's elections in years.

"There is no point in it, the decisions are already made," she said.



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