Steve's Weird Food for the Middle East: Three for One!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Steve’s Weird Food for Jordan: There hasn’t been a lot of weird food in the Middle East, but there’s one thing that I think should qualify for Jordan: zaatar. It’s “a fragrant mix of sun-dried thyme and sesame seeds” (LP) that shows up on buffet tables. I gave it a try on our last morning in Jordan, and it was quite inoffensive.

A dish of zaatar at the breakfast buffet

It’s generally served sprinkled on pita bread, with olive oil drizzled over the top, and that’s how I had it. It was a bit crunchy, and not nearly as strong-tasting as you’d expect. In fact, zaatar was a bit of a non-event and hence merits no more effort on my part, or yours.


Steve’s Weird Food for Egypt: When I asked Ahmed our guide about what I should eat as my weird food for Egypt, both he and Anna - the half-Egyptian woman in our group - instantly had the same answer: Molokhiyya (pronounced sort of like "Moll – uh – KHAY – uh” where the KHAY is that throat-clearing guttural sound like in the Scottish pronunciation of “Loch”). The LP describes molokhiyya like this: “...a slimy but surprisingly sexy green leafy vegetable known in the West as mallow. In Egypt it’s made into an earthy garlic-flavoured soup that has a glutinous texture and inspires an almost religious devotion among the locals.”


I tried it in a fast-foodish place that Ahmed took us to in Cairo, and found it exactly as described. It’s very green, and a bit earthy, and decidedly slimy. It was certainly edible, but the texture left a lot to be desired and the overall experience was a bit like eating a bowl full of stewed grass clippings suspended in snot. Molokhiyya probably will not make it onto my “Try Again” list.


Bonus Weird Food for Egypt (The Birthday Supper Edition): It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for a birthday supper, but I long ago stopped thinking I’d get what I want when I want it on this trip, so it was all fine. We’d arrived in Aswan after a long day of sight-seeing and driving and Ahmed took us out to a local place to try a specialty called koshery. It’s a vegetarian mish-mash served in a bowl and consists of: rice, three different kinds of pasta (spaghetti, tubetti – like short macaroni, and something like those tiny noodles that come in Lipton chicken noodle soup), chick peas (of course), crispy fried onions, black lentils, and tomato sauce.

The koshery as served, with the tomato sauce on the side and extra chick peas, lentils and onions available too.

It was tasty, especially those crispy fired onions. In fact, it had the feel of something that someone made up out of a fridge full of leftovers. I liked it a lot, though it was a big bowl of food to get through, especially with all that pasta. I think it would be the kind of thing you’d really crave late at night in a less-than-sober state.

As we were finishing supper Ahmed and a guy in our group, Ron, went off so Ron could "help fix the computer" of the guy who ran the restaurant. This seemed a bit weird, but Ahmed is one of those guys who knows everyone and so no one questioned it. It turns out, though, that it was all a ruse and they came back with a big tray of birthday treats for me!

Yum! And there was a piece of cake too! I may not have got a beer on my birthday, but this definitely made up for it, and was a really nice gesture. There was even a big piece of chocolate cake that I ate all by myself!

Ahmed and Ron, the Birthday Rescuers - thanks guys!


Unknown said...

Happy Belated!! I will raise a beer for you here... minus 37 with windchill. Am considering the 5km River Run tomorrow hosted by MRA. Safe travels to India...

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