One of our tour guides from Fowa (look it up in the Nile Delta…..) asked me recently why foreigners do not “know” beans! This is a very confusing thing to most Egyptians as fuul (pronounced “fool”) is soul food for this country. It can be eaten hot, cold, re-fried, with added garlic or tomato or onions… and for breakfast, lunch, or on a sandwich!
What beans do most of us foreigners know then, if any?
* British people would say baked beans (in a tin)
* Americans probably kidney beans (in a can)
*Others of us probably green beans…. which are in an entirely new category.
But the fuul here is made from Fava beans. These have to be slow cooked, in a small mouthed, deep and rounded silver pot, coming in various sizes depending on the size of the family! Women who prefer to cook their own beans will start the cooking process after their dawn prayers, return to sleep and look in on the boiling beans a few hours later.
FOR WHOM IS THE BELL RINGING?
For those who do not enjoy the long, slow boiling of the beans, usually later in the evenings you will hear a bell ringing, and as you look over you balcony you will see a tired little donkey, pulling a cart which has one of the big fuul pots on the back. The owner will sell the pre-cooked fuul to whoever wishes to buy: it is sold by the cup-full, and poured into a plastic packet. The women will then add to this whatever suits their taste-buds: usually garlic, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper and of course, cumin! Fuul can be mashed up, or eaten with the beans still whole. Either way it is delicious, especially with some of that local fresh “Shammy” bread, straight from the oven. Makes our tin of baked beans look a little boring!
Fried balls of chickpea/beans and various green leafy goodness! An expert told me you can tell how good a falafel is by the colour inside: good is green tinged… bad is more white! Chopping up all the cilantro and parsley and dill is laborious, so the lazy ones leave it out! You will find these in homes, take-away restaurants, 5 star hotels, stands on the side of the road… but whenever you eat, eat it hot and fresh! They are cheap and tasty and you will like them! As usual, best eaten with others: sharing meals is a must!
SERIOUS ABOUT SALADS…
Lest you begin to fear that the food fare here is too much salt, oil and garlic (YUM!) let me assure you that every meal MUST have a salad. The most common is chopped up onions, tomato and garlic, with cilantro and parsley… again with oil, salt, garlic and lemon. Tasty, warm, fresh and deliciously local.
AND TOP IT OFF WITH SOME TEA!
Drinks are very seldom had before or during a meal. But no meal is complete without that ubiquitous cup of tea. Usually in a glass, “Lipton” is usually drunk black, (very strong), and sweet (very sweet), with the occasional sprig of fresh mint… leaving you feeling full, happy, warm and content. Milk can be located (after a bit of consternation) and requests for coffee (confusing, as this does not normally follow a meal) will usually be met with the popular “Nescafe” in a small packet: 2-in-1 (black with sugar) or 3- in-1(with milk and sugar)!
A COMPLETE SPREAD>>>
So ask your guide where to find the best local falafel (he will know) and he will happily (and proudly) take you there. You will have 4 or 5 small silver saucers of food hurriedly placed on the table: fuul, falafel (or ta’amiyya as it is called in Cairo), salad and some pickles… and then… the pile of fresh bread…
Rinse your hands
roll up your sleevs
and tuck in…
You will be glad you did..!