Recently I was in a restaurant in Cairo called: “Aish wi Malh”. This is Arabic for Bread and Salt. I thought this was a rather interesting name for a restaurant, and asking a few people for the reason behind it, the replies did not sate my curiosity. So I began digging a bit more, and discovered a deep, rich and even international meaning behind the choice of name for this restaurant.
NaCl (Sodium Chloride) is one of the basic essentials of life! It has progressed from being used just for preserving food, for purification, for preservation, for water conditioning, de-icing of roads, agriculture and a huge percentage in modern times is in industry.
It was first processed around 6050BC in Romania and in around 6000BC in China, and its’ availability was pivotal to the development of civilization. The Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Indians have known the significance of this and have traded it for many thousands of years. In fact salt was an extremely important article of trade. There were:
- salt roads (via salaria)
- salt caravans (camels taking salt through the deserts)
- wars fought over salt (Europe, America)
- salt taxes (french revolution)
- salt march (Ghandi against the British salt taxes)
- workers were paid in salt (from the Latin word for salt: sal / salis, we get Salary!)
- Lettuces were washed in salt (Hence the word: Salad!)
- salting the earth was an ancient practice once land had been conquered (so it word remain infertile)
- ancient Egyptians made funeral offerings of salted fish and salted birds
- in Africa it was said that at one stage salt was worth its weight in gold (literally!)
- And a piece of salt was even used as a “coin” of payment
Salt was and is used in various religious ceremonies, as well as having cultural and traditional significance:
- Middle Ages: was used to seal an agreement
- Hebrews: their offerings were sprinkled with salt (Covenant of Salt)
- Aztecs: they had a goddess of Salt
- Buddism: they use it to ward off evil spirits
- Japan: salt is often used in ritual purification (locations and people)
This is the basic food (staple) of many countries in the world, today, yesterday, millennia ago, as well as tomorrow. It is the foundation of many meals in many nations, and as such possibly the most respected of all foods. The smell, the taste, the texture, the color… may be different in the variety of locations, but all of these tug at the hearts strings (and the stomach) of each person: it is often the smell and taste of home, meals, friends, family and feeling full and content.
BREAD AND SALT:
So what happens when we join these 2 powerful elements? What appears to have been symbols of medieval custom, are still used in some Slavic, European and middle eastern countries at significant moments in life:
Albania: bread and salt are used as a way to show honor to guests (often served with heart)
Russia: if someone is hospitable, she is called “bready-salty”! Bread and salt is a way to free your host. Both are found in some Russian orthodox church festivals.
Bulgaria: a fancy loaf of bread is used to welcome a guest, a small piece is broken and dipped into the salt.
Poland: bread and salt is the traditional sign of welcome / sign of hospitality. It is also shared at weddings.
Finland: bread and salt is a sign of blessing in a new home (often the dark rye bread)
Germany: used in weddings (a symbol of a lasting alliance) and in new homes (symbolizing prosperity, stability and fertility)
- Scotland: on new year’s day, the first person to enter the home must bring bread, salt and coal.
- In space: when astronauts return to earth, they are greeted with bread and salt as a sign of welcome.
+ Morocco: a proverb says: “By Bread and Salt we are united.”
So what about Egypt?
It appears that in this Arab nation, a slightly different expression has evolved: a “bread and salt” meal, between friends, has perhaps a deeper and more significant meaning than blessings and wishes for safety, fertility, health, purity and happiness. In Egypt, I am led to understand, eating “bread and salt” creates a moral obligation between the 2 people:
“There is now bread and salt between us” means that there is an alliance between the 2 people, a bond of trust and honor. Having eaten together, sharing these 2 significant elements together (and other food) there is a new level of faithfulness required between the 2 people, which ends all antagonism (both past and future) and creates a mutual obligation of protective and supportive friendship.
So a “bread and salt” meal, is like a Covenant of Friendship, requiring deeper commitment and demanding trust, support, honesty, safety and integrity between the 2 people.
In a world that is so full of anger, pride, jealousy, mistrust, self-interest, could meals of “bread and salt” between people help us to become a stronger community, trusting and caring for another, as we get to eat together, share lives together and grow to understand one another?
Why not invite some friends that you know over for a meal?
Bread and salt:
friendship, sharing, trust, openness… all over a good meal.