The demand of bread in the land of the Nile is great.
It is not often that one wants to peer into mummy’s tooth. But some brave, curious soul did just that and found traces of bread made of emmer wheat. Mummies ate bread? Well, they did. Not mom. But those long-dead mummies of ancient Egypt who, when alive, loved the wheat bread and washed it down with beer made of barley. Diligent excavators dug into the food habits of ancient Egypt. And earnest hieroglyph readers deconstructed banquet scenes on tomb walls. So, they concluded that the Egyptians invented beer, grew wheat, are a lot of onions and turnip. They also hacked into salary slips. Moreover, they learnt that in ancient Egypt, beer was so precious that the Egyptians used it as currency and salary for pyramid workers. These workers were also paid in bread and onion!
So, bread is the monarch of Egyptian kitchen? It surely is even today. Walk around and bread seems to be everywhere. Men peddling flatbread by the roadside, bread that resembles giant pretzels; square bread with waffle-like dented squares; maize bread with an overload of fenugreek seeds. Brave bakers stacking hundreds of flatbread on a wooden bench and manoeuvring the crowded bazaars. In Egypt, bread, interestingly, is used as gamosa (utensil) or to scoop food. The Egyptians used Bread to wrap falafel, kebab and other sauces as the favourite lunch on-the-go sandwich.
It is kosheri that the Egyptians swear by. Often, called the national dish, kosher is combination of rice, lentils, beans with macaroni/pasta served with tomato puree and caramelized onions. Though Egyptians are primarily carnivorous, kosheri stands out as popular vegetarian dish.
Trust the Egyptians with a sweet tooth. And all the desserts satiate the sugar craving. Umm Ali is also a raisin cake soaked in milk and served hot. Roz-billaban is rice pudding. Qara Asali is baked pumpkin. And, Kunafa is baked noodles with nuts and double cream. Moreover, Fakhfakina is also fruit salad while Khushaf is dates and dried nuts in sugar water.
Egyptian food is not merely about bread and kosheri. Drinks galore. Boiled and sweetened hibiscus is also a common welcome drink. But tamarino (tamarind+sugar) is used to beat the harsh desert heat and lower blood pressure. Minti tea is also everywhere. The best place to have mint tea is the café in Khan-e-Khalili market where Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfooz was a regular. Mahfooz won a Nobel Prize for Literature. He is no more. But the story of café is intricately entwined with his life and writings. The story of Egyptian bread began with the Pharaohs and pyramids.