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Hella: السّلام عليكم
Simon: Simon here. All About, Lesson 7: All About Culture and Cuisine, the Top 5 Ethnic Foods.
Hella: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another All About Arabic. Hella's with you today, and I'm joined by Simon. We will be talking about a very interesting and really delicious topic as well.
Simon: Yes, we will. That's Egyptian cuisine dishes.
Hella: Most people are already familiar with the kebab and koufta, the famous grilled meat with Arabic spices. Now, most of the Egyptian cuisine have a rich food culture. In fact, we could do about 15-part series on this topic, but let's go with an overview.
Simon: The Egyptian food is vegetables, spices, and meat based. Also, a large amount of seafood is consumed. There's also a big variety of rice and vegetable dishes, soup, fish, and chicken as well.
Hella: That is correct. Do you know, Simon, in an average day most Egyptians consume rice and meat or chicken. Recently, even though the American junk food or the fast food has found its way to our culture, the traditional dishes and family cooking is considered to be the best and most required and enjoyed as well. So we might eat outside, but we'll go back home and eat there as well.
Simon: Well, strangely enough, all the ingredients used in the Egyptian cuisine are healthy — vegetables, meat, chicken, fish, and lots of salads. But the Egyptian cuisine may not be all that healthy sometimes, due to the huge amount of cholesterol consumed in every meal as well, and it is most enjoyed by everyone.
Hella: That doesn't mean it's not all healthy. Just the mix between so many dishes in one meal, on the long run, may not be that good for your health. But not to worry. We still enjoy our health tremendously. Ok, Simon. Let's talk about the regional dishes.
Simon: Ok. Well, there are four main regional dishes in Egypt. The flavors vary from hot and spicy, Hella, rich and fatty, grilled and fried...
Hella: ...To rare steamed, rich and fatty, and it's found all around Egypt. Grilled and fried is found more around coast area as fish is mostly cooked in these two ways, grilled or fried, plus in the desert where Bedouins like grilling their food a lot. The steamed food is mostly found around big cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, because they have the international and big restaurants and, somehow, a slightly different food culture.
Simon: Egyptian kitchen always uses fresh vegetables, lots of spices, butter or ghee, plus meat, chicken. The presentation of the food is extremely important.
Hella: But the taste is even more important. Also, desserts is a very important part of the meal. Usually eaten after each meal.
Simon: What about the most popular dishes? What can you tell us about that, Hella?
Hella: Well, you came to the expert. Koshari is a very popular and cheap dish. It's rice cooked with lentil, macaroni added on top with tomato sauce, crispy fried onions, and hummus or chickpea. Now this works great for everyone, especially vegetarians.
Simon: I know. It's one of my favorites as well. Another very popular dish is فول , which is beans, and طعميّة, which is beans with onions, parsley, coriander, all ground together then fried as small balls and served with green salad or tahini salad. It's usually eaten at breakfast or dinner. Lunch is the main meal.
Hella: Let's not forget mahshi. It's probably one of the best, most popular dishes. The word literally means "stuffed," and basically that's rice, tomato, onion, parsley, coriander, and some spices.
Simon: All put inside different vegetables like cabbage, grape leaves, zucchini, pepper, eggplant, and more, and then cooked in chicken or meat stock. How can you not love it?
Hella: I know.
Simon: Do you have any seasonal dishes?
Hella: Fattah is a meal made around the big feast time. It consists of bread cut into small pieces, with rice on top of it, tomato sauce with garlic and vinegar and a lot of meat on top.
Simon: And the big feast you mentioned, what exactly is that?
Hella: Well, I think people may know or at least have heard about our holy month Ramadan. Now the first three days that follow it is called "the small feast" exactly 70 days after those is the "big feast." It's when we sacrifice a sheep in the honor of, to the memory of, Prophet Abraham and his son, Ishmael, when instead of sacrificing his son, he sacrificed a sheep. So that's exactly what we're doing. That's very important. Without the meat, people will not be happy.
Simon: I believe that's the main dish in the meal.
Hella: Oh, yes! Without it, no meal. I'm not going to say no Eid, because it exists anyway, but no happy faces.
Simon: Something else that's very important is table etiquette.
Hella: Now, when being offered something, never ever say no, or it will be taken as an insult to the host. Moreover, everything put on your plate must be finished. If not, it will be taken as a sign that you don't like the food, you don't think it's nice or clean enough, so not very good.
Simon: That's actually one thing I'm afraid to say I learned by experience. The amount of food I ate without being able to, it can sustain me for a few years to come, I think.
Hella: Ok. That goes for all of us, believe me.
Simon: Out of experience as well, complimenting the food after you first eat and at the end of meal, is a very nice gesture.
Hella: I know it would make me very happy.
Simon: Ok, now, the top five Egyptian dishes, Hella. What are they and where are they found?
Hella: Ok, Number 5 is ملوخية بالأرانب . Literally that's molokhia with rabbits. I'm sure you’re going to ask me what molokhia is. Please, go ahead.
Simon: I was going to. What is molokhia?
Hella: Molokhia is kind of a vegetable or green leaves. It's close to spinach, somehow with the looks, but completely different in the taste. It was mostly found and cooked here in Egypt and then it started spreading throughout the Arabic world and now in many foreign countries. But it's known of this name, molokhia, and it's very famous for being an Egyptian meal.
Simon: And what would you say is the fourth most important Egyptian dish?
Hella: I would go for masa'a. That's fried slices of eggplants cooked with tomato sauce, a little onion and garlic, sometimes with minced meat. It depends on who's cooking it. Now, this is found everywhere in Egypt. Not in all Arabic countries though, and if it's there, it's known as a very delicious Egyptian dish.
Simon: The molokhia with rabbits isn't really cheap, but masa'a is cheap and it's found everywhere. You can also buy it as a sandwich. I have to say, I love both.
Hella: Me, too! Ok. Our Number 3 is lentil soup.
Simon: Is that easy to find everywhere?
Hella: Yes. In all restaurants, expensive or cheap. It's loved by everyone, served in different ways. Mostly eaten during winter because it provides warmth, or at least that's what we think. We also make it into a meal by eating it with bread and meat.
Simon: I have noticed that it's advertised during winter, but I eat it all throughout the year as well. It's very healthy.
Hella: Yes. Now that is the more reason why we love it of course.
Simon: So what's Number 2 then? We're getting closer now.
Hella: Yes. I would say macaroni with bechamel That's cooked macaroni. We put it into layers with minced meat in the middle and a very thick white sauce on top of it, and we put it all inside the oven to be cooked together.
Simon: Now, that's a pure Egyptian meal.
Hella: Oh, yes. And as we have said before, it is very healthy, not expensive, found in many places. I just love eating it with pickles. This is one of the tricks we do when we eat food. For every meal, there is something to go with it.
Simon: And with this it's pickles. That's interesting. I'll have to try that next time I eat it. I became quite addicted to it. It's simply fantastic.
Hella: Well, what about our last and Number 1 dish?
Simon: Can I take a guess? I don't think I can miss it.
Hella: Oh! Please, go ahead.
Simon: Is it the mahshi? The stuffed vegetables?
Hella: Wow, Simon! You're becoming good, and you got it 100% correct. Our best and healthiest meal, if cooked in the right way is mahshi, but you have to keep in mind, it can add a few extra pounds or kilos to you if you're not very careful.
Simon: Well, I think it's well worth it. From what I've noticed, people love eating it together. Very rarely alone.
Hella: As delicious as it is, it's one of the meals that we say requires family or friendly gathering. It's found also in Lebanon and the neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan, Palestine, but it's cooked in a really different way.
Simon: Ok, well, now let's hear about the top five foods for the brave.
Hella: Well, I would start with Number 5 and that would be عكاوي and عكاوي . كلاوي , it's the animal still, cut into pieces and served with rice, maybe cooked with tomato sauce. And كلاوي , it's the kidneys.
Simon: Is that found everywhere?
Hella: It really depends on the place. Mostly found in common areas. It can be sold in the street and in a restaurant. It really depends where you are.
Simon: I've not tried that yet. I think I need to gather my strength first. So what about Number 4?
Hella: For Number 4, it would be الڤوهرة and الڤوهرة . اللّسان means the eye. Literally the words means "the jewel." Some people consider it as a jewel to be eaten. اللّسان is the tongue.
Simon: Ok. Now, tongue I know. Somehow it seems to be eaten in many places, but the eyes?
Hella: Not everyone eats it. Again, it's people in the very common areas, and their food system is completely different than what most Egyptians would eat. It's not expensive, really, as well.
Simon: Ok. Well that leads us, then, to Number 3.
Hella: Number 3 is منبار . That's the intestines stuffed with a rice mixture, cooked and boiled in hot water, and then fried. Now, that's a very and widely popular meal eaten all over Egypt. Not expensive at all, and people just love it. But I would say new generations are not much into it.
Simon: That's probably because of the time they spent making it.
Hella: Well, that's a good point. But it also applies to the majority of the food we make. If you want to eat it, you have to be very careful where you eat it at.
Simon: Would a friend’s house be a good idea?
Hella: The best. I think you will like it there as well. So that will lead us to Number 2. It will be
لحمة راس . That's the animal head with everything in it, basically.
Simon: Everything? Does that include the eyes and the tongue?
Hella: Well, it's kind of funny. It's a yes and no, because the eyes and tongue can be considered as a separate meal, and it can be eaten with this one as well. You can ask for it or you can think of it as a lottery. You may or may not find it. Some people really love taking their chances with it. Now again, like most of the brave food we have talked about, it's only found in very common neighborhoods or areas. Many restaurants offer it there, and it's sold in the street as well. It's pre-cooked, and the man will just fry it to give it the last extra touch.
Simon: I see, and from what I understand, it's found all throughout the year?
Hella: Yes, that is correct. Ok. So that leads us to our Number 1 meal, and it would be كرشة. That's the animal's stomach bag.
Simon: Well that rings a bell for me. It's like a Scottish meal.
Hella: Yes! I was surprised to find another country that actually eats it. I think it's called haggis over there. Now, I really thought it was only us. People consider it to be a very delicious meal, but it needs a lot of time and preparation. Another reason why you should always make sure to eat it at a well-known place.
Simon: We haven't even mentioned مخّ . Isn't that brain?
Hella: Yes. Now, do you consider it to be a food for the brave?
Simon: I would say so, yeah.
Hella: Ok. In here, it really depends on the person, but مخّ which is the brain, كبدة , which is the liver, it's found in many places and a lot of people just eat it as a snack. So I think it depends on how you look at it. But thank you, Simon.
Simon: Ok, so from what I can tell, all these foods are most commonly eaten in the common areas and they can be found in restaurants or cooked at home.
Hella: Yes, you got it all right.
Simon: Hella, I have to ask this. Have you tried any of them?
Hella: Well, I'm a brave person, and I'm up to trying everything.
Simon: I see. I sense a bit of a "but" coming.
Hella: Oh, ok. Yes. But I have never found it in me to try any of it. No matter what people say or do, I can never eat it. Well to be honest, I did try the منبار, just the crispy edges of it. I have to admit, it was nice. It wasn't that bad, but that's the furthest I was able to go with it.
Simon: I suppose, I guess it's up to me now to try it.
Hella: Please! And do let me know.
Simon: Well, guys, we hoped you enjoyed listening to this lesson with us. We have sure enjoyed talking about the delicious Egyptian food.
Hella: Yes, and it has made us hungry, so we'll have to go and find one delicious Egyptian meal.
Simon: Sounds great to me. So join us next time at ArabicPod101.com.
Hella: Thank you, Simon! مع السّلامة

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Have you tried Egyptian dishes before? What would you like to have the most?