Friday, November 8, 2013

Cooking, Grounding in Cairo

Settling in means making a home-cooked meal. Fusion
wheat pasta cooked in tahini with curried courgettes
and green beans, topped with avocado and
flax, sesame and sunflower seeds and
spirulina flakes (only thing not locally found).

I was starting to sound a little like a broken record, among the many questions that I had for my friend Iman, who was leaving soon for India, about Cairo, about Maadi where I would be living, about the classes I would be taking over while she was gone and about life at large in Egypt, there was one question that kept on coming up: "So where is the nearest grocery store?"

I realize that I've been traveling for almost two and a half years. That's how long I've been without a home. It's been an amazing journey but moving so much can also be a challenge in terms of grounding oneself.

Food is a big factor in my ability to settle in anywhere, whether it's a weekend, a couple of weeks, or months in one place. I need to know where to eat; yes, good veg-friendly restaurants and coffee shops. But, more importantly, I need to know where to buy ingredients, fresh local or organic produce and other groceries that enable me to put a meal together.

On my first day, I wandered out and walked in Maadi, near where Iman lives, and found an organic shop just walking distance. This little discovery was like an exhale. It helped me relax a little in this whole new environment. Ok, Egypt is a different place, a whole new culture, but organic shops the world around, that's a universal movement, one very dear to me, one I am very at home with. It made me feel comfortable.

The shop, though, was just a small comfort with its very special organic-only selection. I knew at some point I would need to find a proper super market.

Then Iman and I got busy. We had some special workshops on offer the first weekend. Then classes to to turn over in the week, and a whole culture to orient me too. And before I knew it, Iman had gone, and I still had no clue where the nearest grocery store was.

Last Friday, a day after Iman's departure, one of the students drove me to the nearest and most complete market near to where I was living. A quick walk away, they even delivered my groceries to my door. Since then, I've been able to make my own meals when I've had time in between classes.

And tonight in particular, not being on the run; instead, having the time to be creative in the kitchen, having time to "play" with my food, has been the ultimate exercise in setting in. I felt that in this most ordinary act I had given myself the biggest gift, I was making myself at home by home cooking.

Not only is home-cooking, for me anyway, the best kind of food. But the act of cooking grounds me. It helps me tune into a place. Working with local ingredients, eating what grows in season, creating with the ingredients available is nourishing in so many ways to the mind, the heart and the body.

A Cairean Breakfast

It's my first day to be a tourist in Cairo and my tour guide and yoga student Sherif starts the day by taking me to a sweet cafe on the Nile in Zamalek where I have, aptly, the Cairean Breakfast (of champions)--had them remove the one meaty part of the dish, the salad is normally topped with an Egyptian beef prosciutto of sorts. In that respect, Egypt reminds me a little of the Philippines with its love for eating animal flesh, which needs to be placed on top of anything actually vegetable.  

The omelet comes with a fresh green salad, herby feta cheese, foul medammes (a local dish of cooked fava beans), seasoned chickpeas, and dainty falafel chunks served with slices of tomato. Never have I been served with such a variety of protein for breakfast! There was bread too on the side, a shot of juice, and a choice of tea or hot chocolate at the end. 

Left Bank is a fashionable restaurant right on the river. It has outdoor seating as well as a spacious indoor dining area. It's breakfast selection is vegetarian friendly and they can adjust when needed. 

A perfect start to my introduction to modern Egyptian history --not from western text books but from real Egyptians!