Monday, May 7, 2012

Stuffed Pigeon in Cairo Egypt

More than 4,500 years old, the pyramids of Giza are the sole survivors of the original Seven Wonders of the World
Long known locally as Umm ad-Dunya (“mother of the world”), Cairo still deserves deference: its museums house some of humanity’s greatest historical and artistic treasures, and its old quarters contain some of the world’s finest religious architecture. Cairo is also Egypt’s culinary capital, and the perfect place to try its unofficial national dish, hamam mashi: stuffed pigeon.

Africa’s largest city and one of the most densely populated metropolises on Earth, Cairo is also one of the world’s most vibrant capitals. Though almost as famous for its overcrowding, congestion, and pollution as for its ancient treasures, the city’s energy, entrepreneurship, and indomitable spirit are nonetheless enthralling. On the roads, camels and donkeys vie for position with the pickup trucks and dilapidated cars; above the roar of engines, the muezzin’s age-old call to prayer rises above the cries of the street hawkers. The smog and exhaust fumes mingle with the aromas of street-sold roasted corn and freshly baked bread, along with the unmistakable waft of fruit-infused sheesha pipes.
Cairo’s world-famous attractions include the astonishing Egyptian Museum and pyramids of Giza, but it has equally interesting, lesser-known sights, such as the Coptic Quarter and Islamic Cairo. Known as the “City of a Thousand Minarets,” Cairo has some of the world’s greatest Islamic architecture. Its beautiful churches – such as the 7th-century El Muallaqa (the “Hanging Church”) – bear witness to the importance of its early Christian Coptic community.
Like many of its attractions, Cairo’s unofficial national dish – hamam mashi or stuffed pigeon – is also said to date back to Pharaonic times. The birds were traditionally reared in conical, mud-built pigeon cotes, which can still be seen today lining the Nile Delta, although pigeons are also kept in the towns. For Cairo’s millions of rural migrants, old habits die hard: birdcages are placed outside windows and doors and on rooftops and terraces. The dish is usually served during the winter months, when the birds are at their plumpest; only young, tender pigeons are selected.
Traditionally, the birds are served in pairs, stuffed with rice, onion, and chopped pigeon or chicken liver, then spiced with cinnamon, cumin, and pepper and sometimes nuts. Roasted or grilled on a spit, they are usually accompanied by tabbouleh (a salad of bulgur wheat, parsley, mint, tomatoes, and green onions) and tahini (sesame-seed paste). They are not everyday food, but mark special occasions, made “for those whom you love dearly,” as the Cairenes say.

The busy alleyways of the ancient Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Cairo

The Best Places to Eat Stuffed Pigeon

Citadel View Restaurant

Aptly named, the Citadel View boasts the best appointment in town. Located in the lovely, landscaped gardens of the Al Azhar Park on a breeze-catching hillock, the Citadel commands panoramic views over the gardens, the Citadel, and all of Old Cairo. Housed in a neo-Fatimid palace, the complex comprises a good café and a couple of restaurants, of which the Studio Misr is the highlight. The Studio specializes in traditional Egyptian dishes (particularly grills), including stuffed pigeon, that are artfully prepared. At night, amid the niches, arches, and intimate spaces of the lantern-lit interior, the evening can seem like something out of one of Scheherazade’s stories of the Arabian Nights.
On weekends (Friday and Saturday), there’s a fixed-price open buffet, which provides a welcome opportunity to taste a variety of traditional Egyptian and Middle Eastern dishes.
The stuffed pigeon (ordered à la carte only) is cooked à point and is succulent and gamey, with a subtle hint of cinnamon.
Al Azhar Park, Shari’ Salah Salem, Cairo; open noon–1 AM daily; +20 2 2510 9151
Also in Cairo
Old-world through and through, from the dark-paneled dining room to the besuited, taciturn waiters and deep, leather-clad seats, El Mashrabiah (+20 2 3748 2801; moderate– expensive) prides itself also on its traditional, old-school Egyptian cooking. Specializing in classic meat dishes including stuffed pigeon, grilled rabbit, quail, and duck, as well as offering ethereal kofta (spicy meatballs), tagen (a slow-cooked stew), and shish kebabs, it attracts a fervent local following among Cairo’s well-heeled carnivores.
Also in Egypt
Sofra (; moderate) has rapidly become known as one of Luxor’s best eating options. Spread over a series of private dining rooms, a salon, and an attractive, atmospheric rooftop terrace, it is a great spot for a preprandial or dinner drink. Both decor and dining are traditional, and the menu is full of tried-and-tested classics, including a particularly flavorsome roasted stuffed pigeon.
Popular with Aswani families for its simple and traditional menu at excellent prices, the Al Makka (+20 97 230 3232; inexpensive) in Aswan additionally offers quality and consistency. Specialties include the stuffed pigeon, kofta, shish kebabs, and succulent grilled chicken, all served with tahini, salad, and flatbread. No alcohol is served.
What Else to Eat in Cairo
A great way to start the day (as Egyptians do) is with filling and sustaining fuul (cooked, mashed fava beans). For lunch or dinner, try the much-prized Nile perch from the Nile. Other culinary sightseeing might include molokhiyya, a popular mallow-based soup with a distinctly slimy texture and earthy flavor, or koshari (macaroni, rice, lentils, and chickpeas topped with fried onions and a spicy tomato sauce).
Drinks worth searching out include the ubiquitous shay bilnaana (mint tea) and other herbal infusions such as helba (fenugreek), yansoon (anise), and irfa (cinnamon). Sahlab, a hot milky mixture of arrowroot or semolina, nuts, and cinnamon, is popular in winter, while karkadeh is a hibiscus infusion served as an antidote to the summer heat. Zabaady, a yogurt-based drink, accompanies meat dishes.

No comments:

Post a Comment