The Mubarak Sphinx (Avi Katz)
Chef Dennis Wasko continues his culinary journey through the Middle East with this Jerusalem Post piece on Egypt, preceding a recipe for Ful Muddamas, which as well as being eaten for breakfast is a favourite Shabbat dish among Egyptian Jews. (With thanks: Lily)
Jewish Communities have existed in the land of Egypt for thousands of years despite the three prohibitions against returning to Egypt mentioned in the Torah. Egypt has been both a place of “enslavement” and a place of refuge for the Jewish People. All Jews know the story of the Exodus, but perhaps not everyone knows that Egypt has also been a tolerant safe haven during times of persecution. Wave after wave of Jews settled in Egypt after fleeing or being expelled from other lands. The most notable influx of refugees brought the great Maimonides to Egypt. He and his family were fleeing from the ruthless Almohad Caliphate which conquered portions of Southern Spain and North Africa. Egypt became an important center of Jewish thought, and many Talmudic Schools were established there.
In more recent times, Egypt has also been a place of refuge for Jews fleeing the various pogroms in Europe. The result of all of this immigration was a very large and diverse Jewish Community. Arab Rabbanite, Sephardic, Karaite, and Ashkenazi Communities flourished in Egypt, mostly in the cities of Cairo and Alexandria. By 1922, the Jewish population of Egypt was estimated to be 80,000 people.
And then things changed. During the 1930’s, with the Arab-Jewish fighting in British Occupied Eretz Yisrael and the rise of Nazi Germany, relations between Jewish and Egyptian Society became strained.
By the 1940’s, the situation worsened and pogroms took place from 1942 onwards. The founding of the State of Israel in 1948 marked a period of all out war against the Jewish Community. Bombings in Jewish areas claimed 70 lives and injured hundreds more. Riots claimed many more Jewish lives. Jewish property and businesses were confiscated by the Egyptian Government, and Jewish males between the ages of 17 and 60 were forcibly expelled. The Jewish population of Egypt began to dwindle as people fled from their homeland to find refuge in the new State of Israel, Brazil, France, the United States, and Argentina.
As of 2004, the Jewish population of Egypt was estimated to be 100 people. The last Jewish wedding in Egypt took place in 1984. To this day, there is strong anti-Jewish sentiment in Egypt, especially in the media. The glory days of the Rambam are no more, and only two synagogues exist in the entire country.
The proud Jews of the Second Exodus have brought their culinary traditions out of Egypt. Their cuisine, like the cuisine of Egypt as a whole, is quite humble and delicious. Grains and legumes figure very prominently in their cooking. Falafel, an Israeli favorite, is Egyptian in origin. Fragrant stews and pulses form the backbone of the cuisine, but there is no shortage of fish, lamb, and poultry dishes. Desserts are ever present and seductively sweet.
Lately I have been eating breakfast the way the Egyptians do. I have Ful Mudammas. It is a simple preparation of small, dried fava beans, red lentils, onion, and tomato. This may not sound very interesting, but trust me, it is. The basic Ful is just a healthy, fiber-rich catalyst. The real magic is in the multitude of condiments that can be served with the Ful. I start my mornings with hot sauce, olive oil, and tahina. Sometimes I go for the fried egg option with kashk and sumac. Even a simple drizzle of salted butter raises the Ful to new levels of good!
Ful not only gets your tongue dancing, it is healthy, and will stick with you for most of the day. It is like throwing a big log on your metabolic fire. No quick burn and crash here, this stuff keeps you going strong.
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