Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Way to Eat

If I were to map out my life through the memories of my stomach, I would pair my fondest moments with one particular element — my hands needing a good wash from the powdery leftover wheat bran of baladi bread, a staining turmeric-rich sauce or the fatty gloss of deep-fried chicken skin.
It is true that I might not appreciate the drippings of a wet burger slithering down my forearm, especially in public, but there is an increased feeling of well being, of being human, of connecting with where I came from by eating with no cutlery.
Growing up in an Egyptian-Indian household, I learned early on that there were dishes — curries, pizzas and tacos — that we could eat with our hands while other meals subjected me to the rigid rules of table settings, which fork goes with what coupled with stern looks from my mother.
I noticed that we would dip our fingers into plates far more often when we’d visit India. While in Egypt, we rarely used our hands as we grew older, to ghammes, to dip our bread into a sauce of some kind; although Om Khaled, our housekeeper, insisted that in her home, she had to make a side dish for her husband to dip his bread into if what she was making included no sauce. His meal would never be complete without it; such was tradition.
Several years ago, my mother observed at a family lunch that using a torn piece of bread, I scooped up my bamia, an Egyptian tomato-based okra stew, with my thumb, pointer and middle finger alone, in the same fashion as my father, whom I have not seen for many years. This habit starting generations before me, as a part of North Indian etiquette, was transferred to me without much of a thought on my part. And as I partake in eating with my hands, pigeon and fuul, among Egyptian friends, I realize that the way I ghammes is not so Egyptian after all.

Guests in Kuala Lumpur were always more laid-back than in Cairo, taking off their shoes as they enter your house, eating with no pretensions, gauging the temperature, the heat of the chili and the initial textures of my food with their hands. It was comfortable to have people over for dinner; none of the excessive pleasantries and politeness we enforce upon ourselves when invited into another Egyptian home.
What is apparent is that more nationalities than not eat with their hands, from a simple metal bowl or a banana leaf, in a thali or from a carefully constructed sushi platter. I am not advocating a complete switch but would like to see things eaten the way they should be, at least somewhat. It would also be nice to teach our children that eating with your hands is not something to look down upon and that there’s no better way to eat a paper dosa, a fermented rice and lentil crispy crêpe, than feeling the crunch with your fingers first.
As featured in The Egypt Monocle

Basic Breadsticks
You’ll need
1½ cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of instant yeast
1½ tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of olive oil
½ cup of room temperature water
1 egg + 1 tablespoon of cold water, whisked together
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Nigella seeds
Caraway seeds
Combine together the flour, salt, honey, yeast, olive oil and water and mix to form a ball. Dust some flour onto your counter and move the dough onto it. Knead the dough until everything is mixed together and you get a dough that is medium in firmness.
Transfer to a greased bowl and leave to rest for an hour and a half or until it doubles in size. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius and line a baking sheet with baking paper before working for a second time with the dough.
When done rising, punch down the dough and transfer it back to the counter. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes until it gets pliable and stretchy. Divide it into equal pieces. Make sure to cover the pieces you’re not working with. One at a time, roll each piece out into a rectangle and brush it with egg wash. Sprinkle on adequate sea salt, pepper and both nigella and caraway seeds. Cut the dough with a pizza cutter into equal strips and twist each one. Place them on the baking sheet with equal widths between each. Bake for approximately 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving.


  1. It's necesary the Sea salt, Nigella seeds, Caraway Seeds?

    1. Not at all. I would say you can use regular salt just for extra flavor but feel free to eliminate all.


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