Life

A Celebration of Citrus and Spice – The Signature Flavors of Egyptian Cuisine

   In the small alleys of Egypt, you will always see a special vegetable stall. From a distance, there are only two colors: yellow and green. The yellow ones are lemons and the green ones are peppers. When you walk closer, you may see a little bit of onions and garlic – just a little bit, but overall they are still yellow and green.
   Lemons and peppers appear in various forms in dishes, soups, and sauces. They are the “hot and sour” elements of Egyptian cuisine.
   I remember there was a sentence in a novel I read back then: “How can you not serve lemon when serving fish?” I was a little confused when I saw this sentence, because Chinese people basically cook fish with onions, Ginger, garlic, etc., I can’t imagine what fish tastes like with lemon. It wasn’t until I tasted Alexander’s grilled fish that I realized that fish and lemon go so well together – it removes the fishy smell and brings refreshingness at the same time, and there is also a hint of sourness that can stimulate the taste buds. It’s wonderful!
   But don’t think that lemon can only be paired with fish. Lamb and chicken are also unexpectedly delicious with lemon. Especially the Egyptian grilled lamb chops. Before grilling, they have to be marinated in lemon juice and seasoning for a while. In this way, when the grilled lamb chops enter the mouth, even the fat and oily mutton fat becomes Fresh and refreshing, I was really impressed.
   In addition, there are roasted peppers in the side dishes of Egyptian barbecue. It must be for people to take a bite of the pepper when chewing the meat, so as to secrete more saliva to mix the meat in the mouth. In fact, peppers and lemons are closely related to barbecue. In addition to the roasted lamb chops mentioned above, there are also roasted beef slices and roasted whole chickens. One of them, or both, will be used.
   Like Egyptian grilled chicken. The chef will skillfully split the chicken from the belly, spread it on the grill, and grill it directly on the charcoal fire. Maybe you are wondering – how can you grill it directly without marinating? Don’t worry, when half an hour has passed and the chicken skin has been roasted to golden brown, the chef will take the chicken off the fire, brush it with oil, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, spread it evenly, and then add the chopped peppers, onions, and tomatoes thickly. Cover both sides of the chicken. Then continue to bake over charcoal fire for 10 minutes before it is finally done. The chef will skillfully pack it for you and put a few lemons in the bag.
   I still remember the first time I bought it, I carried the bag back to my apartment anxiously, and couldn’t wait to tear open the packaging foil. The smell of chicken fat mixed with roasted peppers, onions, and tomatoes came to my nostrils. I was immediately impressed by the smell. , without caring about looking for cutlery, he tore off a chicken leg with his hands and chewed it. Halfway through eating, I caught a glimpse of the lemons, so I cut them open and squeezed the juice onto the chicken. Tried it – interesting! Lemon only removes the smoky flavor of charcoal grilling and has little effect on the flavor of the grilled chicken itself – this is how lemon is used in local barbecue.
   Lemon is also added to some locally made soups, such as beef tendon soup, seafood soup, etc. Lemons are not put into the soup when it is cooked. After the waiter brings it to the table, customers squeeze lemon juice into it according to their own taste. According to my personal taste and experience, it is best to squeeze half a lemon, which can make the soup refreshing and appetizing without covering up the deliciousness of the original soup.
   There is also a famous Egyptian local specialty food called “Kushery”, which is a staple food that combines cooked hollow noodles and rice. The boss will sprinkle fried onions and a kind of beans on it and pass it to you. But no one would eat it directly. There will be a pot on the table, which contains a sauce mixed with lemon juice, vinegar, chili powder, and salt. Some stores also add garlic and tomato sauce to the sauce. This juice can be said to be the soul of Kusheli. Kusheli is just a skin. As for how much “soul” is injected into it, it depends on your own experience of food. When I eat kushiri, I will tell the boss that I don’t want rice or beans, I want more fried onions and hollow noodles, and then I add more sauce. The taste is very similar to the cold noodles that we people in the northwest eat.
   The most violent way to eat lemons I have seen in Egypt is to cut a newly grown green lemon in half, sprinkle salt on the cut, and then squeeze the juice directly into your mouth. Theoretically, salt can neutralize some of the sourness of lemons, but in practice it makes no difference whether you sprinkle it or not.
   What I can’t understand the most is the lemon pickles. Egyptian kimchi is probably the same type as Russian kimchi or pickles. I think it was introduced from Russia during the Ottoman Empire.
   At that time, Egyptians ate pickles purely to follow the fashion, because as a large subtropical agricultural country, Egypt has a variety of fresh vegetables all year round, and there is no need to pickle vegetables for winter. The most common pickled vegetables in Russia are pickled cucumbers. In Egypt, various pickled vegetables are derived, including carrots, white radish, peppers, large cucumbers, cauliflower, olives, etc. I can understand and eat these pickles. The only thing that baffled me was the preserved lemon. You know, the water in pickles is made from vinegar and salt. If you don’t just order something and eat the pickles in vain, you will only have a salty taste and a sour taste, and no other taste. Lemons are already sour enough, so why pickle them and eat them? Moreover, the Egyptians cut the lemon in half and throw it directly into the salt and vinegar water, leaving only the peel of the preserved lemon. Why are you eating this thing?
   The last thing I have to mention is the “chili lemon” potato chips. Many Chinese people are not used to eating these potato chips because they have such a strong taste, but I like to stuff a lot of these potato chips into my mouth and chew them. The taste of lemon and chili fills the mouth, constantly stimulating the taste buds, and the crunching sound is a concerto of sourness and spiciness.
   Chili peppers and lemons have their own place in Egyptian cuisine, and sometimes work in tandem with each other. When they work together, they satisfy the needs of a northwester like me who has loved spicy and sour food since childhood. Lemon and pepper merged in reality, but in my mind, they were re-divided into two taste memories: one is the spicy oil from my hometown, and the other is old vinegar. Gradually, these memories turned into a touch of nostalgia.

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