Skinny Jeans and Fava Beans: Egyptian food

Deborah Levinson

Had you asked me two months ago what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would have had no problem ranting to you about printmaking or papermaking or being a master printer. But things have changed. I’m in a new country, I’ve met new people and I have new experiences nearly every day. So I’ve changed my life plan.

I will eat my way across the world.

I realize this might seem naïve or even silly. My parents have always wanted to support my goals, which means they probably won’t mind supporting me financially for the rest of my life while I eat in other countries.

It seems perfectly logical to me. It’s just a continuation of my education. I’m all for formal education, but I’m definitely convinced that there are many things you can’t learn in a classroom. Clearly I’ve got it all worked out.

If you’re wondering why I’ve abandoned something I used to babble on about for hours for a seemingly unending and unrealistic goal, the answer is Egypt.

Unlike basically all the other international students I’ve met, I have yet to get sick in Egypt. Obviously this means both that I have a superhuman stomach and that I can eat anything and everything I want. And I have. There’s nothing better than some street food with my daily freshly-squeezed mango juice and a little shisha.

Juice stands are everywhere here. Before I learned the words for my favorite fruits I would walk in and point at the fruit I wanted, but thankfully mango and guava came pretty early on in my Arabic lessons. I tried sugar cane juice for the first time, and watched as the shop owner literally crushed and juiced the sugar cane in front of me.

Normally you stand at a counter and down your glass of juice right there, but when you want your juice to go, they pour it into a plastic bag, add a straw, and tie a knot around the straw. It’s a bit janky, though entirely effective. I’m convinced that drinking fresh juice out of a plastic bag even makes it taste better. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drink Tropicana again.

Even though the juice is one of my absolute favorite things to consume here, I don’t want to discredit Egyptian food. From street food to hundred-dollar dinners, Egyptians know how to eat.

At this point I’ve consumed a rather large amount of falafel, and I look forward to two more months of it. Falafel was first made in Egypt, though they call it tamiya, and they know how to do it right. It’s all about the fava beans, none of that chickpea stuff.

Since I’ve been in Egypt, my standards for tahina and babaganoush have risen drastically. I now understand that however unappealing it sounds, mixing pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils and tomato sauce is actually the best late night food ever. From stuffed grape leaves to liver, if I’ve seen it, I’ve tried it. I haven’t yet had pigeon, but it’s number one on my list.

My recent foray into Yemeni food turned out to be the most mind-blowing and delicious meal, and provided just the encouragement I needed to leave art behind and begin my new career.

There’s clearly more out there, beyond the borders of Egypt. Even beyond Africa and the Middle East. And I will find it. I will eat my way across the globe.

But if I do get a parasite, at least I’ll have something interesting to write about.