I had promised the food blog followers and budding Masterchefs that there would be some food content on this blog, so this one is for you…
On previous visits, Siwa had offered little (if any) choice in things we take for granted in Australia, such as yoghurt. The local food is excellent, but after a few weeks you do begin to miss some things. For me at the moment they include mushrooms, bok choy, and fresh basil – I am desperate to find a basil plant next trip to the city, I haven’t been able to find one in Siwa, if it is out there, it is hiding in one of the gardens. Plenty of parsley and rocket but no basil!
The cheese options have broadened, with the local hard gibna rumi (cheese Roman) which is similar to parmesan but not quite as fiesty, and variations of soft white gibna, which is like a feta, now supplemented with various imported cheeses including wheels of gouda and Danish blue cheese.
Flavoured yoghurts include familiar strawberry, but also two options I haven’t seen in Australia – plum and pina colada. While I prefer to add my own fruit and honey to plain yoghurt, to avoid extra sugar and other not so good additives, I sampled both of these for blog reporting. The prune flavour I liked, it really tastes of prunes, the pina colada would probably also appeal if you actually like pina colada, but not being a big fan of tinned pinapple, which this tastes like, this won’t be on my shopping list.
I have found that the Friday market, which brings in farmers from early morning until just before midday, is worth attending as there are more vegetable options than the half dozen permanent fruit and veg stores in Siwa provide. Today I got larger yellow lemons like those we mostly get in Australia. Usually the stores only have the smaller lemons which are round and the size of a golf ball, and a green yellow, and sweeter (if you can imagine a slightly sweet lemon), so they taste quite different either as juice to drink or in cooking. I also got peanuts in their shells, always a good walking snack, and a kilo of golden pumpkin sliced fresh from a large whole pumpkin that must have weighed 10 to 15 kilo. As with some other stall holders, the man selling pumpkins stocked only the one vegetable, and this makes it like going to a pumpkin specialist – you get a really good product.
My recent day in Alexandria included visiting several coffee stores. Alexandria once had a much larger population of Greeks, and from this heritage there are still a handful of fine coffee roasting store / cafes, some founded in the early 1900s, along with the Brazilian Coffee Store.
Coffee is packed in narrow paper bags, each printed with the particular store’s details and often interesting, distinctive graphics. The red printed bag is from Cafe Vacakis and declares it is “Special Coffee”, on the Sofianopoulo bag I liked the illustration with the woman’s skirt patterned with coffee beans.
In the usual Egyptian a’hawa (the Arabic for coffee and also for the place where you drink it) your options are Turkish style coffee, or maybe Nescafe instant, along with tea and other traditional hot drinks, but these coffee roasting stores offer the styles we have come to expect anywhere that serves coffee in Australia – cappuccino, espresso etc.
The shiny, American and UK style coffee chain stores now popular with the aspirational middle and upper classes in the big Egyptain cities offer the multiple flavours and a similar blandness to Starbucks, Gloria Jeans and co. and much higher prices, but these older coffee stores have a cosy atmosphere, better tasting brews, the smell of real coffee, and older staff who often have a story to tell and time to tell it while you drink your coffee or they grind it for you. If they also offer pastries and sweets, these are invariably better than the chain coffee stores, and, like the coffee, usually half the price of those Westernised establishments where the young staff are always busy busy busy.
Having a sweet tooth, I am delighted to report that Siwa has a fine sweets shop. The one previously opened near the bank has unfortunately closed, but another, which I was told used to be further out of the centre but that I wasn’t aware of, is now right near the central square. The biscuits, cakes and traditional Egyptian sweets are invariably tempting, the staff are charming and good salesmen, often giving me a sample of new sweets and explaining what they are flavoured with – often this means opening containers of spices and letting me sniff, combined with tasting, as they don’t know the name of the spice in English, and I don’t in Arabic. They make several varieties of my favourite basbousa, and in future I will take some photos of the beautifully made biscuits. They also make Italian style bread sticks adorned with sesame seeds. Sweets are mostly about $1 Australian for 250 gram, while cheese is $2 for 250 gram, so my sweet tooth sometimes wins out over better nutrition, and as I have no oven to bake, visitors for coffee or tea are always a good reason to pick up something from this friendly store.