Food and music for thought

Chitra Kalyani
4 Min Read

The Townhouse Gallery factory space was not originally intended as the location of the ongoing “Streets of Cairo” festival. Yet on Sunday — when a peaceful demonstration for the murder of Alexandrian Khaled Saied took place in a nearby quarter — the festival, organized by the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute (DEDI), found itself driven inside a large tent at Townhouse. Military vans patrolled nearby streets.

Some local visitors stood tentatively outside, wondering if the festival was an everyman’s party. A man wondered if it would be appropriate for a saeedi (Upper Egyptian) like himself to go inside, and if the people at the venue were “ajanib” (foreigners) or Egyptian.

While the festival may not have invaded the streets with the passersby, there are still other ways of taking art outside its regular perimeter. One such was employed by Danish cooks Kille Elna and Rene Bolvig who made innovative recipes out of Egyptian ingredients.

Rene Bolvig’s concoction was a watermelon salad, with crisp fried chopped okra, goat cheese, salted cucumber, onions, and a marinade with chopped parsley and coriander sticks. “All the things are here,” said Bolvig, “but mixed in a totally different way.”

Watermelon did not only have to be dessert, said Bolvig, whose salad carried a sweet and savory flavor. An audience member confessed to the cook that he found the taste “shocking,” but that he liked it.

Asked if the food was Danish, Bolvig answered the visitor that the ingredients came from the Egyptian market, but what the cook had added was “a new way of thinking.”

Batches of food were prepared before the guests, and others simply asked the cooks about the recipe.

“I thought it will be a bit weird,” said Amado Alfadni about Elna’s dish, “It’s much better than we expected.”

“It was fuul (beans) and hibiscus together,” said Alfadni “I didn’t like the idea at the beginning, but [Elna] told me that when you cooked it, hibiscus tasted like lemon.”

“We’re just playing,” said Elna, once more reassuring that all ingredients were from the Egyptian kitchen.

Meanwhile, conversation also took place musically. The Danish and Egyptian DJs who had visited a local wedding produced improvised local beats and lyrics. Egyptian singer Shehta joined forces with a Danish DJ Asmund Boye Kverneland in producing music that filled the tent with the atmosphere of a real celebration. Listeners joined in, and boys in their late teens and early twenties danced to the music.

Muhab Wahby of DEDI told Daily News Egypt that the musicians had picked up some of their colloquial lyrics from the weddings and perked it up with further mixing.

As with the food, the music picked up the colloquial and the familiar, and mixed it up in a different way.

Meanwhile, one of the highlights of the festival — the graffiti art — is yet to be seen on the streets. It is speculated that permissions from authorities to paint around town have been difficult to obtain.

Albeit relegated to mostly indoors venues, the “Streets of Cairo” festival will continue until June 19.

For more information on “Streets of Cairo,” visit

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