By Hadeel Hegazi
Food is a major component of any culture; it often depicts the country’s historical stories and traditions. Arabic cuisine is quite popular globally, in addition to its unique taste, it also tells many stories. Almost every dish in each Arab country has its own story, occasion and specific event at which it is served.
Food is sometimes a good indicator of an important political or historical event. It could also easily depict the state of society’s economy and its socio-economic classes. For the Arab world, each country has its cuisine that varies from the other; however, they all cook using common ingredients such as meat, rice, bread and a wide array of spices.
Ful Medames (or Fava beans) is rooted in Egypt, but it is also popular in other Arab countries as well. Ful is the dish that suits all classes because it is cheap and filling. It is known as a breakfast item among workers, students, or even in special family gatherings. It is such an inherent part of the Egyptian culture that it can be described as the national dish of the country. It can also be traced back to Ancient Egypt.
The preparation of the dish is easy enough, but it takes considerable time. The more time you spend on it, the better-tasting it becomes. The beans are simmered in a special pot, which is left on the stove overnight. It can be served either as a dish, in which it is mashed and then salted, and peppered with a dash of olive oil and cumin, or it can be eaten as a sandwich in Pita bread and stuffed with salad and tahini.
In Syria, ful is mainly a breakfast dish as well. It can be either served as ful bi laban (beans with yogurt) or ful bi zeit (beans with olive oil) and salad. In Morocco, ful is made with almost the same ingredients, but garlic and ginger are added.
Mulukhiyah is a dish that also originated in Egypt and it is one of the most popular for lunch, or what is known in the West as dinner. Usually, Egyptians have a heavy lunch and light supper. Mulukhiyah is believed to have been a traditional Pharaonic dish as well. However, the most famous story of this green is from the Fatimid dynasty. During the reign of Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, eating mulukhiyah was banned for a reason that remains unknown to this day.
Mulukhiyah, or corchorus leaves, is first chopped up and then cooked in boiling water. It is later spiced with an option of putting some meat or chicken to stew with the soup. The last step is to add fried garlic, which is often added with an unnecessary gasp (or shahqa). The final product is a thick green soup with a syrupy texture. It is usually eaten with pieces of Egyptian bread known as balady (national) bread, which is a whole-wheat pita.
Tunisian mulukhiyha is prepared differently, as the corchorus leaves are dried and crushed into a powder, and then olive oil is added to make it into a sauce. Interestingly enough, in Morocco, the term mulukhiyah refers to an entirely different dish made with okra.
Fattah is a characteristic dish in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The Syrian fattah is very distinct from the famous Egyptian one. It is often made with chicken slices or shawerma with chickpeas, garlic sauce, roasted bread and rice, and could be served as a breakfast meal.
In Egypt, fattah is greatly attached to Eid Al-Adha (the Greater Bairam), where most Egyptians eat fattah for breakfast on the first day of Eid. Egyptian fattah is made with meat, garlic, tomato sauce, bread and rice. Some believe that Egyptian fattah originated in Nuba and Upper Egypt.