Traditional Egyptian recipes tell of the country’s culture and traditions. On my journey through the region of Qena near Luxor, I get to look into the pots of a family while they cook. When I set off in the morning to the little village, I have no idea what a wonderful day I will have. I am grateful that I was able to watch and photograph the women of the family (mother and daughter) preparing the food. Although there are some limitations. This is because, in general, it is not desirable to photograph people.
The exception in this reportage is the cover picture of this article. The photo embodies everything that corresponds to Egypt. Religion, the joy of life, agriculture and, of course, traditions. All this united in the enchanting smile of the young egyptian woman. From what I experienced in Egypt, it embodies the mentality of the people.
It’s about being – existence. Life. I realise that this is also the essence of what I have learned in the first seven years here. For this, basically trivial discovery, I am forever indebted to Egypt and its people.
According to legend, Molokhia comes from the origins of the people
At least that’s what people say here in the countryside. Molokhia is one of the most traditional dishes in Egypt. Perhaps also one of the most unusual. She is a real delight. Residents put the origin of Molokhia roughly like this: “Molokhia has been around since the time we were created.” The spinach-like soup is as good as unfamiliar to Europeans. But once you try it, you can’t get away from it. That’s probably why there’s this saying: “Once you eat molokhia, you always come back to Egypt.” Well, I have returned and I want to build a bridge.
The muskweed, which is known in Europe, would even grow in one’s own garden. It is extremely tasty and can be processed fresh, dried or frozen. If you are a vegetarian, simply omit the beef fat or ghee and replace it with a good oil. In this case, exceptionally, no olive oil, as high temperatures are generated when heating the garlic.
Molokhia in Egypt is like butter to our bread
I am touched because some of the time-consuming preparations have already been done in the kitchen. That way the meat is already pre-cooked, which takes a few hours. Good beef and a complete goose! I didn’t expect that, so it must be a feast. We cook together in tranquillity and with a lot of pleasure. The farm manager’s wife is such a soul of a person. Warm eyes, a friendly smile. Always up for a joke. Instead of Arabic, the words escape only in Italian or English. I am desperate, because I used to speak Arabic so well just a few years ago. Yet, it almost seems as if there is an invisible bond around us. Two women from two very different worlds – and yet so close.
Molokhia is doing well in the heat of the country. The plants tolerate the intense hours of sunshine and so it is not surprising that it grows everywhere. There is no family where Molokhia is not being cooked. With the mass of garlic cloves that go into the pot, a good broth, it is as nutritious as it is delicious.
After we had cut the fresh molokhia together out on the field, it is washed, shredded and chopped into small pieces. It is hot, we are sweating, but the atmosphere is light, cheerful. I keep an eye on them, we chat and laugh together. The handling goes easily for mother and daughter, and our eyes meet in between. Somehow, despite different cultures, we seem to be one. On the other hand, I have lived here so long that part of my German mentality crumbled here over the years.
Girls in Egypt learn to help in the household from an early age. I’m fascinated by the independence with which Hint does the work in the kitchen. Mother and daughter are a well-rehearsed team, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. Always that laughter in the kitchen, that joy of life.
If you now feel like making molokhia yourself, click here for the original recipe.
Also here in Egypt I realise: life in the countryside has its special charm. And that lies in the self-evidence of things, in the distribution of tasks and the routine of daily life. Family life has a solid basis that provides security. For generations they live in independence.
Deceptive longing for Europe
Some, mostly younger people, long for a life in Europe. Or at least a short break from Egypt. I am quite familiar with this longing, because growing up in the GDR I was also locked in. Egypt and the GDR were even allies and supported each other economically. I remember darkly the “new” potatoes from Egypt, in contrast Egypt got the “MZ” motorbikes and trucks for them, which I still see on the streets of Egypt from time to time.
A shelter and always food on the table
They have no idea what a fortunate living situation they are in. Living in their own house, the family has a secure place to live. Those who live in the countryside are given land to cultivate. The valuable soil is inherited from generation to generation. Millions of Egyptians are not aware of that. They have so much, which is basically luxury. Not the cars, not the consumption that makes a person happy. Rather, a shelter and a well-set table every day are the true luxuries of our world.