Friday, 6 December 2019

Holiday season means one thing: Food.

The Beginning

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Food and festivities around the world

Another holiday season is nearly upon us, and we all know what that means: Loads of food. Let’s face it, a celebration just isn’t a celebration without good food on the table. No matter where you live or which religious festival or holiday you happen to be celebrating, it’s a safe assumption that food will be an integral part of it.

Food and community go hand in hand, wherever you are in the world: In Switzerland, close friends and family like to gather around at Christmas for what they call a fondue chinoise, a variation on the classic bubbly blend of melted cheese, that instead features thinly sliced beef in seasoned broth dipped into mayonnaise-based sauces. Lunar New Year in Korea, meanwhile, involves three days of feasting, where tteokguk — a soup prepared with thinly sliced rice cakes, egg, beef, vegetables, and sometimes kimchi mandu, or dumplings — is the star of the show, believed to bring health and longevity for those who eat it. And in France, around half of the country’s annual oyster production is consumed during the week from Christmas to New Year’s Day, as people gather to eat even more oysters and foie gras than they do the rest of the year.

The rituals and symbolism of food traditions are very powerful. Food carries social and cultural legacies of different communities and faith traditions. The rituals of preparing recipes that have been passed down through the generations, sharing meals with close friends and family or giving food to strangers all mirror principles often found in religious practice: Generosity, hospitality, kinship, honoring heritage. So it’s no surprise that you find food inextricably linked to religious practices and rituals all over the world.

The traditions are diverse, but the principles of generosity and participation are shared: Thai Buddhists make merit (a sort of spiritual deposit) all year round by giving food to monks, who are not allowed to work for money. The Mexican feast of La Rejunta honors an annual pilgrimage, made every December, and over thirty thousand tamales are made and distributed every year to those who have donated to the pilgrimage. In Belarus, people celebrate the pagan festival of Kolyadki by dressing in costumes, singing carols, and having feasts in their homes. And the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, often involves eating fried potato pancakes called latkes, with food fried in oil commemorating a miracle in Jewish tradition, when oil burned during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem burned for eight days.

Needless to say, Egypt is absolutely on board. Egyptians love to eat, and we love a reason to celebrate basically anything. So, naturally, all our festivities heavily feature food. That we eat well in Ramadan goes without saying, with lissan asfour, tender meat dishes, Ramadan juices including karkadeh and qamar al din, and desserts including atayef and 100 different kinds of konafa all being Iftar staples. But what would Sham el Nessim be without fesikh and ringa? Could you imagine Eid al Fitr without kahk or Eid al Adha without meat or fattah? Other traditions may be a little more obscure. According to this blog post, Islamic New Year in Egypt is a time to eat white food, including mahalabiya and roz bil laban, which symbolize new beginnings.

What’s a holiday without a little something extra? Maybe you want to treat yourself to your favorite food, maybe you’re falling prey to the allure of a “must-have” new outfit, or maybe you’re looking for something to keep you entertained on a long car or train journey. Whatever the case, there’s no question that doing a little something for yourself is absolutely essential every now and then.

Now CIB’s BONUS program is offering the chance for you to redeem CIB BONUS points for an instant e-voucher which will then let you shop from over 120 companies, including top brands in clothing, electronics and grocery shopping. The service is available at any merchant or store participating in the CIB BONUS program — including Seoudi, Tradeline, Mazaya and many more — so you’ll have a tempting selection of products right at your fingertips. So how does it work? Just log in to bonus.cibeg.com and redeem your points to receive the e-voucher instantly via SMS. Then all you have to think about is having fun perusing your favorite stores in Egypt, showing the e-voucher SMS to the cashier when it’s time to pay.

Your top 5

Your top 5 pieces of business and economic news in November:

  • Delek consortium and Egypt’s East Gas acquired a 39% stake of the East Mediterranean Gas (EMG) pipeline that runs between Egypt and Israel, bringing us one step closer to receiving natural gas from Israel’s Tamar and Leviathan fields.
  • Egypt’s annual headline inflation rate dropped for the fifth consecutive month to its lowest level in nine years, hitting 2.4% in October from 4.3% in September, giving the Central Bank of Egypt’s Monetary Policy Committee ample room to cut interest rates by 100 bps.
  • We sat down for an exclusive chat with the CEO of Egypt’s sovereign wealth fund Tharaa, Ayman Soliman.
  • Tarek Amer will remain in office as central bank governor for a second four-year term, it is confirmed by state media.
  • Egypt hosted the Investment for Africa 2019 forum, where agreements worth a combined USD 3 bn are signed, including those that provide Egypt with USD 250 mn in funding for energy sector from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The enjoyment of food

When it comes to eating right, go with your gut: We are neither nutritionists nor mental health experts, but we do know that 90% of our serotonin receptors are located in the gut, according to Harvard Health Publishing. This means that the way we eat profoundly affects the way we feel, so a good diet can protect us against anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses — not to mention helping us look our best.

More and more studies are discovering links between your food and your mood. Findings have linked an unhealthy diet to long-term depression, sugar to food addiction, stress levels, and schizophrenia (it’s been dubbed the “white death” for a reason), and a varied and balanced diet to psychological well being. This field of study is broadly known as nutritional psychiatry or clinical nutrition, and a recent paper found that an improvement in diet affects plasticity in the brain, leading to a larger hippocampus — the part of the brain associated with learning, memory, mood regulation, and depression.

Our enjoyment of food is also closely linked to memory. Eating, says the Guardian, is an “intricate sequence of stimuli” that can influence how we perceive, interact with, and come to remember life experiences. So if our goal is to be both healthy and happy, there is no need to rule out pleasure when judging what kind of food is good for you.

Honoring your taste buds: If you like food, the best way to find and stick to a healthy diet is to flesh out a few golden rules for healthy eating, but allow yourself to prioritize taste, socializing, and enjoyment, say nutritionist Margareta Büning-Fesel and chef Cornelia Poletto. You could do this by looking into the genetic factors that make you like or dislike certain foods, and perhaps training yourself to better enjoy superfoods and greens with taste profiles that match your own — or pairing them with other foods you gravitate towards naturally.

What is the history of Egypt’s most famous dishes?

Many of our staple Egyptian dishes have a colorful history: Molokhiya, for example, may be widely eaten today but it hasn’t always been seen as a source of good nutrition. The ancient Egyptians feared it was poisonous, so wouldn’t eat it, and later on a 9th century Egyptian ruler forbade people from eating it. Though you might expect Sawabea Zainab to have a gruesome origin story involving fingers, you can rest easy, but Umm Ali has an origin story worthy of a Shakespearean play. Umm Ali herself was the first wife of the first Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, and she killed the Sultan’s murderous second wife (after the second wife had killed the Sultan). Umm Ali then baked her eponymous dessert in celebration and added a gold coin to every dish, distributing dishes throughout the country. Or at least so the legend goes.

Pyramid-building foodies: Going back even further in time, you might be surprised at just how much of our diet today is influenced by our ancient Egyptian ancestors. Thanks to the Nile and the fertile lands surrounding it, the people of ancient Egypt ate very well, growing a variety of fruit and vegetables including onions, garlic, leeks, lentils, lettuce, radishes, and turnips. They also had ample sources of protein, such as wild poultry, and fish, which they often dried. Cooking methods were varied and sophisticated, and they enhanced the flavor of their food with spices such as cumin, coriander, and cinnamon.

Baladi bread: The food of our ancestors. Bread was an absolute staple even in ancient Egypt, eaten by both the rich and the poor and made on a daily basis. And in an instance of different branches of science mirroring one another, there is evidence that 3,000-year-old ancient Egyptian emmer wheat may have been the genetic antecedent to many different species of wheat found in the world today.

Food and cultural appropriation

Just as much as food can bring people together, it can also be a polarizing topic. Recent heated debates in the US and UK around issues of cultural appropriation suggest otherwise. Celebrity chefs, including Britain’s Gordon Ramsay and Andrew Zimmern from the US, have been accused of laying claim to having better knowledge or skill in cooking regional dishes than local people do. New York restaurant Lucky Lee's also created a furore earlier this year when it advertised itself as providing “clean” Chinese food that wouldn’t make people feel "bloated and icky the next day," with critics accusing the owners of racism and a lack of understanding of Chinese food.

Food is closely linked to identity — and identity is linked to power structures. Chinese-Americans have been particularly vocal in talking about how alienated they have often felt from mainstream US culture growing up, and how Chinese food served as both an important link with their Chinese heritage and a notable marker of difference. Historically, much of the emigration from China to the US starting in the late 19th Century was restricted to restaurateurs, who then had to adapt their food to suit American tastes — often thickening sauces and adding extra salt because that was what their American clients liked. "Very few Americans realize or know that China probably had the most sophisticated food culture in the world at least 500 years before the French did," says Krishnendu Ray, a sociologist and professor of food studies at New York University.

It’s also a question of who profits from a cuisine’s popularity: As food editor Dakota Kim points out, there are often significant discrepancies in the ease of starting a business — including securing bank loans, finding a space to open your business, marketing and publicity — based on the background of the business owners. Someone with wealth and connections living in a rich country may easily open a trendy food cart selling Mexican tortillas, but if their knowledge of how to cook the food has been gleaned from Mexican abuelas who share the information without charge but see none of the profit, is this really fair?

Understanding and respect are the key ingredients: The answer, says a thoughtful Guardian editorial on the subject, is not to advocate a rigid adherence to “authenticity,” but to be genuinely interested and respectful when cooking food from other cultures, and to be sensitive about a dish’s origins when you experiment with it. Kim goes a step further by calling on those who benefit the most from power structures to acknowledge their privilege, and consider shining the spotlight on others who have not had their advantages — by directing publicity or bringing more customers their way, for example.

Secrets of gastronomy

Fabriqué en France, the art of service: Eating well is a sensory experience, one which can be crafted into an art form. Nothing embodies this attitude more than the work of a maître d'hôtel (French for head waiter) — true masters of the restaurant industry.

It’s all about making sure people have a good experience, according to celebrity maître d’ Fred Sirieix. This he learned from his father, a former health delivery professional, whose work sparked young Sirieix’s interest in service and hospitality. From day one he recognized that working in the hospitality field is best done when you can connect with others and give generously. “If you get all that right, the food tastes better,” Sirieix says. His views are echoed by many of the UK’s best front of house restaurant managers, whose stories are recounted in the Guardian. For these people, their work is more than a job: it is genuinely seen as a vocation and a way of life.

The kitchen has a hierarchy of its own: In high-end restaurants, chefs are highly artistic, often very well-paid professionals. In climbing the culinary ladder, they often find themselves at the top of the social one. La brigade de cuisine, or a restaurant’s kitchen staff, is headed up by a chef de cuisine (head chef), while the garçon de cuisine (kitchen boy) is at the bottom rung. BBC Good Food has good advice from Michelin star-holding chef Nathan Outlaw for those interested in working their way up to be a future Gordon Ramsey.

But the culinary industry also has a dark side. And few insiders have expressed this better than late high-profile chef and journalist Anthony Bourdain, who spilled some rare secrets to the New Yorker in 1999. “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” is an article that certainly lives up to its name. We recommend that all dining enthusiasts read closely for a sneak peek into the inner workings of your average eatery.

Don’t be too alarmed. The foodie world has much to offer, if you do a little digging. In the northern Spanish resort town of San Sebastian, a destination known for offering some of the world’s best dining experiences, there are hundreds of “txokos,” or secret gastronomic societies, that are accessible only by invitation. There, members and guests get together to experience the region’s culinary heritage, with little focus on the commercial side of things. With some searching, you’ll find that an almost parallel universe of food-based experiences can be found in Europe, with its “endlessly varied cuisine.”

The food we love: restaurant recommendations from Enterprise

Enterprise’s top restaurant choices: We’re proud to be a team of huge foodies, and work on many an Enterprise publication is fueled by Otlob’s services and office discussions about what to have for lunch. With no shortage of great places to eat in our fair city (and beyond), it’s a tough job selecting only a few to recommend, but here are some of our favorites.

O’s Pasta: Behind a blue door on 26 July Street in Zamalek, delicious creations await you. A small room with colored walls and wooden décor is filled with pungent aromas. Every dish is freshly prepared and all feature top-notch ingredients, including olive oil shipped from Siwa Oasis, organic sun-dried tomatoes, and handmade buffalo mozzarella, all of which has earned the restaurant not one but three Certificates of Excellence from TripAdvisor. Whether you are a vegetarian, a meat lover, or a fan of seafood, you will find plenty to choose from. If unsure, go with the signature La Vie en Rose. The main chef will keep a discreet eye on you to gauge your reaction. If the food doesn’t meet your expectations, he will personally introduce himself and switch your plate in minutes.

Never underestimate a great shaabi restaurant: Located around the corner from the famous El Rahmany sobia joint in Sayeda Zeinab, Al Emam does some of the best rice-stuffed chicken you can find around downtown Cairo. The menu has all the Egyptian staples, plus a healthy selection of tagins. Suitable for families, with friendly table service, and a good location two minutes from Sayeda Zeinab mosque, Al Emam is an obvious choice for good Egyptian food that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

And we would be remiss if we didn’t give a shout-out to some of our favorite spots in Maadi, especially those around Enterprise Headquarters. We’ve long been fans of Lokali, a concept restaurant on Road 250 with a cozy setup that is perfect for a wholesome meal with friends (four-legged friends also welcome here). The menu is distinctive, albeit somewhat limited, but most dishes served at Lokali offer some kind of unique element that is sure to keep your taste buds on their (metaphorical) toes. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the restaurant sources its organic ingredients locally (hence the inspiration for the name) and makes everything from scratch.

We are also longtime customers of Tabla Luna, which residents of the Republic of Maadi probably don’t need an introduction to. This colorfully decorated joint, which has also opened branches in Westown Hub and Zamalek, has all the usual suspects in Latin American cuisine, including enchiladas, empanadas, and chili con carne, to name a few. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on their iconic torta tres leches, and thank us later.

Want to get out of Cairo? Here’s where to eat great seafood in Alexandria: There is no single restaurant that’s an all-rounder. Each has its perks. But generally speaking, Samakmak, as commercial as it may be, is unlikely to disappoint. The place can be crammed on weekends, but you still get a near-authentic Mediterranean taste and a nice sea breeze. Balbaa is also quite tasty for a meat grill-turned full-fledged diner. It’s closer to home for Cairo visitors, and ideal for day trips, as it’s situated on the tip of the Cairo-Alex desert road. The Greek Club’s Santorini and White and Blue restaurants are another two good choices, but the food is often not up to par with the venue. This food-venue gap was recently bridged by newcomer SeaSide, also a top contender. For more authentic experiences, the iconic Zephyrion in Abu Qir and Zephere in Dekheila are as Alexandrian as it gets. Abdo Farag in Bahary’s cooker’s market should also definitely be on your local experience bucket list, and you could pay a visit to SeaGull if it brings back fond childhood memories.

Weird and wonderful food from all over the world

There’s no accounting for taste, and no denying that we humans are a strange bunch, with one culture’s culinary delicacy being the source of another’s bemusement, or even disgust. Whether it’s insects (usually fried and seasoned with spices before being eaten as a snack) in Thailand, snails (cooked in garlic and butter and generally found at top-end restaurants) in France, crocodile (considered a delicacy) in Australia, or rattlesnake (deep fried in breadcrumbs) in the US, the world is full of dishes where the appeal is generally lost in translation.

From cobra hearts to witchetty grub: This blog post listing 50 of the most unusual foods from all over the world is fairly comprehensive, showing that nobody really has any right to judge another culture’s food tastes as “weird”. Nevertheless, it has to be said that some dishes are more gruesome than others — with Italy’s maggot cheese, Vietnam’s cobra heart (to be downed in a shot of its own blood), the Philippines’ duck embryo and Australia’s fantastically named witchetty grub (larvae) all ranking highly on our list of Things We’d Rather Not Eat Today Thanks.

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2020 Enterprise Ventures LLC.