I’ve been on a bad food binge. Throughout years of conscientious Asian-influenced eating in Kuala Lumpur, I missed the grease that many Egyptian dishes brought to the many mouths I’ve shared meals with. “Bring it on, Cairo!” I squealed as my big feet clumsily trampled onto the Egyptian soil that they so sorely missed, warm with coatings of blessed sunlight.
I had dreamed of a rice-stuffed peppered pigeon slipping through my fingers as I grip it with my teeth; thick flakes of green pistachios dotting old-fashioned stretchy mastic ice cream clinging to my dessert spoon. Four years of cravings abroad had resurfaced to thoughtlessly wreak havoc in my stomach. After a short three months, I’ve learned my lesson well.
What I am yet to comprehend is how we are not giving ourselves the chance to miss this nagging urge for some extra fat, how we are replacing our native dietary habits with fat-laden imported ideas. The only conclusion I can provide lies somewhere in the realm of distressed emotions that heavily influence our eating habits, today more than ever. With an overwhelming job or an overpowering family, Egyptians are sticking to comfort food like Velcro, letting out an aching screech when pulled away.
Maybe we continue to treat ourselves as repressed children who cannot become anything but picky eaters because that is the only escape, the sole personality trait we’ve got left to call our own.
Unmarried adults obligated to live in their parents’ homes despite their age turn to eating out more often, openly chomping on snacks that their parents once said and still say they should not consume. Younger newlyweds, with various new pressures placed upon them, shun their homely eating habits to incorporate many hefty recipes that rely heavily on the packaged food industry, filling their lives with a heightened risk of illness and future heartache. And many of our children, especially children of the educated, are the biggest victims of their parents’ lost values – frozen breaded chicken and French fries have become their ultimate companions at meal time.
Meeting many Egyptian honeymooners in Malaysia, you would think that those couples were filled with an adventurous spirit but adventure in Egyptians appears in many activities, seldom in their eating. Traveling far from home, many of us stay and sup in reminders of our beloved country, steering clear of anything remotely Eastern that is not “ours”.
After a while, I could predict more often than not that the majority of Egyptian honeymooners would end up at a place like Planet Hollywood. I’ve even known honeymooners to eat a double whammy of Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken for the length of their stay while tangy sauces, succulent seafood and soft and sweet Chinese bread buns were around the corner.
Why are we making way for flab? Why are we allowing it to become an extension of our emotions? Why can’t we break free? I understand that it is not an easy habit to break but a seemingly minute change can make all the difference — all I ask is to stop or even limit your buying of frozen breaded chicken, frozen burgers, frozen kofta and frozen crepes. All it takes is one night of the week to prepare these and freeze them yourselves.
Let go of your old hang-ups. If you’re still living in your parents’ house, learn to cook already. You might teach them a thing or two. If you’re not, search for your adult palate and give new flavors a chance to pop in your mouth. For the time being, marinate fish fillets in a revised way, ethnicize them with the ancient aromas of India, cover with breadcrumbs and pan-fry in sizzling butter. It’s not a hard thing to do.
Besides, let’s do what we’re good at — let’s batter those delicate flavors of life until we can learn to openly (and politely) express our honest feelings, tame our invisible flames of wrath and eat like grown ups should.
Breaded Fish Tikka
2 fillets of white fish
125 grams of yogurt
1 tablespoon of lemon juice (½ a large lemon)
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 scant teaspoon of ground turmeric
½ teaspoon of ground ginger
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of allspice
¼ teaspoon of ground coriander
5-7 drops of hot sauce, optional
A pinch of black pepper
coarse salt, to taste
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
4 tablespoons of butter
Empty the yogurt into a bowl. Add the chili powder, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, ground coriander, pepper, salt and lemon juice. Stir until completely incorporated – no lumps or uneven tones.
Arrange your fish on a tray and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the fillets carefully, laying flat and side by side, in a large food storage bag. Pour the previously prepared marinade into the bag. Stick one hand in and lightly rub the marinade into the fish on both sides. When you’re done, seal the bag and place it on a plate to avoid breaking the fillet. Chill it in the refrigerator until ready to cook. I prefer to leave it to soak in the flavors for a few hours.
When you’re ready to cook, pour the breadcrumbs onto a plate. Cut the storage bag open with a pair of scissors and remove one fish fillet at a time dipping it first on one side into the breadcrumbs and then slowly turning it over to coat the other side and set aside on a clean plate. Repeat with the rest.
Heat the oil and the butter in a frying pan on medium heat. Once the butter begins to foam, lay your fish down and let it fry for 4-5 minutes on each side. Be careful when you’re flipping over the fish. Salt and serve immediately. This can also be baked.