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July 2005

A Guide to Eating at an Egyptian's House

by Shaden Mohamed

An Egyptian Meal

No matter where you are in the world, if you ever dine at an Egyptian's house you should be prepared. And when I say prepared, I mean fully armed and ready for what can easily become a tragic turn of events.

Daily Visits to Family and Friends

From the moment you step foot in Egypt, until the day you leave, your schedule must include daily visits to family and friends. When you live in Sydney, a 23-hour flight can be pretty exhausting to say the least, but that is no excuse to sleep.

"There is no such thing as jet lag!" exclaims my excited cousin, who is practically waiting in my apartment when I visit.

And so it is customary for me to dump my luggage in the corner, rest my eyes for twenty minutes, then shower before visiting my eager relatives.

Mind you a person who hasn't slept for almost a day doesn't exactly look her best. After carrying numerous backpacks and duty free bags, my limbs have turned into jelly, and sitting in a confined space for so long has turned my posture into that of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. So you can imagine the scene - a girl whose eyes are half closed with lifeless arms, walking very slowly in a slouched-over position. It's no wonder they always say "Look what living abroad is doing to our children!"

What does this have to do with food you ask? Well, no matter the time of day, the amount of notice given or the occasion, you will be subject to excessive amounts of food, even if you have just been on a tedious trip from a country thousands of miles away. In any case, I have prepared a "Guide to Eating at an Egyptian's House" in order to help others survive the inevitable outcome which befalls those who think they are merely visiting for "a cup of coffee." You may want to print it and carry it in your wallet on your next trip to Egypt:

A Guide to Eating at an Egyptian's House

  1. If you are ever dining at an Egyptian's house, make sure you fast for 3 days prior to the event, because the minimum serving size is usually enough to feed a small country for a week.

  2. Relatives do not take no for an answer. If you are offered an extra plate of hummos then for goodness sakes accept it, or suffer the constant nagging from your auntie who will double the serving as punishment for your insolence.

  3. If you are ever asked the trick question "Do you like the food?" never reply with "yes" - this is an open invitation for another kilo of chicken to be loaded onto your plate. The best thing to do is to divert the focus onto an unsuspecting brother or sister by pointing at them very quickly and stating "She is too shy to ask for more."

  4. In the rare occasion that an Egyptian dish is not to your liking, the ONLY way to avoid eating from it is to spot it before it gets served. Quickly fill your plate with the other dishes being served so that there is no room available for the one you dislike. By the time you finish, you can quite politely state that you are full, but disappointed that you were unable to try the dish. Do not go overboard - this can be quite easily misunderstood as an invitation for another helping.

  5. At meal times many Egyptians (and Arabs in general) prefer to wait until they have finished before washing their palette with a refreshing drink. If you are not accustomed to this tradition, then make sure you have a glass of water by your side, or you will die of dehydration before the meal has ended. Getting up DURING the meal to quench your thirst could be misinterpreted as a sign that you dislike the food.

  6. Never be the first to declare you have finished. Doing so will allow the others to escape while you are forced to eat another rack of beef.

    (If you are a big fan of tea, please skip ahead to number 8. If not, proceed to number 7).

  7. When tea is being served, ask for a small mug or glass, or you will end up drinking 3 or 4 cups of tea, equivalent to 1-2 litres. If they do not have small cups, sip your tea slowly and keep it in your hands so as to avoid it being taken away for a refill.

  8. Dessert is almost always popular, but after an Egyptian meal sometimes the sight of more food can make you senile. If you were able to follow the above guidelines, a piece of cake should be a piece of cake! In other words, there should be just enough room for some sweets. If you were unable to follow the guidelines, then you are probably on the verge of collapsing. The best excuse (one which can never be argued with) is, "Thank you, but I am watching my weight." If you have a little meat on you, the host will be too embarrassed to refute this. If you are blessed with an outstanding figure, you will be able to justify your 'diet conscious' ways - since obviously your resistance to temptation has paid off.

  9. After dessert, the inexperienced diner will fall into a false sense of security, foolishly thinking that the torture has ended. This, however, is when you are most vulnerable - in a relaxed and weakened state you become the perfect target for 'post-dessert' testing. Assorted fruits and nuts are often presented, often in the guise of table decoration. This is merely a test set up by the host to ascertain your level of satisfaction. If you have refused dessert on the basis of being on a diet, the refusal to eat the healthy alternative will be a direct insult to the host's intelligence. If you indulge in more than one nut or piece of fruit, the host will assume you are hungry and ALSO be insulted. There is no way to avoid this lose-lose situation, except perhaps by immersing yourself in deep conversation long enough to keep the host distracted.

Hopefully this guide will have helped you survive the tragedy which befalls so many.

Of Egyptian background, Shaden Mohamed was born and bred in Sydney, Australia, where she attained a degree in Media & Communications. As an accomplished writer, Shaden has a passion for educating and informing others in her community on the beauty of her culture. "My dream is to inspire people with my writing because I believe that literature is the most beautiful form of expression."

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