Red sea fish? I’ll have chips with mine please…
December 6, 2010 § 1 Comment
The recent scary news of shark attacks at Sharm el Sheikh reminds me that I’m due to write a sequel to my previous post describing our attempts to find a taste of the real Egypt during a recent package holiday.
That phrase “a taste of the real Egypt” has taken on a gruesome tint following the news of the death of one tourist and the maiming of three others – though they were not Egyptian but respectively German, Ukrainian and Russian. The news reports are big on sensationalism but short on key detail but a bit of delving reveals that the shark attacks all happened in the Middle Garden reef, adjacent to all the 5 star luxury establishments in the resort. We were some 10 miles further south in the mid-range price bracket – I knew there had to be a good reason for trading down…
Scenes like this one (not a brilliant picture I know but you try holding your breath and snapping through the minuscule viewfinder of a dodgy disposable underwater camera) look to be temporarily on hold while the guilty white-tip shark is hunted down. I feel shades of Moby Dick coming on…
Having spent most of our week in the water gazing at the incredible colours of the tropical fish, by the end of the week we decided it was time to eat some. This meant leaving the hotel compound and taking a taxi to the Old Market area of Sharm. This was the location of the first of the July 2005 terrorist attacks (it’s not just sharks you have to worry about here). The Old Market turned out to be a misnomer is it’s neither old nor is there a market there. You will find more marble shopping malls and inside you can get the bazaar feel by visiting one of the spice shops like this one:
I duly went in and haggled over the price of an odd selection of goodies: Bedouin tea, karkade (dried hibiscus flowers), kurkuma (I’m pretty sure this yellow powder is turmeric), and “black seeds” which appear very frequently on Egyptian bread (nigella also known as kalonji or, confusingly, onion seeds). Here I am clinching the deal after protracted negotiations and tea-drinking.
Transaction complete, our next task was to find somewhere authentic to eat. After asking round during the week and consulting our Lonely Planet guidebook I’d narrowed the choice down to two possibilities. The first was the straightforwardly named Red Sea Fish restaurant whose splendid display is pictured below:
Younger son Arthur decided that fish wasn’t for him this evening so that meant dinner was to be in local Sharm institution El Masrien:
The hotel staff had looked at me oddly when I’d asked if I needed to book here. Walking in it soon became apparent why. It’s more of a working man’s café than a restaurant – spotless formica tables, speedy service, TV in the corner and a short grill-based menu. Prices are cheap, very cheap as local Egyptians eat here and we saw that rare sight in Sharm, an Egyptian woman as, tourists aside, it’s a very male-based society.
We began on familiar territory with hummus, baba ganoush and pita bread (please excuse the random spelling of these Arabic words). All spanking fresh and full of flavour.
Thinking (wrongly) this wouldn’t be enough, I’d also ordered some grilled stuffed vegetables. This huge platter arrived which we failed to do full justice to:
The boys opted for kebabs as a straightforward choice – a mixture of shish (whole pieces of marinated lamb) and kofte (minced lamb with spices) both grilled over hot coals. These were wolfed down in seconds – I barely got a look in:
My choice was the more adventurous one of rice-stuffed pigeon. This splendid creature duly arrived allaying my fears of the scrawny feral birds pecking at detritus on the streets of Manchester:
The pigeon was impressive but my abiding memory of that evening will be watching a woman in full burqa delicately eating forkfuls of lamb – one hand would raise the fork to her facial area and at the last minute the other hand would dart up and swiftly swing aside the black veil and the speared morsel would disappear. I was transfixed but far too polite to try and video the performance.
So, next time you feel inclined to brave shark and terrorist attacks and visit Sharm, do consider leaving the gilded cage of your hotel compound and check out what the Old Market has to offer.