Trouble with Smelly Fish & Cold Eggs

The people within the hotel are constantly changing and I think most people only seem to stay a few nights before wither moving on to somewhere else in Egypt or back to Cairo. It gets very busy at the weekends but quietens off as the week progresses.

Last weekend the hotel was near to bursting at the seams and the gossip is that there isn’t a room to spare. Not only are there the normal weekend crowds but Monday was Sham El Nessim. If you have never heard of it I am not surprised because unless you are of Egyptian origin or living in Egypt it will probably be a mystery to you.

For those that know me from previous blogs when I come across something new I have to spend a bit of time researching it. I could say that I love improving my knowledge – which I do but, I really hate not knowing so the simplest and easiest way to remedy this is to search online.

You don’t need me to tell you the pitfalls of relying on the internet for researching a subject but it is all I have to hand so I will try to include relevant and hopefully reliable and sourced information if I can.

Sham El Nessim marks the beginning of spring, it is also a national not a religious holiday therefore everyone celebrates it. It is always held on the same day as Easter Monday. It seems to be celebrated by going on picnics if you live in the city or coming to the seaside and being with families.

The name is probably derived from the Egyptian word Shemu or Shomu which translates to the ‘Season of the Harvest’ or ‘Low Water’, it was the third and final season of the Ancient Egyptian calendar.

You will see countless references to ‘Plutarch’s annals, [where]the ancient Egyptians used to offer salted fish, lettuce and onions to their deities on this day. I can find no evidence in Plutarch’s writing to substantiate this statement but you may know better.

In modern Egypt people do celebrate the day with picnics in parks, the zoo, the seaside and these can include hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, onions and salted fish, e.g. herrings but the brave and some say foolhardy eat fesikh.

The recipe for making it is very simple: the mullet, also called borai fish, is dried in the sun and then placed in large wooden vats filled with the right ratio of salty water for 45 days Apparently, the end result is a very ordinary looking fish on the outside but on the inside, is a grey gooey centre that has an all encompassing unpleasant smell.

Every year the Egyptian Government issue a health warning to not eat fesikh as it can cause nausea, paralysis or in a worse case scenario’s death. In 1991 eighteen people died from eating fesikh but in more recent years although people have been hospitalised there have been no deaths recorded since 2010 when two people died.

I wondered if the hotel would have anything special to eat but other than the hard-boiled egg shells being coloured and it being exceptionally difficult to get a table at breakfast the day was like any other.

Not surprising the coloured eggs were all I got this year, just before I left England the first Easter eggs were beginning to grace the shelves of the supermarkets but there was definitely no room in the case to bring some with us and I am sure if I had managed it somehow, they would have melted long before I had the opportunity to eat it.

Eggs cause me more hassle staying in the hotel than anything else, I am trying to eat healthily while I am staying here and try to turn away from the plates of pastries, breads and desserts as well as the food cooked in oil.

I have tried all sorts of combinations of what is on offer and have decided that eggs are probably my best bet. Each morning there are halves of French toast available, not so good as they have been cooked in oil but also, they have not been cooked long enough for me. I like my French toast to be brown ensuring that the eggs are well cooked. What is on offer bends and is pale yellow.

There is a chef that cook’s omelettes each morning, resplendent in his chef’s whites and his towering toque blanche he is surrounded by small bowls of chopped onions, peppers, various meats, cheese etc and he will make you a two egg omelette with whatever filling you want. Not much wrong with that I hear you saying – true but he does add a large spoonful of oil to the pan. I have tried asking him not to but the language barrier defeats us. Also, there is always a huge queue of people waiting for him to cook their omelette first.

Most days there are hard-boiled eggs, lovely you may think except that they are kept warm. Am I alone in wanted my eggs to be cold so that I can chop them up add a little bit of very runny humus to then pile it into a flatbread pocket with some grated carrot and cucumber. I tried getting a couple of eggs and shelling them in the hope they would cool down. All this achieved was burnt fingers and lukewarm hard-boiled eggs which are vile.

But recently a container of scrambled eggs has started appearing – hurrah I hear you say, well yes, it is wonderful but I think it depends on who is cooking them as to their appearance. Initially they were cooked but swimming in a water substance. Then there become very creamy but sloppy, occasionally they are excellent – this morning they looked good and I piled them onto my dry toast and headed back to our table.

They were freezing cold!!!

Obviously, their container didn’t have any hot water in the base or whatever keeps the water hot had stopped working. I had to leave my plate it was vile, and I hate wasting food but I just couldn’t manage to swallow it.

My quest for a healthy breakfast continues.

PS           Something I read and I’m not sure how true it is but it would be wonderful if it was. There is a saying that the one hundred pleats/folds in a toque blanche represent one hundred ways to cook an egg.

I’d just be grateful for one.


If you have enjoyed this blog you may want to read the blogs I kept when I lived in Vietnam and Costa Rica.

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