Being a fast food junkie, I savour any fried meal. Chips instead of a baked potato, burgers instead of grilled steak, doughnuts instead of a fruit salad, all that and a high metabolism means that I haven’t see the after effects (yet). Add to that the fact that I’m Muslim, so if I eat meat it has to be meat that is slaughtered by virtue of Islamic ritual, I don’t touch pork and I don’t drink alcohol. Layman’s lesson over. I am also in full acknowledgment that had it not been for these dietary requirements that I’m delighted with, I would be going to McDonalds, Carls Jr. or Kentucky Fried Chicken instead of the local Turkish Kebab joint.
Fortunately for me, the meat in Egypt is halal, pork is officially unavailable (not clarified) across the country bar Sharm el Sheikh and alcohol is only available at a few vendors. All this means that I don’t have to read the label or ingredients while shoving a packet of jellied sweets into my mouth. Better still, it means that I can walk into a McDonalds and say, “Big Mac Please,” and follow it swiftly by devouring the burger before the employee can say, “I’m love it.” I dare not correct him; once I tried to purchase Baked Beans, the only progress I made when asking the attendant for a tin was for him to inadequately repeat the words, “Bakidi binz? bakidi binz?” I didn’t hang around to find out if he actually had any.
Returning to my fast food infatuation. Within a day at the apartment, I was already asking about the big chains, namely the Golden Arches and the Colonel and who could blame me, I was looking forward to this from the moment I purchased my ticket. To my displeasure no one was willing to show me how to get there, so I had to make do with a Chicken Shawarma: it was okay but it definitely wasn’t a big, fat, juicy burger. My ignorance was more a matter of anticipation rather than experience of Egyptian culinary delights. Impatience would eventually get the better of me so I scouted the building for a dining buddy.
There’s a thing you need to know about young Muslim guys, one of their favourite past times is eating. Put a drum stick in front of him and you’ll be lucky to see the bone come back, put a curry and you’ll be lucky to see the plate come back. Some tend to store it in the middle portion of their body, ready for hibernation, especially since they don’t get many chances to burn off the high grease content of the food they like to eat. Not that I would totally condemn a high fat, high cholesterol diet either.*
* NB. I wrote this in 2006-7: My 2012 self completely condemns (regrets) a high cholesterol, gut bulging, butt-hugging diet.
From my fifth floor apartment, I travelled in search of someone to join me eat, at 1am it’s generally hard to find anyone who would be willing to eat. Generally to consume food late on the day is considered unhealthy but I was living on London time a full two hours behind, which meant my body clock was at 11pm. Of course it’s still unhealthy but hey, fried chicken isn’t good for you either! Next door lived three young men; one eighteen from London, who tended to go walkabout around the town; the second, a nineteen year old from from Chicago and already married: he was perpetually on the phone to his wife so much so that the phone could have been surgically attached; the last guy was twenty-one and from sunny California. Narrowed down to one feasible choice I approached him to ask him about getting some food. For a second I thought I saw an are-you-crazy look, but I realised it was just his hostile demeanour that gave that impression. Up until that point, he hadn’t appeared to be the friendliest of characters and I had the distinct feeling that he didn’t want me there. Asking the question changed all that, he responded with a resounding “Hell Yeah!” in typical American style.
Perfect, now I had someone to get me some food, all I need to do was know what I wanted. Now between a Big Mac and Zinger Supreme, the amount of teasing your brain does is incredible and at the best of times I’m not very decisive. It was by astounding luck that Ahmed got fed up with me twiddling my thumbs and decided to order straight from the colonel. This was actually the start of a very good friendship; I didn’t sleep at night and Ahmed didn’t either so instead we ordered chicken every night. It worked for me, I got my fix.
Some time later, I moved to another apartment and our (my wife & I) delightful friend cooked us up a whole bucket of fried chicken. OOoooh my good God was it better than the fried chicken I had bought elsewhere, however seeing as Aziza is not accessible and the chicken outlets are, I satiate my whims by paying a small fortune for a tummy-ache instead. She can stay over again.
One thing is for sure though, eating KFC sure does make you feel sick, but I’m telling you it’s worth it every time.Not that I’m plugging that diet either. Obsession with fried chicken is not healthy on the mind, soul and body and endeavours that followed would have weakened the resolve of weaker men (I grunt). Generally the chicken took 6 hours to poison my stomach and the worst incident was when we had only one colonic irrigation facility available in our flat. We had a guest staying with us, it was 3am and they had decided it was a good time for a shower. ???!!
Apparently I was curled up on the floor crying in agony morphing wildly like an Autobot into various physical manifestations of pain; prostration, on all fours, rolling on the floor and leg-hip-limb-popping run in the hall, rather like a speed walker. For further elaboration please bear with me: Chinese Mandarin has 4 basic phonetic sounds, Michel Thomas’ (MT) method advocates signals to embellish each sound. The sounds are (1) Flatline, MT holds out his thumb quivering it a little; (2) Upward, pointing your index finger slowly upwards; (3) Dipping, lowering your voice and raising the tone, trough and peak, indicated by two split fingers mimicking the sound down then up and; (4) a sharp Down, represented by a sudden down motion of the index finger. In true MT method fashion, I effectively represented all four of these phonetic sounds with the word “Ooh” complete with finger motions four years prior to ever deciding to learn Mandarin or more miraculously, stumbling across Michel Thomas.
(1) Oooooh: (2) oOOh: (3) OooOOOH: (4) O!
In any case, my wife asked me post incident, “No more KFC?”
I responded, “Are you kidding?! I’m ordering again tomorrow!”
Incidentally, I returned to the city during the revolution in 2011 and visited the same KFC outlet: I got sick. I realised that it wasn’t the meat but the water that these guys wash the meat in, it smelt putrid.
I can’t believe I’ve written a page basically about fried chicken.
Of course, two large chains from the American fast food industry aren’t all that’s available here, but I followed this diet with unrelenting fervour. Initially, it seemed as though the variety of street food out here was exceptionally linear: If you want a burger, they’ll give you a fried chicken sandwich, if you want Quizno’s Sub, you get a fried chicken sandwich, if you want a shawarma or a shish tawook, you’ll inevitably get variations of fried chicken, in a sandwich.
I was told, as I’ll explain later, that the flavours are bland and that I may need to bring a few spices to add a little traditional Asian flavour to the food. I didn’t do it but if I were to try, it would be a far cry from the chicken tikka masala I ordered: it was fried chicken in a very watery sauce, neither gravy nor curry. I learnt my lesson swiftly, from then on I decided to stick to the Colonel. Besides that, it would take away from the experience of titillating your taste buds with foreign cuisine (this side of Cane Rat).
The regime continued for six weeks, which coincided with the time that my wife appeared on the scene. Look, I know much of the above seems incredibly obtuse, I became much more cultured after my first six weeks. There is a lot of fried food that graces the Arab palette and despite savouring those tastes obligingly Arab street food is incomparable to many of the home cooked dishes that we tasted. Bouri, Koshari, Kobeba and Kabsa. Did I mention the desserts? …