My story starts with my father…
My grandfather, being an established poet and leader in Egyptian society was set on shaping my father into an exemplary and respectable member of high class Egyptian society.
My father was to be equipped with finesse and the ability to mingle with the creme de la creme of Cairene intellectuals. As a teen, my father recited Arabic poetry by day then secretly sold Egyptian Falafel sandwiches (known as Taa’meyya) by night. Valuing the arts, my father valued business more and from a young age developed a hunger for his own independence. Nonetheless, out of pure fear and respect of my grandfather, my father’s golden boy facade carried on. In the lively nooks and crannies of Cairo, pops went by a different name so that word would never reach my grandfather, that the son of Mohamed Mustafa El Mahi the Poet was selling Egyptian streetfood, not too far, from the El Mahi villa.
However, there comes a time when we all must decide who we want to be- and pops wanted to be his own man. He stood tall against my grandfather and told him of his decision to attend culinary school in Europe despite my grandfather’s misgivings. He set out with his own savings, headed towards Austria and Germany, and later settled down in Sweden as one of its first Arab businessmen.
Growing up I constantly moved around. One foot in the West and one foot in the East. Sweden and Egypt were two rivers that I interchangeably traversed which resulted in a lot of uprooting, resettling, change, and inconsistency. Nonetheless, a constant was my father cooking in the kitchen and lunch being served at 16:00. No matter where we were. My love and passion for cooking was born in these hours of the day and the smell of chopped fried onions with black pepper will forever be what first ignited this never ending romance.
I grew up eating European cuisine because this is where my father excelled. The strongest memory I have of visiting my father’s restaurant was the ever present and subtle smell of wine (an important building block in my own personal understanding of food). It had nothing to do with Egypt. Egypt, a concept that was a hazy silhouette in my young conception of my still unexplored identity. I did not know what Egyptian food tasted like nor what people ate there.
While my father looked towards the West, I grew up on stories of his childhood and the many precious moments he spent in Egypt. The figures of my paternal grandparents were two that shone brightly in all my father’s memories, my grandfather being the Grand poet and my grandmother being La Grand Dame of the El Mahi household. More than that, she was also the Senorita de la cucina! Her dishes were legendary. My father described her food as being “paradisical” and out of reverence never attempted to remake any of her dishes. Though my father could cook some of the most lavish dishes ever to come out of the European kitchen, it was his mother’s food that he longed to eat again. My father’s longing for his mother’s food was perpetuated by his inability to cook Egyptian food. His inability to cook Egyptian food was further exacerbated by my mother’s inability to cook Egyptian food. My mother could not cook, period! This intense longing however yielded very vivid description of the foods that they so longed for. How it smelled. What it tasted like. Occasions when they would cook this and that dish. My mind became like a mini memory museum for my parents. I was so familiar with their memories that they somehow became my own. So you can only imagine when stories turned into reality and I ate from my maternal grandmother, whom I was lucky to meet, for the very first time.
While I love cooking food from all over the world, I feel a deep sense of importance, almost an urgency when I cook traditional Egyptian dishes. Cooking Egyptian dishes has become a way for me to translate my parents’ longing into my reality, to honor and preserve my parents’ (and grandparents’) memories, to find my own relation to the Egyptian kitchen, but most importantly to keep our traditions alive and pass them on.
My cooking is my form of expression. It is how I taste, see, and discover the world. Therefore, on this site you will see recipes from many places other than my beloved Egypt, even if its where my heart is. I am a big believer in tradition and honor things that have passed the test of time but I also love and believe in experimenting. It is my belief, that in order to keep tradition alive- one has to renew it every now and then. Also, even if I have cooked my heart out for so so many years of my life- I want to make something super clear: I do not claim to be an expert at any type of cuisine and do not seek to be. I simply seek to share my recipes, my stories, and culinary experiments with you and to do so with great love. I cook because I love to cook. My cooking is about discovering, retracing and reshaping. It is about the past, the present, and the future. It is about identity. It is about heritage- but above all it is about stories. Stories that have given my life so much meaning, purpose, and foundation for all the cooking and recipes that I will be sharing with you. Culture starts in the Kitchen!
I dedicate this blog to my parents. Who reside in my heart. In my memories. May every delicious bite of my recipes be a prayer of mercy upon your souls.