Category Archives: food

Two days in Cairo, no sightseeing: but kaviar!

downtown Dokki

What a week…… After a bout of presumptive malaria and feeling like death warmed over, rapid treatment with Coartem did the trick. I recovered, and was cleared to travel a few days later – which was good, as I had a work trip to Cairo coming up. Still exhausted, though, so no sightseeing whatsoever. Just work, and back to the hotel to rest. Such a pity! Cairo is huge, and there is so much to see. Population of 9.5 million, massive concrete flyovers and neon billboards, many political as elections happen soon. Dense traffic, towering buildings with satellite dishes and A/C units with extensive external wiring. Friends in Accra recommended sunrise trips to see the pyramids, dinner Cruises on the Nile, museums…. Next time.


The exciting hotel room view. The pyramids were only 30 minutes drive away, but they close at 4 PM (so I was told). Maybe I’ll need to plan a holiday later this year? We have friends in Alexandria, which is supposed to be lovely. Oh well, another time.

The second day, I got back to the hotel before dark, so I wandered off to look at the neighbourhood (Dokki) and to see if I could find fresh hummus. They had wonderful hummus in Cairo. I did find a excellent supermarket (Seoudi), but the deli counter was absolutely mobbed, it did look delicious. Asking for hummus in the shop got me dried chickpeas; despite trying to explain dried chickpeas + tahini and miming spreading and eating, no luck. The staff were super nice though, and I really need to learn a bit more Arabic. Shukran!


But look what I found! Norwegian kaviar! I was SO excited!!! I hoard this when traveling from Norway, and try to streeeeeetch each tube out so until the next trip home.  It is smoked cod roe paste for sandwiches, not the fancy Russian kind, but delicious.


Who does not love a foreign supermarket? I had emptied out workshop papers, so my suitcase was stuffed instead with rather random groceries going back to Accra —  blocks of feta, cream cheese, oatmeal, excellent crackers, mystery cake mixes, cereal, Fairy liquid, honey, and the precious kaviar  — all this for about 23 USD.  Cheese for everyone! My flatmates were happy.

Next trip to Cairo will be more cultural, I swear. People were really nice, and I definitely want to go back.


Pre-move chickpea burgers with feta (deconstructed…)

downtown Accra

A food stall in Accra: you might find ground nuts, bananas, drinks, chopped fruit, plantain chips, ready-made porridge in a plastic bag, bread rolls with peanut butter or chocolate spread …. the selection can be impressive, and can change through the day. I bought eggs here. Mobile vendors push handcarts with meat pies or Fan-Yo icecream sachets (not bad), honking a bicycle horn which is very much part of the soundscape of Accra. So are the chickens, even downtown. You might meet someone pulling a cart of fresh coconuts: fresh coconut water is easily available here, they chop off the tops with a machete and hand the coconut to you with a straw. A colleague buys a couple coconuts and pours the coconut water into a bottle for more ease of transport. I’ve been wondering whether there is any coconut meat in these green coconuts, to be explored: might be nice for a sweetpotato curry I have in mind.

I’m moving next weekend from the temporary accommodation to a new flat here in Accra, with the same two friends, which will be nice. I am looking forward to unpacking various bags and boxes, packed three months ago: where is the bread knife, and the French press? Two months of filter coffee carefully drained through paper towel is enough (a luxury problem, I know, I an not quite desperate enough to drink Nescafe) Time to use up ingredients again, as the kitchen is being packed up for the move, so these deconstructed chickpea burgers with feta were assembled.

Chickpea burgers with feta (very crumbly…)

700 grammes cooked chickpeas (about two tins worth)
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic
1 stalk celery, if you have it
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 small fresh chili peppers, if you have it (or 2 tsp cayenne pepper)
200 grammes of feta
2 eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Breadcrumbs to bind these, maybe 1/3 cup? (I intended to add this but did not have any breadcrumbs, and skipped this – which may why the finished burgers were so crumbly….)
Sunflower oil to fry

To serve: Thai sweet chilli sauce

Mash the chickpeas (mine were cooked the week before and frozen, if so defrost well before.) I used an immersion blender, slow going until I added eggs and chopped vegetables. Add peeled and chopped onions, garlic, chili pepper and the grated carrot. Crumble in the feta. Add pepper if needed, not too much salt as the feta will be salty too. Shape this mix with your hands to ten burgers or so, heat oil in a frying pan and fry the burgers on both sides until slightly golden. Serve with sweet Thai chilli sauce.

Note: If you have breadcrumbs or oatmeal, and add that to mixture with a splash of milk, it might help stop these from being so crumbly.  Grilling them in the oven (on both sides) might also work.

Home-made bread rolls to go with them. Very nice! You can see the chickpea burger is not holding its shape well, though flavour was great. Reheated well next day for lunch.




That which shall not be named

This was a recent success/disaster of sorts: a UK food magazine recipe for “Chicken, greens and coconut quinoa salad”. I made it with chickpeas, quinoa, cucumber and the coconut-lemon dressing, and it was absolutely delicious. However, I used local raw spinach, and suffered the consequences for days…… I’d had spinach a few days before, and was really pleased to get some fresh greens. But no, wrong choice. Even after washing the spinach in iodine solution, rinsing it in clean water, and patting the leaves dry,  something lingered that had me ill and sprinting to the toilet for days. Not great, when your office sometimes has an unreliable water supply and you cannot just go home.

“Everyone loses weight in Africa!” said a doctor to me, cheerfully, before I moved to Accra. I am not a thin person, and she wanted me to lose some kilos, which I promptly did on arrival. “You look great!” said colleagues on my first trip back,  as I was slightly tanned and eight kilos thinner. Well, I said drily, “…..that is what six weeks of diarrhea will do to you…..” Life improved considerably once we got an apartment and started cooking for ourselves again, and many of those kilos crept comfortably back on again. Still, random bouts of mystery stomach bugs still strike: hand sanitizers only get you so far.

On holidays in Crete once three of us got food poisoning right before our flight back. Dodgy lamb kebab, we think. None of us had loperamide or anything useful, so I crawled to the closest pharmacy in the small village, and as I spoke no Greek, I had to mime something along the lines of “vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, going on plane, HELP”.  She gave me charcoal tablets and something that eventually worked (enough) and since then, I never travel without some digestive emergency medications. Generally you do want things to (ahem) run their course, not concrete your innards, but sometimes Immodium can get you functional enough to get on that next flight.

Back home I would generally not say much about suffering from toilet-related issues, maybe just admit to feeling a bit under the weather. Here, though, it is amazing how you get used to discussing digestive issues with friends.  “Is it normal, to, err……..?” newcomers will ask, timidly. “YES. Perfectly normal. What did you eat? Do you need some rehydration salts?” “Try plain rice, nothing fried. Otherwise I have some Cipro upstairs, and I know a pharmacy that will deliver to your house.” (See also Things Expat Workers Like #57: Talking about poop.)  We discuss where to eat out with the least chance of getting ill, restaurants with very nice or really terrible toilets, de-worming tablets, street food vendor hygiene and the open defecation problem in Accra. At least I have access to a clean toilet.

There are some vegetable growers here using cleaner water, and it is perfectly possible to eat vegetables here safely, if cleaned well, peeled and/or cooked. No more raw spinach for  me, though!