Face-stuffing Egyptian style

Posted on May 19, 2006


Some weeks ago I noticed an Egyptian restaurant in Greektown called “Prince of Egypt”. I immediately apprised M of this and we determined to go there, me with visions of molokhiya and he with the resolution to actually eat the internal organs of a pigeon. He tried pigeon once in Cairo, and having taken it apart questioned me as to the identity of the various lumps in his fereek. “I think that’s a gizzard,” I said. “Go on now, eat it. Try the heart too.” Visibly paling, he dropped his fork.
Internal organs? No, no, I’m not ready!” he said in great alarm.
Months of ridicule later, he decided he might try. However, two attempts of ours to go there were foiled by their ridiculous hours, and in the end I went yesterday with S, who has a car enabling us to get there in time. It is decorated like a sewan, but the walls are made of white Styrofoam. Real Styrofoam, with little round bits you can pluck out. And the table cloths are those tourist trash ones you can buy in Egypt with a ancient Egyptian motif where the colours are actually outside the lines – we’ve all seen them. Why can’t Egyptian printers manage to line up the colours with the outlines? It’s not rocket science- everyone else seems to be able to do this. But the familiar incompetence was relaxing.
We looked at the menu, which was of course pieces of actual paper glued onto some sort of album contraption. I searched it frantically for molokhiya, but to no avail. I couldn’t accept this – I could smell it. S wasn’t as anxious since he can eat it any time at his parents’ place. I asked the waitress whether they had it but this threw her into such overpowering confusion that I decided to let it go. I’ve noticed that wait staff all over the world are often a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and she proved to be no exception. We ordered mahshy (stuffed vegetables) and a moza dany (lamb shank), and battered cauliflower for an appetizer. They didn’t have karkade, nor strawberry juice, although they were on the menu. Despite ordering, I still couldn’t rest with the smell of garlic seeping into my pores, and so I got up and marched towards the deli counter in the back behind which stood a teenage boy (pictured right). I enquired after the molokhiya. He ummed and ahhed and in the end retreated to summon his dad, the chef. The chef was one of those dishevelled people who make you wonder how they managed to get into Canada. And if you could have the name of their lawyer. Anyway he said he only made molokhiya by special request for Egyptian customers, and if I could wait he would make me some. I thought about this, and decided I couldn’t live without the molokhiya so I returned and asked how long it would take. He said 7-8 minutes. Before he said that it would take a long time, and before that he said he already had some in the back. Anyone who has dealt with Egyptians knows that they see absolutely nothing the matter with giving you two or three contradictory answers while gazing up at you innocently as if their every utterance was not a giant breach of traditional conversational practices. So I returned to my seat and waited.
20 minutes went by, and S remarked “So I guess he meant 7-8 minutes Egyptian time?” I’d forgotten about Egyptian time. However, he eventually brought it to us, complete with large casserole dish, with the mahshy and moza and everything. It was all sublime, particularly the moza. I’m supposed to be on this diet which reduces my appetite, but it never had a chance to even nudge me away from this repast. Every morsel went down our throats (S had four bowls of molokhiya. He is a small guy and must have a hollow limb). M called while we were eating and shouted about betrayal and stuff, but I promised to go with him again and he was mollified.
They had on this questionable CD of instrumental versions of classic Om Kalthoum and Abdel Halim songs, except every now and then people would come in with a chorus. Maybe it was a karaoke track? Anyway, our irritated mutterings must have been more audible than we thought because the kid eventually changed it to Mohammed Mounir and shouted across the restaurant to us: “A7san keda?”

Today reminded me of one more thing that irks me about Toronto: parking. I don’t drive, but so magnificent is the malevolence of the City of Toronto in this regard that I seethe every time I’m next to someone who is trying to park. First, they want both your pancreas and your first-born child to park for a couple of hours. Second, you have to have the eyesight and observational skills of a hawk in order to see and read the manifestos disguised as street signs. They actually say shit like “No parking between 7 a.m to 7 p.m. on the left side of the street between April 15 and September 15. No parking on the right side of the street between September 15 and April 15.” By Confucius, we’re parking, not taking our GMAT! Whereas in Egypt, you could park on top of a streetlamp and you would only have to do some minor fist-greasing.