6 curious stories behind the origin of Egyptian dishes
Food plays a vital role in every country’s culture, so every country has its own unique dishes which make its cuisine special. The Italian cuisine is famous for pasta, England is known for fish and potatoes and Egypt is famed for Koshari, Molokhia and Arouset Al-Moulid.
The Egyptian traditional cuisine has been passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. But do you know the origin of some of the renowned Egyptian dishes?
Here is a list of the history of some traditional Egyptian dishes:
Molokhia means royal. It dates back to the ancient Egyptian era and is also known as Jute or Jews Mallow. The ancient Egyptians didn’t eat this plant, as they thought it was poisonous, and named it “Khia”.
Molokhia, Egypt’s cuisine, July 4, 2012 – Cc via Wikimedia Commons.
During the Hyksos occupation, Egyptians recognized that Molokhia has many health benefits and that it was nontoxic when Hyksos decided to kill Egyptians by forcing them to eat this plant.
Egyptians were forbidden to eat Molokhia during the reign of Caliph Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah -a ninth-century ruler of Egypt. Some stories say that he banned it because Caliph Muawiya Ibn Abu Sufyan –the founder of the Umayyad dynasty-liked it, while others claim that he prohibited it, as he thought it led men and women to commit sins.
Koshari is one of the most popular dishes in Egypt, although it was first made by the Indians who named it “Khichdi” which means a dish with rice and lentils. During World War I, Egyptians knew Koshari through their dealings with Indian soldiers who came with the British troops to Egypt in November 1914.
Koshari dish, Egypt’s food, November 25, 2014 – Cc via Wikimedia Commons.
Egyptians did not only adopt this dish, they also added their ingredients to it such as: fried onion, white vinegar, chili sauce, chick peas, ground cumin and cayenne pepper.
Ibn Battuta, the renowned Muslim traveler of the14th century, was the first person to mention Koshari in his book "A Gift to those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling."
3- Umm Ali dessert:
Umm Ali is a popular Egyptian dessert and one of the most delicious dishes in the Egyptian cuisine. The name of Umm Ali means Ali’s mother and there is a bloody story behind the name of this dessert.
Umm Ali dessert, Egypt’s sweet pastry dish – Cc via Wikimedia Commons.
This dessert was made to celebrate the death of Shajarat Al-Durr, who was the second wife of Sultan Izz El-Din Aybak, the first Mamluk Sultan of Egypt. Shajarat Al-Durr was an immensely powerful woman. She forbade her husband Aybak from seeing his first wife, Umm Ali, and his son, Ali.
Sultan Ayabk became aggressive with Shajarat Al-Durr; she was also informed that he was planning to marry a Turkish princess, so she killed him.
After the assassination of Sultan Ayabk, Umm Ali decided to take revenge from Shajarat Al-Durr for killing her husband and conspiring against her son Ali to prevent him from sitting on the throne.
Umm Ali ordered her maids to kill Shajarat Al-Durr in her bathtub by beating her with clogs. In order to celebrate the death of Shajarat Al-Durr, Umm Ali ordered her cooks to create a new and delicious dessert and distribute it throughout Egypt after adding a gold coin to every bowl.
All Egyptians were happy with this dessert and the golden coin; they named this dessert “Umm Ali.”
4- Aroust Al-Moulid dessert:
Arousat Al-Moulid means sugar bride. It is one of the most important ways of celebrating the birth of prophet Mohamed –peace and blessings be upon him- in Egypt.
A man selling traditional toys and sweets to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad in Cairo, Dec. 30, 2014. (Photo by Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)
Some historians say that when the soldiers of Fatimid Caliph Al-Mustansir Billah defeated the tribes which attacked Egypt, the caliph ordered his sweets divan to cook new desserts and distribute them among the public to honor the soldiers’ victory, so the confectioners came up with the sugar bride.
Other historians say that Aroust Al-Moulid was inspired by the Shiite’s Fatima doll, which commemorates their love to Lady Fatima – the daughter of prophet Mohamed- during the prophet’s birthday. Egyptians knew Aroust Al-Moulid when the Shiite came to Egypt.
However, the majority of historians believed that Aroust Al-Moulid appeared during the reign of Caliph Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah, when he allowed his wife to accompany him to Al Moulid parade – on the prophet’s birthday, where she wore a glamorous white dress and a crown of jasmine flowers on her head.
The public decided to depict her and Al-Hakim Bi Amr Allah by sculpturing a sugar bride and a groom on his horse.
5- Swaba Zainab dessert:
Swaba Zainab dessert means Zainab’s fingers; it is one of the famous desserts in Egypt.
Swaba Zainab dates back to 1260 AD, when Al-Malik Al-Zahir Rukn Al Din Baibars - the fourth Sultan of Egypt- returned to Egypt after defeating the Mongols and he decided to celebrate his victory by ordering to bake and give away sweets to the Egyptians.
Swaba Zainab, Egyptian dessert, December 7, 2016 – Cc via Wikimedia Commons.
Sultan Baibars admired the new dish dearly and asked the chief about its named. The chief responded “Swaba Zainab”, referring to the baker, Zainab, who made it.
Kunafa is one of the most delicious desserts; its selling prospers during the Holy month of Ramadan.
Kunafa dessert, September 21, 2015 –CC via Wikimedia Commons.
Some historians said Kunafa dates back to the Umayyad Caliphate, when Caliph Muawiya Ibn Abu Sufyan was always complaining about hunger during the fasting hours of Ramadan, and one of his cooks prepared a rich dish to help him endure fasting.
Other Islamic historians said that Kunafa appeared in Egypt when Caliph Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah entered Egypt; the Egyptians welcomed him by presenting a dish of kunafa.