Family-style meals

Family-style meals

By
Suzanne Zeidy
Contains
29 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742708027
Photographer
Jonathan Gregson

Baladi

‘Baladi’, from the Arabic word ‘balad’, meaning ‘my country’, refers to anything that is more ‘rural’ than ‘urban’, more ‘indigenous’ than ‘international’ — something that is fundamentally Egyptian in nature. There are sharply flavoured baladi lemons and the soft farmhouse baladi cheese, but the most famous of all baladi foods is aish baladi, the ‘country’ or ‘people’s’ bread.

The attachment of the name ‘baladi’ to this most simple of foods has given the bread an almost magical quality and an importance in everyday Egyptian life far greater than its nutritional value. Subsidised for generations by the government, baladi bread now plays a large role in Egyptian political life and is an important commodity in the business of winning votes and favour, especially amongst the poor. When governments have in the past tried to lift the subsidies, protests and riots have taken to the streets and, within days, bread has again been funded to appease the masses after which the bread is named.

The name baladi may originally refer to the countryside, but it is in the cities that you see the breads everywhere, the rhythm of their baking and selling an integral part of street life. The methods used to make the breads are as simple and ancient as the ingredients themselves. Indeed, the food culture of Egypt is fundamentally one of breads and beans, not rice and grains, and the first known crop cultivated in Egypt was wheat. The bread eaten in Egypt today closely connects us to our ancestors, this essential element of everyday life barely changed since ancient times. In Cairo’s sweltering streetside bakeries, wholewheat flour, water, salt and yeast are combined into a very loose dough, which is then kneaded, stretched and rolled into balls. Each ball is efficiently coaxed by the baker into a uniform 15 to 20 centimetres round, just a couple of centimetres thick, and slid onto the sizzling hot floor of the bakery’s oven using a paddle. Quickly puffing up in the intense heat and doubling, even tripling, in size in seconds, the baker pushes it round the oven to finish the baking in just a few minutes.

The resulting oven-puffed pocket of bread is integral to every meal in Egypt and, indeed, the bread itself is often the utensil with which people eat. Straight from the oven, baladi bread are found stacked up in trays and ready to sell at bakery entrances and on makeshift street tables on every street in the country.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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