Recently, we took a trip over to the other side of the Nile, to an area named Dokki in the south-west of the city. The main purpose was two-fold: i) to visit the Agricultural Museum and ii) to track down an expert in the Ministry of Agriculture who could give us some guidance about cultivation in Egypt.
This might seem a bit late in the day, five years or so down the line from starting the Jasmine Garden, but better late than never!
From the start, the area was a total surprise. I’ve visited relatives in Dokki before, but never explored beyond that. The Ministry, an impressive building in the neo-classical style, is surrounded by trees; the Museum, formerly the palace of Princess Fatima, daughter of the Khedive Ismail, is a beautiful C19 structure with extensive gardens, statuary, and – within its walls – an interesting collection (more on this later).
All around are numerous institutes relating to agriculture: for research into pests – a whole building devoted to potato brown rot, for example; into pesticides and hormones; into… well, you name it, the chances are you’ll find it.
And there was a wealth of produce on sale all along the streets. This is the heart of downtown Cairo, not a farmer’s market on the outskirts!
Some sellers had brought along their carts loaded with a moveable feast of produce:
You may be astonished at the size cabbages commonly reach. The secret is, they are made into “mahshi kurunb”, a particular delicacy of Egyptian cuisine. Individual leaves are filled with rice mixed with herbs, especially fresh dill, then tightly rolled up to form thin cylinder shapes before being packed tightly into a pot and cooked in stock over a high heat. Best of all were the ones I tasted on our recent visit to the farm in Qalyubiyya where the “mahshi kurunb” were cooked on an open fire.
Other sellers had set up stalls along the edge of the pavement stretching the length of one street. Here there was a huge mix of goods and produce for sale. Several stalls had packets of vegetables (courgettes, slender white aubergines) ready prepared for filling with rice mixture to make “mahshi”; and for cooking some other way – shelled peas, diced colocasia (taro), for example:
The stallholder above is measuring out “ful nab-et” or sprouted fava beans. Prepared with onion, cumin, lemon, and salt and pepper they make a healthy, tasty snack.
There were also numerous outlets established by the Ministry for the sale of typical products of Egypt’s farms and food manufacturing industry – everything from honey and olive oil to great cans of apricot or red carrot jam, and packets of lentils, macaroni and beans. What a cornucopia this was!
As for the visit to the Ministry, we tracked down the Office of the Agricultural Extension Services and a team of helpful specialists – to be continued…