Or Nun, even… Today, I was back at the Farmer’s Market at Nun (pronounced “noon”) Centre on Zamalek, as the Saturday event has a wider range of stalls. This time around there was more produce; interesting fusion food; and a chance to recharge the energy channels with beautiful soaps, scrubs and oils – both massage and essential – from a company mysteriously called Black lotus.
First off, there was plenty of farm produce from organic and natural growers (generally certified compliant with a European standard), as well as from hydroponic farm Makar, certified by the USDA – though the status of hydroponics is not without controversy in the organic world. So the range of green leaves now included pak choi, chard, kale, baby spinach. Sprouting seeds were available, as were chicory, myriad herbs, and Egyptian molokhiyya, used to make a somewhat glutinous soup usually eaten laced with garlic as a side with rabbit or chicken, and rice.
It’s also great to see two companies selling eggs from humanely-reared and responsibly fed hens. One of the things that most bothers me about buying food in Egypt is how to be sure that the animal products are ethically produced and safe; now I have an answer. Tabia’y also rears chickens according to similar standards, I heard, and the company provides a delivery service.
Nawaya Egypt’s stall was a revelation, a fusion of Italian and Egyptian that is as intriguing as it is inspired, marketed under the brand name “Baladini” from balady (Egyptian for local or traditional) plus -ini, (small items, in Italian). On one side: packets of betaw, very thin crispbread, based on a traditional country recipe, with fennel or sesame seeds or paprika. On the other: packs of tagliatelle flavoured with beetroot, carrot or red pepper, bringing balady cereals and eggs together with unusual veg. to create a new kind of artisanal pasta in Egypt.
Assistants Ezra’a and Asma’ explained that wheat and other ingredients are grown organically on smallholdings near Saqqara, south-west of Cairo. The idea behind the betaw is to encourage healthier eating, especially among the young: The crispbreads make a great snack, far better than the all-pervasive “chipsies”. They are a bit like Doritos, they added.
Food straight from the home kitchen featured on Dina’s stall, laden with everything from kahk, pastries with a date filling laced with spices, to mana’eesh with zata’ar (tiny rounds of flat bread with a topping of fragrant lemony thyme, the species grown in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon rather than on northern Mediterranean shores). There was further temptation from rolled vine leaves filled with rice, delicate pastries of chicken and spices, spinach samosas… I could go on (and on!) Marketed under the name Mutbakh Ommy, My mother’s kitchen, this is traditional Palestinian cooking done with flair and enterprise.
Finally, to revive and relax the body, a partnership trading as Black lotus, based in Zeitoun, Heliopolis, produces a whole range of essential oils, plus base oils from argan to wheat germ. Organic essentials such as pine and spruce are imported from the Baltic region; others are from further afield, while Egyptian products include citronella and lemon grass. No sign of lotus, or more accurately water lily, either blue or white, and certainly none that was black!
The company also markets natural soaps, with unusual combinations of materials and fragrances – I’m trying one with carrot juice, perfumed with lavender – and body scrubs, and shea and cocoa body butters. There’s even a natural spray to deter ants, laced with clove and peppermint essential oils. I’m trying that one out in my kitchen right now…
(No personal advantage is derived from writing this article and there is no commercial relationship between the writer and any of the businesses mentioned.)
Written for the Daily Prompt: