Bourdain Goes to Egypt and Smokes Like a Local

Koshary, served everywhere in Cairo
Koshary is all carbs and all good, and can be found anywhere in Cairo.

Egypt is on people’s minds these days, what with the potential toppling of the dictator, Mubarak in the Arab world’s largest country. What a perfect time to watch a rerun of Anthony Bourdain’s show about time in Cairo.

He shows off the dishes that the capital city is famous for–sizzling meats grilled on skewers, and the most common meal served in the city, koshary–a combination of rice, chickpeas, lentils, and macaroni noodles topped with fried onions, and doused with a spoonful or two of garlic-infused vinegar. Like in most Arab countries he also enjoys fuul, the slow cooked chickpeas and garlic that’s eaten with plenty of slabs of pita bread.  Men wait in line and it’s served out of a giant cauldron. Some bring their own bowls with them.

Bourdain focuses, of course, on the people he meets and describing the city which he finds beautiful. What he doesn’t do it what everybody else does, and that’s go to the pyramids. He decides, wisely, that after seeing the number of tourist busses and crowds heading there that he’s going to skip it. Much to the dismay of his local hosts.

He’s given up smoking for eleven months…after 38 years that’s quite a feat. But the temptation of the sheesha is too great. He can’t resist sitting down with his host and inhaling deeply from the apple-flavored waterpipes. But first he has to learn not to use his mouth, but instead, take a deep draw like you’re smoking on a joint…and then the pleasure is all his as he exhales copious amounts of smoke.

The episode includes an ill-fated excursion on a felucca, the small sailboats that ply the Nile. Bourdain is restless and bored on the boat, and gets his comeupance when the boat’s mast hits the top of a bridge and nearly impales him and his producers.  Later on he does what he does best, visits a family in the country and they slaughter a duck to cook for dinner.

It’s great to show this American so at home among the shorter Arabs in the teeming streets. We see a how people there are so much like they are here, except now, they’re in the midst of what may be the most important revolution the Arab world has ever seen. In six months, what will happen in the Middle east? Will governments run by dictators fall in Yemen, Egypt and Syria? Or will it be like in Iran, where the world got excited yet nothing was pushed far enough to really change that much?

Yesterday Nicolas Kristoff wrote from the streets of Cairo of how many Egyptians came up to him asking when our president would say something. Will he take the side of the dictator? Or will he encourgage them, like he should have done in Iran, to throw the dictator and his dictat0r-in-waiting son out of the country.