Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – XCIX. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Entertainment (25 of 30)

Kebab by the Nile

There were two outdoor restaurants at the edge of the Nile. I went there a few times with my parents.

I do not remember the name of the first one, but I have fond memories of that place. The announcement that we were going there brought cries of joy from the junior members of the family. Our parents informed us a day or two in advance and extracted a promise that we were going to be perfect children. A promise we usually kept for about one hour!

This restaurant like El Hatti served grilled meats and tarachi. But they went a step further. You could order mezzes and cha’abi (food eaten by the common people). Therefore you could for instance have falafel; the line, however, was drawn at the like of foul medames (fava beans) and koshari (rice with black lentils).

When Fola and Nisso took us there, it was usually to celebrate a special event.

It must have been a very expensive place since my dad referred to the bill as “la douleureuse” (the painful one). That was true for all restaurants, but the emphasis he put on the term la douleureuse was very different here than say for the check at La Parisiana.

The second restaurant was called “Casino des Pigeons.” The name means Casino of the Pigeons. And pigeons were indeed served there, but we never ordered them.

Again the mechoui (grilled meat) predominated. It was not exactly a family restaurant. It had a large area and it placed its tables among trees or behind bushes. It was difficult to see what was going on at the next table. The main theme was obvious; it was a restaurant for lovers of all ages; to put it in a plainer language, it was a place for a discreet rendez-vous.

Mom and dad having been married for many years, were there for the food. It was good (but not superior) and plentiful; my parents could share one portion, and Robert and I shared another one. It was an inexpensive outing, and therefore my parents were willing to face some touchy questions from Robert and I. But they never came!

Casino des Pigeons is an old restaurant; it was established in 1923 and it still exists today. When I visited Egypt in 1996, I asked the advice of the concierge of the hotel as to whether it was worth my while to go there for a meal; I added that I used to go there, but that was more than 40 years ago. He replied that it was still a nice restaurant, but that it was possibly in a different location. The following exchange then took place:

Concierge: “Are you going by yourself?”

Me: “Yes.”

Concierge: “Well you know, they still specialize in pigeons and ‘turtledoves!’ But you can always go there for lunch.”

The message was clear; and Casino des Pigeons was not revisited.

Issaevitch (pronounced iza ye vitch)

It seems peculiar to describe a foul medames place after talking of such giants as Groppi or El Hatti. However, this narrative is a record of my years in Egypt; and I would find it unthinkable to leave Issaevitch out. Besides, those Egyptians who have attended Le Lycee Francais with me would never forgive such an omission.

Le Lycee was situated in Bab El Louk, a short walk from the restaurant; not surprisingly, therefore, it quickly became an ideal meeting place for the students. They no doubt were the restaurant’s best customers. (Le Lycee was not a co-ed school; a wall separated the genders. But that wall came tumbling down at Issaevitch!)

The restaurant was situated in Midan El Tahrir (Liberation Square). It was owned by the Issaevitch brothers. One of them stood out from the rest and was, accordingly, the “frontman.” He was a born PR man. You felt comfortable in his presence for he always had something nice to say about everybody.  The students of Le Lycee Francais were assured by him that they were going to pass their exams with flying colors, and that they were destined to do very well in life. I no longer remember his name, therefore, for the purpose of this narrative, I will call him Sam.

Sam was always cheerful and generous to a fault. He invariably “forgot” to include on the check one or more food items you had ordered. On the house treats were a given.

I previously mentioned how tricky it is to cook the humble fava beans in a way that would allow you to call yourself a “professional.” Now, the Issaevitch were Russians Jews, the nagging question here was how did they manage to prepare such a superb foul? The question was posed to Sam many times, and all we ever got from him was a mysterious smile.

But the foul was not the only mouth-watering food item on the menu; his falafel were a work of art; his tehina could be offered to the angels; as for his tarachi (pickles) I remembered the taste many years after I had left Egypt. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, you could order pastries if you had any room left.

With foul most people mush a hard boiled egg in the mix. The eggs of Issaevitch deserve a special mention. The hard boiled eggs were removed from their shell and left to cook further inside the foul for hours. The result were eggs khamin. Eggs khamin are a Jewish Sephardic specialty; indeed khamin is a Ladino word. Now how did an Aschkenazi Jew learn to make such sublime eggs khamin? Sam politely declined to reveal his technique. Another secret that the Issaevitch brothers took to their graves!

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