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 – XXVII. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Food (12 of 18)

The long road to a home cooked meal

My mother could take nothing for granted. The food on our plates traveled down a rocky road to get there.

Almost every day, she went out with the maid and purchased what she needed. There were no supermarkets like today. Finding all she wanted under one roof would have been a dream for her. The food for the day’s menu had to be acquired by going to different purveyors. She would, for instance, go to a vegetable store to buy potatoes, artichoke, lettuce, tomato, and so on. Next was the butcher where she got the required cut of meat; by the same token, if required, she would place a special order, say, for an oxtail to be cooked for a supper (or lunch) invitation. After that, came the grocery store for oil, sugar, cheese, and other needed items.

If she was running out of spices, a visit to the atar became necessary. (The atar sold not only spices, but medicinal plants, and other stuff such as what you would need to incense the house to cut through a streak of bad luck, presumably brought on by one or more individuals that gave you the bad eye!)

The last stop was at the mahmassa (roastery) if we were running out of nuts and/or seeds (examples sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, melon seeds, and so on).

With the food in the house, the primuses and fatayels were lit, the meat and vegetables cut, spices and other ingredients added, and the meal got underway. It had to be ready at the latest by 1:00 PM. This was the time when my dad came from work for lunch, followed by a siesta, before returning to work. Robert and myself came from school famished, and in a rush to go back to school to play with our friends before classes resumed. My mother very rarely missed this critical deadline.

Without the benefit of refrigeration, the process repeated itself all over again on the following day.

I might also add that my mom, in those days, could not rely on canned food. For instance, if she needed tomato sauce, she had to buy the tomatoes and make it from scratch. If she needed tomato paste, she had to concentrate the sauce until it reached the right consistency.

In time, an Egyptian company, Kaha, started canning various foodstuff. One of their first canned food were peas. My mother was overjoyed to simply be able to open a can of peas, add to it all other necessary ingredients, and place the whole thing on the fatayel for a short period. Do I need to tell you that peas were often on the menu?

Ironically, during the war, more canned food was available. If you had connection at the N.A.A.F.I. (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes), you could get “European” cheeses such as cheddar, cans of soup, sardines, and corned beef. Corned beef was called Bolobeef, which in turn is a transliteration of boiled beef! We did have more than one connection to the N.A.A.F.I. canteen, and accordingly were able to enjoy this “refined” foodstuff!

I said that my mother went out “almost” every day shopping for food. Thursday was a major cleaning day; going out was therefore not possible. Indeed, cooking was kept to a minimum. Same story every second Monday – laundry day. On such days my mother cooked foul medames, lentil soup, or an omelet. Nawashef were also an option. Translated literally, nawashef means dry things, but they were anything but dry food. I loved a nawashef day. We had cold cuts, special cheeses, pickles, hard boiled eggs, tehina, sardines, tuna fish, falafel and so on. A nawashef meal varied, therefore, all of the above was not necessarily on the table. Robert and I pestered my mother to include falafel. For health reasons, she resisted, but we usually got our way. Going out to buy falafel was for us the equivalent of picking up a pizza for a Canadian kid.

Besides cleaning and laundry days, there were other days when my mother didn’t go out. There were many street vendors who literally brought their wares to our door. I will talk of that in my next section. If Flora had all the needed vegetables in the house, all she needed for a cooked meal was the meat. And here, she had two options.

If I was off from school, she sent me to the butcher with strict instructions as to what to buy. Since he was dealing with a child, the butcher ignored most of my mom’s instructions, all the while assuring me that he was giving me a superior cut of meat! For my mother, it was a compromise; she didn’t get exactly what she wanted, but what she got was a much needed respite. At any rate, there was an incident that got me out of the meat business, at least temporarily.

I was coming home with a package of meat, when a bird of prey (a kite) swooped down, grabbed the package, and flew away with it. It happened in a flash, and I was left without a scratch. But I got a big scare; a kind lady brought me back home crying. My mother consoled me and told me not to worry about the lost meat. I declared that I was never going to buy meat again. But the matter receded in my memory, and, shortly thereafter, I was back in the meat business! There was a difference, however; I held the meat in such a way that no bird of prey could get to it. It was also wrapped in extra newspapers in addition to the brown paper supplied by the butcher; thus, there was no smell to alert any freeloader bird.

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