Deadly delicious: what they like to feast on in Egypt
Each year, the Ministry of Health of Egypt warns: stay away from the use of pesikh. This traditional Egyptian dish is made from dead or fermented fish. This strange mullet delicacy has been around for thousands of years. But any slightest violation of cooking technology can lead to poisoning with botulinum toxins, and in the most severe cases – to death. What makes the Egyptians risk their lives every time they use this dish?
The History of Pesikh in Cairo
For some specialized stores, the Ministry’s warnings only helped to quickly sell products. Sabri Shain, the owner of a family-owned fish shop, laughs: “We consider this a positive advertisement.”
This business has a rich history. About a hundred years ago, the patriarch of the family, Mohammed Shahin, arrived in Cairo from Minya, located on the banks of the Nile River, in upper Egypt. In 1912, he created the eponymous store and became the first fasakhani – a man who specializes in the production of fermented fish. And so began the story of a family franchise. Now the largest store, opened in 1955, sells caviar, herring, squid and other seafood.
Around Cairo, there are several stores that sell fesikh and bear the name of the Shahin family business, but only two of them are official. The rest just want to earn extra money on a famous name. And this, of course, only goes to the detriment of the national delicacy. In 1991, 18 people died from the use of pesikh. Purchased in a non-certified store, fish become very dangerous.
Read more about Egyptian customs and customs here!
The attitude of the Egyptians to an unusual treat
Local residents buy pesikh only in stores owned by the family franchise. The Egyptians claim that they do not like this dish, but they can’t stop eating it. This is akin to some kind of drug addiction. Locals consume fermented fish with brown baladi bread, butter, lemon and onions to slightly soften the pungent taste.
Some Egyptians are trying to separate themselves from national culture and become like Europeans. They call it Masri (Egyptian) and Bie (for the low class). They just want to be like Europeans.
This is a strange smelly dish you won’t find in restaurants. But customers of the Shahin store call this delicacy one of the most authentic dishes of Egyptian culture. The history of the creation of Pesikh begins with the reign of the pharaohs. In the spring, the Nile River became shallow, leaving fish starting to rot on the coast. The Egyptians traditionally use pesikh during the festival of Shem el-Nissim (spring holiday, which is celebrated after the Coptic Easter).
Sabin Shahin says that the peak of purchases of an unusual mullet falls exactly in the period before Shem el-Nissim. But many in Cairo eat pesikh and ringside – not such a dangerous dish that causes less controversy – and on other holidays. Thus, production does not stop and there is always freshly cooked pesikh.
The recipe itself is quite simple: the mullet, which the local name is borai fish, is dried in the sun and then placed in large wooden bowls. Here it is poured with a special brine, with the desired salt concentration and left for 45 days. Technically, the fish remains raw, but salt works as a preservative and prevents decay.
If the concentration of the brine is insufficient, or a dead fish has got into the tub, which has already begun to rot, the bacteria quickly begin to multiply in the aerobic environment, releasing botulinum toxin. It causes nausea and paralysis.
Of course, it is not necessary to try all the local authentic dishes in Egypt. Relaxing here in one of the resort towns, you can have a great time.
The editors of the site “Come with us” urges their tourists to abandon the use of suspicious products, from visiting dubious catering establishments. This is extremely important for maintaining health during rest. The article is written for educational purposes.