This is a busy shopping area of El Mahala, Egypt, next to the central bus station. El Mahala is a major shopping hub for all of Egypt, and actually the whole sprawling city is one big shopping extravaganza. Everywhere you turn, it is crowded and bustling with traffic, people and merchandise.
We found a great little restraunt in a chaotic corner off the bus station, and had a great lunch of pizza, pepsi, and ice cream sundaes for dessert. Those pictures didn’t come out, but happily I stopped to take a few photos from the door looking into the street overflowing with vendors and shoppers.
I’m a big fan of olives, and the great display really caught my attention. Every type of olive imaginable is available at the tables of this street vendor. He’s not only selling olives, he also has many other vegetables pickled in salty water. Pickles in Egypt are not drowning in vinegar here, mostly they are just brined in very salty water with lemons for a little flavor if you’re lucky. In fact, vinegar is not a commonly used product at all. The only kind I’ve ever found is sugar cane vinegar, and I always add a little bit to our olives to make them more tasty. (Find a DIY recipe down below)
Olives are the king and queen of the pickled vegetables, of course. We have wonderful olives here of the Greek Kalamata variety, and these are definitely the King of the olives. Then, in my oasis anyway, the Queen of the olives is another big fat meaty green olive variety, very popular here. I’m definitely a “try before I buy” kind of gal when it comes to olives, though, and fortunately, most of the pickle vendors give free samples!
Salty vegetable pickles are a staple here. Most fast food street vendors sell them as a side dish along with the falafel or fava beans. You can also get them on the side with your fried liver sandwich or with a roasted chicken or even barbequed fish. (I’m making myself hungry here!) You will usually find an olive or two, but mostly it’s carrots and turnips cut into pieces, whole little lemons, spicy red or green chili peppers, and cucumber and onion slices. Yum!
However, you won’t find a napkin with your take-out, and don’t even think about asking for salt and pepper, because they will certainly think you are crazy. Nobody has a napkin or salt shaker anywhere in sight! I believe the whole point behind the salty pickles is to solve your need for a little salt on your food. I’ve learned to stuff them into my sandwich, or pop them in my mouth between bites of chicken. After a while you get used to the idea, and you won’t even be able to eat breakfast without them. They are delicious and addicting!
Fall is the right time to look for fresh olives in the market, so if you are lucky enough to live somewhere with the chance to buy them fresh, don’t miss it. Here’s a Do-It-Yourself recipe for brining your own olives, just in case you are so crazy about olives for breakfast that (like me!) you might want to fill up your own 5-gallon bucket full of olives:
How to Brine Fresh Olives
1) For the brine:
Boil one gallon of water with two cups of salt and one pint of your favorite vinegar. Let cool completely.
2) Prepare the olives:
Peel around 10 cloves of garlic
Wash around 10 chili peppers (optional)
Quarter around 10 small round lemons (or slice 2 or 3 large lemons) (key limes also work well)
Wash the fresh olives to remove any dust
Line a big clean bucket with a big new plastic bag
3) Put it all together:
Fill the bucket with clean olives, throwing in some garlic, pepper and lemon pieces every so often
Toss in some fennel seeds, bay leaves, and 2 cups of your favorite seasoning salt
Pour in the cooled brine until the olives are completely covered
Close the bag carefully with a wire tie, trying to get out as much air as possible
Close the bucket tightly
4) Check the calendar and write a note on your refridgerator to open the olives in four months.
Yes, it takes a long time to get the bitter out of an olive naturally. Commercial olives are fixed chemically with lye to remove the bitterness quickly. I hate to tell you that’s the toxic ingredient in Draino, but it’s true! Believe me, it’s worth the wait to eat naturally brined olives instead of grocery store draino olives!!
5) After 4 months, eat your olives for breakfast with warmed pita bread and feta cheese – happy breakfast!P.S. Don’t miss the great recipe for these pizzas – click the link in the photo caption!