Aisha’s Egypt: The Olive & Pickle Vendor

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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.

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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)

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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!

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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:

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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!

;^)

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37 thoughts on “Aisha’s Egypt: The Olive & Pickle Vendor

  1. Dear Aisha.. Loved your busy market photo’s and I now happen to Love Olives black or green.. I can not say I have tasted many peppers done this way in brine, only once when abroad on holiday.. I mistook them for a green been cooked whole.. I soon found out the difference πŸ™‚ LOL…
    It was going on holiday abroad each year that I gradually fell in love with olives.. Now we have them most days on salads or as a side dish with a sandwich.. Very good for you too ..
    Loved the recipe too… πŸ™‚ Have a wonderful weekend xx
    Hugs Sue >3

    • Yes, me too! The big fat green meaty ones are so delicious, aren’t they?! I ate spanish olives as a child, maybe they were green “manzanilla” so thats probably why I still love the green olives best. Happy weekend sweetheart! ❀❀❀;^)

  2. Olives and pickles…. my two most favorite foods. You can give loads of them to me and i’ll eat them all πŸ˜› Don’t judge.
    Though we don’t have olives here in such abundance and they are quite expensive here too. Mostly used for toppings on Pizzas and stuff. Loved reading your post as usual, the photos were amazing .

    • Oh, that’s amazing! Isnt it funny what we eat when we’re pregnant – I ate chinese veggie lo mein 3 meals a day when I was pregnant both times, nothing else tasted good to me! ❀❀❀;^)

  3. I am going to have to take notes – no napkins, no salt, no pepper! It’s interesting that those things are almost essentials at cafes and restaurants here in Canada. I love learning more about your area from your posts πŸ™‚ Sending you a smile for your day!

  4. Aisha Dear ! What a delightful post it is from every point of view !!! Loved the photos of the busy street market and the ample local colour ! It reminded me of some streets in the central market of Athens near Monastiraki.As for the olives,I just loved the way you prepare them and your reference to Kalamata olives.But,I only like the olives from Chalkidiki or Thasos which are called (salmades) you know the ones with the wringles LOL and the green ones from anywhere which are lemon-scented and have oregano added to them.
    You are a great writer,your writing style is totally engaging and gripping and I wish I had more spare time to spend on your extraordinary and most informative posts.
    But please,next time don’t say anything about sundaes … my mouth was watering and I started drooling …
    Thank you my dear friend for the vivid spirit of your descriptions that created the mood !!!!
    Have a very brilliant day and an enjoyable weekend !!! Lots of love to you my sweetheart ~β™₯~β™₯~β™₯~
    Doda πŸ™‚ xxxxxx

  5. Hello from Cairo, Egypt dead Aisha πŸ™‚ Great recipe! I was wondering what the exact yield would be then? Does this recipe result in a 5-gallon bucket filled with olives like u mentioned?
    Thanks a lot & keep up great job & yummy food! πŸ˜€

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