Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
8 - 14 June 2000
Issue No. 485
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

onions

Simple pleasures

 
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SUMMERTIME is the right time for fresh produce and an abundance of goods, arranged in martial symmetry or stacked in a higgledy-piggledy riot of plenty. This is the cornucopia captured by photographer Thierry Gicquel on a stroll down Tawfiqiya Market Street.

Summer also sees the traditional food-poisoning scares, of course, which start with Sham Al-Nessim and its staple of fisikh or ringa, preferably consumed with an abundance of spring onions. A couple of summers ago, the Egyptian public was put off their beloved lettuces when rumours of a deadly bacteria reached the local press. This year, rumours of insecticide-laden cucumbers and peaches have made the rounds and, as summer progresses, disease will inevitably proliferate.

There is something about the sight of melons piled high, ripe bunches of bananas, fresh heads of lettuce and gleaming silver fish, however, that is purely irresistible. Greengrocers and consumers conspire to tempt and succumb respectively -- perhaps one of summer's most pleasurable everyday rituals. Even the packets of crisps, stuffed crackling into cardboard boxes, seem to beckon, their salty crunch reminiscent of other summertime delights: the salt tang of sea air on the Corniche in Alexandria, or an afternoon spent hiding out in a deliciously air-conditioned cinema while, outside, passersby pound the pavement and wipe the sweat from tired brows.

With a wide variety of imported fruits now available to consumers, the idea of seasonal enjoyment has receded. Fifty years ago, women waited for the summer to organise expeditions to the cafés on the banks of the Nile, where pergolas were laden with fresh lufa. One could pick and chose a year's supply while sampling offerings of fresh fruit juice and Turkish coffee slowly simmered on the traditional primus stove. Cutting open the lufa, later, yielded that particular smell, a musty, tangy odour somehow redolent of cleanliness. Thick with Nabulsi soap, it symbolised bath time, the small seeds slipping from their pods and down the drain as mothers scrubbed their squealing children under the suds. The lufa, too, was associated with the hammam, and the beefy ballanas who pounded and sloughed clients into a stupor of blissful, steamy cleanliness.

Still, the younger generations retain a certain nostalgia for the memories of pleasures inextricably linked with summer. And there are some to be had yet, even now: in the late afternoon, as the sun sets, there is a watermelon to be cracked open, brought home on the bus at lunch-time and stored in the freezer until it is cold, its waxy green rind burnished to a high sheen. A fresh loaf of bread tastes very different when hunks are broken off and dipped into milky coffee on a sun-drenched balcony, early in the morning. And the slender, pod-like arous eggplant, slit lengthwise and stuffed with hot chilies and garlic before being marinated in a tongue-blistering broth of vinegar and salt, bring on an irresistible longing for a chaise longue, the slap of waves, the frost on green or brown bottles -- another bit of history that has slipped irrevocably away -- and hot grains of sand, creeping surreptitiously between one's toes.

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