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sham elnessim Egypt 2019

This is How We Do Easter in Egypt

Today, Egyptians celebrate Sham Elnessim, a yearly festival that we pretend that it’s the first day of summer and hit the beaches like nobody’s business. Even if the other word for it is “spring festival”.

*Searching wikipedia*Sham Elnessim, an Egyptian national holiday marking the beginning of spring. It always falls on the day after the Eastern Christian Easter.

Yes, we still call it Easter too. It marks the day we officially ditch our winter attire and bring the summer clothes out.

It’s been a tradition since the ancient Egyptian days. A day that I really wait for from year to year. It’s a day when the family gather around the finest table and eat fermented fish until it explode in your stomach. You literally can feel that after an hour or so from consuming food.

We have a special ritual for the celebration of this day. We plan for such a day, where would we spend it? the beach, on the roof with friends, with family? the public park or the zoo? those who can afford it, go to the beaches, other Egyptians are celebrating in the public parks.

The highlight of this festival is the food. We take Lupin beans as our official snack of the day. Fish eggs and caviar is on our menu. Our table is varied in salty fermented fish. Mullet and herring are the main two dishes, but we prepare it in different shapes and forms.

Mullet (feseekh), a fermented fish that BBC describes as “deadly” fish.  There is a chance that it can poison you if it’s not done right, and we don’t care much about this chance. Because you don’t just buy it from the supermarket or the local stores. Every Egyptian family has her own trusted provider (that is also from specific cities in Egypt who are specialized in such a niche!) that they have been dealing with for years. This fish is eaten with Egyptian pita bread with a squeeze of lemon to subtle the salty flavor.

There’s also another kind of fish that is similar to this one called Moloha, but I actually never saw it in my life. I also have never tasted the Mullet fish, because as much as it’s one of the most appreciated dishes in this festival. I can not bear its smell, and believe me, it smells like nothing else. A huge paradox between what Sham Elnessim fittingly translates as ‘smell the breeze’ and how the smell of this day is packed with stinky fish scent. Every. Where.It. Is. In. The. Air.

The other popular kind of fish we eat on this day is herring (Ringa), which is more appetizing and less controversial. The reason behind writing this post in the first place. Egyptian can find this delicacy all year round in the local supermarket and eat it at any day. But I rarely do except in Sham Elnessim because this makes me miss it more, and eat more of it. It tastes like… sushi packed with flavor. There are many ways to eat this fish, You can eat it straight from the wrap, grilled, marinated, or incorporated with fresh vegetables to create a salad.

I like to put some effort, care and time on my herring plate. I like to do a little dressing with it which literally transfer the fish to another level. No, it doesn’t become a salad, I still eat it with bread, but it tastes so much better this way. Here’s the recipe for the dressing (for a whole fish):

  • 2 tablespoon of tahini
  • ½1 tablespoon lemon
  • 2 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

A pro tip, before shredding the fish, grill it first on direct fire (a top stove would be good) and then let it rest for a minute, this will make it taste smokey and will be easier to take the skin off.
Afterward, shred it to small pieces in a clean plate, get rid of the bone. Pour in the dressing and mix. You can garnish with coriander and shredded carrot.

We eat it with Egyptian pita bread, with a side dish of meaty fried potatoes, which has to be not salted to balance the taste of the fish, and for freshness, we add a plate of fresh lettuce, cucumber, and green onion. Soda is mandatory in this day. What is also mandatory is these three steps after eating this great meal. 1/ Don’t make any meetings this day, as you won’t be able to get the smell out of you for a whole day. I do not kid you. It is damn worth it. 2/ Take a shower right after you’re done while burning some scented candles in the whole house.

We are also dying eggs with the kids and make a dough in the shape of a nest to put it there. We don’t have the Easter bunny game hahah, but this celebration is equally amusing for kids and adults.

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