As an Ambassador for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (https://www.lirs.org), Pixie interviewed one of her friends who immigrated to the U.S. in 1962 from Alexandria, Egypt when she was a teenager. Her family settled in Colorado. Pixie asked her friend about her food memories of life in Egypt and the U.S. The following is a summation of the wonderful conversation they shared:
Question: When you moved to the United States, what was different about the food?
M: So much! In Egypt, the food was tasty-fresh. We shopped everyday for fresh food at the local bazaar. We did not have refrigerators, we ate what we had every day, and bought new food each day.
U.S. supermarkets – we had none in Egypt. In Egypt, we had bazaar with stalls, street food and individual stores like the deli for foods like charcuterie. When I was in Egypt, we lived in a building on a higher floor. Sometimes when we needed food from the deli on the bottom floor, I would lower a basket with a string, and yell down to the proprietor from the window – Anthony, I need salami cut thin! He would put the food in the basket and I would lift it back up. The deli had barrels of olives, olive oil and cold cuts. It was the best.
In the U.S., I had PBJ (peanut butter and jelly) for the first time. I hated it from the start – it tasted yucky, got stuck in your teeth, it was like cement!
Supermarkets in U.S. did not have any smell in them, they were odorless and so clean, and I was blinded by the light. I did not know what “lbs.” meant, and all the produce was “lbs.” I thought I was buying “libs” bananas.
One of my friends in Egypt was very wealthy and one day she brought her lunch to school and it was white bread with the crusts cut off. I thought it was wonderful – until I had white bread when I came to the U.S. It was terrible, it was so bland. In Egypt, our bread was baguettes and pitas, wonderful and tasty. In Egypt, we did not have a television until 1961, and no TV dinners that we had in the U.S. with the tiny compartments.
Question: What did you miss the most about the food in Egypt?
M: I missed the things that were not home-cooked, like falafel, there was no street food in the U.S. The food was so tasty, and fresh, and clean. What I mean by that is chemicals were not used on the food, and the food had not be tampered with chemically, it was not processed. Street food was cooked for you and cooked well. It was so prevalent and common, I thought everyone else had it. We ate food in season, we had tiny and tasty strawberries in season, not all year.
Question: Who did most of the cooking when you moved the U.S.?
M: My mother did the cooking in the U.S. and was a very good cook. We ate mostly at home and the food was similar to what we had in Egypt. Neither my mother or I thought to write down the recipes to teach me how to cook. Cookbooks were not used then. The measurements for recipes were based on using “the blue cup with the chip on it”. It wasn’t until Julia Child who introduced cookbooks that I realized I could fancy food – I could do it by reading the recipe. This changed a lot.
Question: What are two food memories from Egypt and the U.S.?
- Ice cream. It is similar to Turkish ice cream, it is stretchy with flavors such as mango.
- Saturdays and Sundays we would go to a local restaurant. My father would order so many appetizers and I would fill up on those. I always wanted to try a new dish but I always ordered the same thing, roasted chicken livers, because I was too full from the appetizers and it was so good.
- I had macaroni and cheese for the first time, andMcDonalds.
Question: If you could plan a meal, what would it include?
I would have wonderful lamb, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and desserts. The pastry shops and desserts in Egypt were like Paris, only better. I would have Aish al Saraya (translated, bread of the palace) a dessert made with honey, bread and cream. Maybe we can do a picnic of these this year?
That would be wonderful.
For more information on Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and how you can support the work they do to help immigrants and refugees in their new lives in the U.S., please go to: https://www.lirs.org/about/ and https://www.lirs.org/take-action/.
Pixie, Jan. 2022