November 14, 2018

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  • Buttered Up: Cakes and careers

    Walnut caramel cake. (Photo by Sarah Khanna)

    BY SARAH KHANNA There is usually that one thing you wished you were when it comes to your career: bolder, smarter, luckier. I have none of those desires but feel that it might have been easier to climb that ladder in the male-dominated food industry if I was born a man. “So, what’s next? Knitting?” asked a friend, a previous colleague who could not wrap his head around the idea that I had left a well-paid job in advertising, in selling fantasies to people, for a career in, according to him, frosted cupcakes. The fact that I did not have…

    Buttered Up: Samosa, Sambusak

    Beef and pine nut samosas.

    BY SARAH KHANNA Thinking back, samosas may have been the first food to confuse me, a never-ending love affair that was tedious to understand. Never knowing what I should call them when chatting with people hailing from different places, never understanding just what were to go in them, I went on a mental hunt quite early on in life to find out just what a samosa was. Stuffed with curried potatoes and peas then folded into tight triangles, these were the samosa I was first acquainted with. Popping them straight onto my tongue from the bubbling oil without a second…

    Buttered Up: Finding Ramadan

    Tomato Almond Basmati

    BY SARAH KHANNAMy first Ramadan in Cairo after years away has rolled in and with it a slew of television shows crammed with farcical advertising that I don’t watch, extravagantly sweet desserts that I haven’t eaten and a generous spirit of camaraderie that has me puzzled as to where it annually disappears after the boisterous celebration of Eid. Restaurants have asked their social media accounts to bombard those unfortunate enough to be following them with incessant updates on iftar and sohour menu rotation schedules along with everything in between: sugar, shisha and Ramadan tent reservations. In a month that is…

    Buttered Up: Figs and fear

    Fig karkade compote.

    BY SARAH KHANNA I stepped into the kitchen, freshly cleaned for us, the new tenants from Egypt. Grey corian countertops, white cabinets and an aging fridge welcomed me into the square room that I would now force myself to enter routinely. Dishes would eventually pile up and we would, sooner than later, need to stop eating out like tourists every night.There were no mommies to send the newly married couple food to hoard in our freezer. There was no Cairo where I lived in the office and everything was delivered. This was the reality of things. For my first week…

    Buttered Up: A way to eat

    Breadsticks sprinkled with caraway.

    BY SARAH KHANNAIf I were to map out my life through the memories of my stomach, I would pair my fondest moments with one particular element — my hands needing a good wash from the powdery leftover wheat bran of baladi bread, a staining turmeric-rich sauce or the fatty gloss of deep-fried chicken skin. It is true that I might not appreciate the drippings of a wet burger slithering down my forearm, especially in public, but there is an increased feeling of well being, of being human, of connecting with where I came from by eating with no cutlery. Growing…

    Buttered Up: Rave reviews

    Three bean salad.

    BY SARAH KHANNA It is a rare occasion to find me visiting a Cairo restaurant based on a local review; but how much of this is my fault, this fear that I should not trust what is seemingly penned down without an afterthought? Do I skip over errors in technique descriptors and succumb to a world of uninteresting words that gives me nothing but cues that the reviewer cannot move past terms like “mouth-watering,” “amazing” and, I say this with a sigh, “perfect”? Today, many Egyptians who have not stepped foot in a kitchen have decidedly taken on the online…

    ​Buttered Up: Fusilli & fuss

    FUSILLI CREAM 1 BU-TEM [Desktop Resolution]

    ​ BY SARAH KHANNA Educated Cairenes are a funny bunch, often blurring the lines when it suits them, merging reality with a glorious fantasy world where they are “better” for speaking English, where they are proficient based on a skill learned, in no detail, online. ​Among the new things that have recently astounded me in Cairo is the ability of some to flounce around the city introducing themselves as chefs without toiling in the grease of a hot kitchen — day in, day out. Some could argue that a chef in essence is the mastermind behind the menu, the director…

    Buttered Up: Tryst with brownies

    Pistachio-milk chocolate brownies.

    BY SARAH KHANNA Cairo: Consider the intricacies of a brownie — in simple form, studded with chocolate chips, coffee-spiked or infused with mint. We’ve seen variations with cream cheese and white chocolate adaptations; and while I prefer a brownie that will assuage my chocolate yearning, I insist that the texture of my brownie is chewy with a soft, fudgy center. These versatile squares can be broken up into three main categories: the chewy brownie, the cakey brownie and the fudgy brownie. The reason I generally eliminate cakey brownies from my list is this: if I want cake, I’ll make cake….

    Buttered Up: Wild food

    Mulberry-strawberry jam cake.

    BY SARAH KHANNA Cairo: “What are those?” I asked, looking down at my sneakers, at the stains beneath them sprawled over the floor of my friend’s garage, free of cars and quietly enclosed behind the looming gates of their villa. “I can’t remember their name,” Jinan shrugged, “but we can eat them.” Away from today’s trends of foraging for plants we can eat, I hesitated at the notion back in 1994. “Are you sure?” I said making way for the burgundy stains to show themselves, to reassure my insecure self that they were ingestible as she comforted me — 10-year-old…

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