Pigeon English


‘Begoon,’ it reads on the menu. I’m getting pretty good at menus, but this one has me stuffed. And stuffed it is. Begoon is the Arabgleeze for ‘pigeon’. (is there a word for Arabic-English, like Spanglish? Let’s make one up!) Yes, the flying rat.

So I order the begoon, sitting in the most touristy midan or plaza, of Cairo. I have taken up residence in the front seat of a café that faces the country’s most holy mosque, Al Hussein (died AD 680), the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. Its holiness derives from the tomb inside, which is said to contain Hussein’s head.

As we’re in sight of a mosque, there’s no beer (though they serve a non-alcoholic version, Birrell) and the square is packed with tour buses, tourists more touts than you can poke a sheesha pipe at.

They’re selling shoe shining, Ko’rans translated into a Babel-like number of languages, tacky headdresses supposedly worn by belly dancers, cheap papyrus, leather wallets, fake watches…what do you want? One boy is carrying a standard wooden crate of flat bread on his head. If he can’t sell you the bread (and he’s pedalling to café patrons) he’ll sell you a photo opportunity of him with said picturesque bread on head. Some, like the woman with a sleeping baby, are just out-and-out begging.

The begoon when it arrives, is a taut drum of well-cooked, oily skin containing rice and a few scraplets of meat on the tiny legs. The bones, of which there are many, go to a battalion of waiting cats beneath my chair, the scene of open warfare between a big-headed ginger tom and a black, malevolent creature that hovers just out of ankle’s reach.

So what does pigeon taste like? Chicken. Of course.

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