Tea and tobacco

Every day on the MS Antares, our receptionist, Haggag, gives us an itinerary. Some of the four days we are on board, it’s littered with temples and tombs. For a few brief periods, we have the morning or the afternoon free to watch life on the Nile – the white egrets on the wind, little fishing boats, lines of date palms, desert sands coming down to the river’s edge, cattle grazing happily on the skinniest sliver of land, taken out in small boats once the rainy season has finished and deposited there for the quiet life.

One day, there is nothing scheduled, so our itinerary reads: breakfast 8am, lunch 2pm, tea time 5pm, captain’s cocktails 7pm, dinner 8pm. The idea that cruise ships feed you like a battery hen is well and truly alive on this ship. The Spaniards don’t seem to mind, and plough through epic amounts of pastries, bread, potatoes and dessert at each sitting. We’re desperately trying to hold our end up.

For two sittings (Corby, this is for your benefit, so pay attention) we have Egyptian food, which is closely linked to Lebanese. The Egyptians, it has to be said, know their eggplant. On this lunchtime, the eggplant is done three ways – as a dip in babaganoush, fried and rolled into cigar shapes, dressed with pureed basil and oil, or with chunks snuck into a dreamy sauce for kebab. I’m also quite sure I saw it hiding in an okra dish.

There’s also lashings of tahina, tabouleh, and the ubiquitous foul (pronounced ‘fool’) fava beans mashed into a savoury porridgy thing (I’m not making this sound great, am I?) and dressed with cumin, oil and lemon juice, and I like it with pieces of tomato in it. The kitchen also made a special dish which they don’t serve guests, but the rest of Egypt lives on, koshary. It’s an uber-carbohydrate hit of macaroni, rice, lentils, chick peas and broken spaghetti cooked up and served with a garlicky tomato sauce and another sauce of chilli marinated in oil and water to make a thin pouring sauce that adds a little kickerooni.

I have tried koshary in various koshary halls, as they’re known, in Cairo. I’ve even tried it in what’s supposed to be the best places in the city. And I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like koshary. My mind is changed, it is divine. But you’ll have to go on the Antares to eat it.

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