Arab Proverb “If you eat alone you die alone.”
I woke up this morning feeling uneasy about events around the world, especially in the Middle East, shooting, bombing and associations; violence is everywhere. A whole nation is being beheaded in front of our eyes in Aleppo and there is nothing we can do. So I asked myself the persisting question in life that is spewed and popularized these days: Do Arabs have a propensity for violence?
So, as a devoted follower of Ayatollah Google, I searched for the truth and asked Google for help. Typing ‘Arab violence” in its magic box, I got more than 62 million hits in less than one second, .44 of a second to be exact. We have roughly over 300 million Arabs, close to the same number of Americans. However, in reality Americans have far more violence and more crimes, besides most crimes committed in the Arab world are due to wars and political conflicts. But, in the age of the internet and social media, truth is an elusive thing. It is personal, everything you hear or see is an opinion; fact or fake. With the development of the internet and social media, we may have reached what has been dubbed as the Post-Truth-Society.
So once you hear Arabs or Muslims, or the Middle East, all you can think of is violence and angry looking people. When it comes to cultures and values, we tend to fall victim to what sociologists call the Iceberg phenomenon, where only 15% of a culture is visible, and to see the other 85% you need to do more than just Google it. The average American gets about 7,000 to 10,000 messages a day. Nobody has the time or the resources to find what is fake and what is not. So we need to figure out a different way of sorting through the avalanche of fake news and constant bombardments of information. We need to look at people, food and their gastronomic culture.
Arab food is mainly based on family and hospitality, Arab dishes are shared and meant to enforce family ties and alliances. Arab spices (Boharat) reflects Arab desert nomadic culture and hot climates. To preserve food while traveling you need lots of spices and lots of luck, like Cumin, Nutmeg, Cardamom and Caraway. Egyptian breakfast, unlike the American breakfast, is a peaceful meal, where you don’t have to kill any animal to get your bacon, or crack any eggs to get your omelettes. Typically, a combination of falafel, fava beans, feta cheese, and some kind of green, tomatoes, fresh onions, or cucumber; Breakfast represents your nationality and ethnic identity, even the presentation of colors is very important. I have always believed that breakfast has to have at least three colors, and yellow shouldn’t be one of them. The predominate colors of the Egyptian breakfast are the same as the color of its national flag; Red, White and Black, Tomatoes, Feta Cheese and Black Olives.
Breakfast is an honest meal, it is how we start our day and reflects who we are before we get bugged by our hectic daily life. Breakfast is the only meal that you have control over all day. You don’t have to compromise with a co-worker at lunch, or impress a guest at the dinner table. Breakfast is who we are, we only have it with those who we trust most. Nobody asks what you had for breakfast, it is personal. My dad at one time tried to sneak a non-breakfast item to the meal, like a leftover dinner from the day before; a violation of gastronomic etiquette that you don’t share or never bragg about in school.
Even after more than thirty years away from Egypt, I always start my day with an Egyptian breakfast. My fondest memories are of watching Egyptians eating their breakfasts on sidewalk food carts; where in the early morning and before getting to work, you can see them congregating around small food carts like bees hives; In the midst of street chaos and noise, you find them busy enjoying their food with complete strangers in harmony. Cats and dogs are peacefully rooming around the table for organic recycling. The reverence, the complete silence and the sharing without worrying, the joyful eyes is very palpable. Every one gets his (Foull) fava beans plate, but would share everything else. It is a communal meal, People would share the bread, fresh onions, limes, oil, vinaigrette and cumin, telepathically without uttering a word.
Cracking the culture code of Egyptian street breakfast is very hard for a non-Egyptian, it takes training and requires a lot of trust. Breakfast is a cultural specific meal, where people enjoy their familiar food and tastes. I’m sure with the business of globalization, and the spread of fast food, some young Arab sinners may have their happy meals at McDonalds, but you only have happy meals if you are alone and unhappy, and as the Arab Proverb says “If you eat alone you die alone.”
Have you had your breakfast today?!
Breakfast Around the world Time article
Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America, www.ahmediatv.com and his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV.