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I’m Eating WHAT?! Egyptian Influenced French Cuisine

from: French Cooking - by Giles Tournet

A single taste of French food can invoke an immediate and torrid love affair, so when a diner hears statements regarding the Egyptian influence on French cooking, it seems like bona fide B.S. However, in tracing back centuries to the trade routes and conquering empires of the past, it becomes quite clear that, just as some dishes in Italy are based on influence from the Orient, many menu items derive from Egyptian influence on French cooking.

Probably the most prominent figure from France that comes to mind as having acquired Egyptian influence in French cooking among other aspects of the culture is Napoleon Bonaparte. While there were other travelers in both directions early in history, Napoleon’s attempt to conquer Egypt in 1798 was a huge historical event that can be traced back to many of the fashionable plates served in French restaurants. He had with him 34,000 troops on nearly 400 ships, and while the conquering of Alexandria and the rest of Egypt was an enormous disaster for the army, many of the soldiers developed a taste for local cuisine and took the idea with them upon returning home.

One example of Egyptian influence on French cooking is the use of wines to soften meats and change the texture of vegetables. While it may seem that this is a staple of French cuisine, Egyptians and other Mediterranean cultures have done so for centuries. For example, a dish called Bamya, which is a meat and okra stew (yes, the French also have a version of this dish), requires that the “slimy” texture of the okra be removed. In order to do this, the conical top of the vegetable is trimmed, and the pieces are soaked in red wine and vinegar for about 30 minutes.

Another clear cut Egyptian influence on French cooking can be seen in the French culture’s affinity for fish, which is a huge staple in the Egyptian diet. One dish often referred to as simply Mediterranean Baked Fish that originated in Egypt is now actually referred to in its motherland as “poisson ‘a la grecque”, a French phrase and, interestingly enough, crediting the Greek with the recipe as opposed to the Egyptians. However, the recipe is clearly derived from an old Egyptian standard.

Spices and cooking methods in France speak clearly of the Egyptian influence on French cooking, and while the country has maintained some of its own culture in the many famed dishes prepared in true French fashion, it should be duly noted that many other so-called “French” recipes relate back to travels to Egypt.


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