My friend and I were discussing the peculiarities in what products are available here in Cairo, and what products are not. Surprisingly, sometimes you can find the exact name brand product you're accustomed to. (The other day I happened upon PopSecret Homestyle microwave popcorn. For those of you familiar with my enthusiasm for this product, you can imagine my dismay as I was forced to leave it on the shelf due to lack of microwave.) Yet, despite a few shockingly familiar items, there are conversely products you would assume to find but simply cannot. Here's looking at you celery. As Dale and I began our preparations for our Thanksgiving party, we were interested to see in to which category turkey would fall.
Turns out procuring a turkey was easier than expected. All it took was a large grocery store, the manager, some miming, and some time spent digging around in the back. Eventually however, two frozen turkeys were produced. (This is very much a chicken, beef and lamb country. Turkey can be a rare find.) After bringing the turkeys home we wrapped them in garbage bags and left them on our kitchen floor to thaw. Beaming with delight for securing the main ingredient for the weekend's festivities, our smiles soon faded when we addressed the issue of actually cooking these oh-so-large birds.
For days we did research on where to have the turkeys cooked. (Our oven was not a possibility as it resembles something Barbie might use.) We called some hotels, and they were willing to cook them but for a fairly steep price. Some friends offered their ovens but then realized transporting hot turkeys across town was not worth it. Finally, one day our Egyptian colleague gave us the name of "the chef." He said you can just take the birds there and he will cook them for you no problem. So we called and "the chef" told us to come by, no problem.
The day came when we were to drop off the turkeys to this mysterious culinary professional. Armed with some vague details and a hand drawn map of the supposed intersection we needed, we set off in a taxi carrying the turkeys, still in their trash bags, in our arms. (This would be a good time to tell you the turkeys weighed 10 kilos each.) So off we went until our cab driver finally stopped and informed us we were here.
We exited the taxi and found the landmark our colleague had described to us. Only there was one problem, there was no personal chef looking business anywhere to be found. So there we were, on the street carrying around turkeys in trash bags looking desperately for any clues of this magical chef. We wandered about for a bit and asked a few people for street names. A man gave us a few more directions and we followed those, then I asked another woman for more information and she directed me to continue down the street. We were coming to the end of the road when finally I saw the sign for the chef. "The chef!" I cried, "we're here!"
All of the sudden a man in a business suit comes running out and grabs both turkeys from us. "The chef?" he asks, "yes" I said, and the man goes trotting off up the stairs. Curious, we follow him in to a meeting room, one you might expect to see the mob use. The man instructs us to sit down and immediately begins writing us a receipt. "Rice?" Surprised by the question I just said "sure, rice." He is pleased with this response and continues writing furiously. "How many people?" I ask him why that would matter, he still would have to cook both turkeys. He says, "because of the rice!" Ok, 20 people. We left with the assurance that both our turkey and our rice would be finished and delivered by 10 am the next morning. As we walked down the street empty handed, a strange feeling of victory (albeit peppered with some doubt) overcame us.
The next day, for the first time in Egyptian history, our food arrived on time. The delivery man came in with two beautiful platters of turkey over a bed of Persian rice (yellow rice with raisins and nuts.) We were thrilled.
What ensued was a lovely afternoon-turned evening Thanksgiving celebration. There were mainly Americans in attendance but also Egyptians who had never celebrated the holiday before. We were pleased to introduce them to what I count as my favorite holiday. The historical injustice acknowledged, I do believe that today Thanksgiving offers the country a nice moment to pause and be with friends and family and remember that despite myriad challenges, we are in many ways very blessed.