Friday, October 12, 2007

Egyptian Chronicles : The White Cheese Conspiracy : Gibnah Baydah Istambolly

Ask any Egyptian about his or her choice of cheese, and the answer unanimously would be "gibnah baydah Istanbouliy" (Feta cheese). No family would be without it. It is the kind of cheese which preferably is eaten with black olives and cucumbers. For many of us, it is the best ingredient in a sandwich (raghiyf mi'dad) or simply spread on qaraqish or Bu'sumat or even Shtangel the best used to be found in a bakery on Tharwat Pasha street downtown Cairo.

In the old times, when groceries were small, often run by Yemenis , Shawam (Syrians) and/or Greek, it was then that you could taste the best (double cream) gibnah baydah, of which the Istanbouliy type ruled supreme. I am talking here about tasty and wholesome MILK & CHEESE, the likes of which is long forgotten and unknown to the new Egyptian generations.

Believe or not, there was a time when milk products were legendary and readily available on the Egyptian market in all neighborhoods. This was before their mysterious disappearance with the advent of supermarkets. There were the friendly laban (milkman), who would carry real milk in big aluminum containers "qist" on his bicycle, and delivered personally to your home. There were the gorgeous qishtah, The gibnah Qarisysh, the laban zabadiy (yogurt) in red clay pot and many more.

There was the gibnah Roumiy or Balkan (hard yellow Greek cheese) which we ate with smiyt, seasoned with "duqqah" when we went to "plein air" open air Cinemas. These were the best times of my generation which I will never forget.

What happen to real milk products? I have no idea, all I know is that suddenly when I was traveling abroad our wholesome and goodness milk evaporated almost overnight and was treacherously replaced by milk powder. To this day I have no idea who was responsible for this travesty.

Alas, today's new generation has no clue of what I am talking about. I only know that at one time, this conspiracy drew a sharp line of demarcation between the "qishtah" generation, thats mine, and those of the laban sina`iy (powder milk).

Since then, when I traveled around the world, wherever I went I always asked around if anyone carried my favorite kinds of cheese. I only found it in two other places: The first carried by a Turkish grocery in Istanboul not far from the Galata tower. The second place, in a remote small Cretan village called Anoya, situated at 3000 ft above sea level. To my big surprise, the grocer who sold it to me was none other than an Egyptian who wore a typical "falahiy taqiyah", and whose family settled on the Island during the campaign of Ibrahiym Pasha in (1816–18).

Half a century has passed. With the advent of the internet, and the proliferation of sites which sell everything under the sun, I took gambled and ordered my favorite "gibnah baydah Istanbouliy". This time I was lured by the fact that it was a product of Egypt. I decided to take a chance and ordered some.

Yesterday my order arrived and I opened one package for the Suhuwr. Let me correct that, I struggled half an hour to tear open the carton of "gibnah baydah Istanbouliy" made in Egypt.

I finally tasted it ...... Oh well I will have to wait for another generation when someone invents a time machine. Then I'll be the first customer on board going backward in time when they made real "gibnah baydah" and where people really enjoyed it, from any Ibn al-balad store on harit al-sadd to all the way to Groppi `Adly.

Kull sanah wantum tayyibin wa Ramadan Kariym, I already have made up my mind! I am now waiting desperately for a Dr. Who to come along with his time traveling phone booth :)

Ishinan desperately seeking "gibnah baydah Istanbouliy"

Ishinan © Copyright 2007

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