What is Alexandrian food?
The Egyptian port city of Alexandria conjures up images of ancient wonders, battles and the world-conquering ruler Alexander the Great but what does it offer in terms of food?
Alexandria was, for years, the largest city in the world, second only to Rome. The largest ethnicities were Greek, Egyptian and Jewish – each background bringing great variations in food and knowledge of cookery. Through wars, invasions and migrations, the Alexandrian diet was influenced by Romans, Ottomans, Persians and Arabs. Now the modern diet is reminiscent of its past whilst also drawing influences from other Middle-Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Syria as well as France and Italy. Traditional tagines from North Africa mingle on menus with spiced versions of Greek moussaka and macaroni béchamel.
Keen to find out more about the cuisine, I went to Aladino’s in London – one of the only Alexandrian restaurants in the country.
The menu was a perfect example of cultures uniting. Beetroot-cured salmon with spiced yogurt and charred cucumber sat next to ethical fois gras – who knew the Ancient Egyptians were the first to eat what is thought to be a French classic?
For main course the white-gloved waiter parted with hearty, melting lamb shanks bathed in Egyptian spices and smooth, puree-like mashed potato. The dishes come with tales of their history. Our shared pudding was Om Ali: a traditional oven-baked, creamy bread pudding with crunchy almonds and vanilla – apparently a celebratory creation after the Sultan’s second wife was murdered by his first.
Alexandrian food, while similar to many other diets of North Africa and the Middle East, has its own unique identity that can only really be understood by taking the bull by the horns and exploring the culture. Aladino’s restaurant is a stepping stone towards understanding a cuisine that is steeped in ancient history and influenced from many cultures over thousands of years.
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