When I was young, my parents would send me to stay with my maternal grandmother, Mama Karima, for the summer. From London Heathrow Airport, my sister and I would be escorted by friendly cabin crew and deposited by hand to my uncle in Cairo. That was the eighties and I was seven. I didn’t know anyone from school who had travelled abroad without their parents. I used to feel so grown up and important on the flights, like proper adult member of crew. I loved it!
They were the days before bottled water, when fizzy drinks were delivered to Mama Karima’s apartment in glass bottles by the crate. The paperboy would deftly throw daily newspapers onto balconies, seven stories high from the street, as he rode by on his push-bike. When I wasn’t chasing my cousins around the flat, I was whiling away the days, content in watching the hussle and bussle of Cairo from the safety of the front balcony.
The women who walked down the street balancing sacks of food on their heads, hands free, fascinated me. The fruit and veg men shouted their wares, their cart pulled by a donkey. Neighbours would hang down a wicker basket from the top flat, passed our balcony, to be filled at ground level and pulled back up. It saved the effort of going up and down countless flights of stairs, as there was no lift.
Mama Karima loved to cook. More accurately, Mama Karima loved feeding people. In the morning, I would wake to her clattering in the kitchen, followed by heavenly aromas that eminated from one dish from another throughout the day. Her cooking was infamous from sweet to savoury, she baked, roasted, cooked and fried. Its what she did and she was amazing. She would make our favourite dishes, which would be ready should any friends or family drop by, which they frequently did.
Several years ago when we first arrived in Dubai, I remembered Mama Karima telling me why we never suffered from severe stomach pains like the tourists that came to Cairo. It was all down to her washing all the fruit and veg in diluted vinegar. She said people got bilharzia from Nile water because they didn’t know better. So, new to the Gulf and rather suspicious of tropical diseases, I researched her claims. I was delighted to discover wisdom in her advice as well as rather being rather surprised at my ability to accurately remember such detail.
According to Live Strong, one part white vinegar to three parts water kills 98% of bacteria and helps eliminate dirt and residue from pesticides. I buy the 3 litre size of white vinegar, sold for around 6 AED at Choitrams. I soak all our fruit and veg including anything that would be peeled later like lemons or carrots, primarily to reduce contamination from contact with hands, chopping boards or surfaces. I then rinse off in fresh water before storing in the fridge.