Dahab’s Culinary Secrets
Exploring Egypt and all it’s layers upon layers of culture and tradition is a pastime for us here at Flavor Republic. Beyond the “touristy” surface of places and things, is a world of wonders… the more you dig, the more amazed you are.
This fall, our wanderlust took us to South Sinai, where beyond the glistening azure waters of the Red Sea, past the rich biodiversity of marine life, and under the warm shimmering sand, is a town rich in culinary marvels: Dahab.
The images conjured when one thinks of Dahab are those of a laid-back town of temporal visitors; all looking for a “bohemian” break from their fast-paced, tech-infused city lives. A place to “chill”, to reconnect with nature, and to work on their tans: undisturbed by all the frills that come with typical beach vacations. And while all of that may be true, there is more to Dahab than meets the eye.
Resident Flavor Republic photographer Sherif Tamim takes us on a culinary tour of his favorite eateries in Dahab, starting with Eldorado Lodge & Restaurant, “Eldorado is a favorite spot,” says Tamim, “it’s one of the best Italian restaurants in Egypt.” Specializing in their own homemade pasta, and slow cooked sauces, Eldorado offers signature dishes like tortellini walnut sauce, and spaghetti Bolognese. Owned by Italian couple Alex and Rosanna, Eldorado is their ode to the deep-rooted and intricate heritage of the Bedouin culture of South Sinai.
An “amazing culinary destination,” as Tamim puts it, there is lots to discover in Dahab in the way of food. Lakhbatita Ramez & Paola Restaurant serves authentic Italian cuisine right on the beach, Namaste Tandoori Oven specializes in bona fide sumptuous Indian food with all its complex layers of flavor, Red Cat Restaurant owned by Marianna Yakutova serves exotic Russian dishes, Churchill’s Bar grills “the best burger in Egypt,” according to Tamim, Ali Baba Hotel has perfected seafood cuisine, and dai pescatori Dahab is another authentic Italian food destination. “A traditional must in Dahab is breakfast at Ralph’s German Bakery,” says Tamim, the bakery is owned by German chef Ralph Stocker and has become a longstanding staple of the Dahab alimentary scene.
Another must-do in Dahab is The Dahab Community Friday Market. It is a “street” food market held weekly at Sheikh Salem House and it features local products and produce from the surrounding Bedouin community, as well as food stalls selling culinary delicacies and mouthwatering eats.
“I find real peace there,” says Tamim of Dahab, “I find people there who have left the city behind, made an downgrade to their life style, and an upgrade to their mental wellbeing.”
Turkey Time at Castle Zaman
A tradition that started eight years ago among friends has today evolved into a full-blown competition with winners, losers, an audience, and a whole lot of succulent turkey to go around.
Hani Roshdi is the owner and architect behind Castle Zaman, a ruin-like castle sitting atop a cliff, overlooking the shores of Nuweiba. Anyone who’s been to Sinai knows or has heard of this architectural marvel, and it’s famous slow-cooked, large-portion, high-dinning meals. Eight years ago, Roshdi and his pal Hussein El Sheikh shared a friendly rivalry over who can cook the best Thanksgiving turkey. Eight years later, the duo along with El Sheikh’s wife Hedi are on the same team, competing against 5 other teams for the bragging rights over the best turkey.
“We competed with two turkeys,” says Roshdi, “one we attempted to deep fry, and the other we smoked.” The deep-frying idea came from an American tradition of cooking turkey, “we couldn’t get the temperature high enough to create a consistent exterior,” explains Roshdi, “it ended up tasting great, but looking awful.” Their smoked entry however was a different case, “The smoked turkey is a recipe I’ve been doing for the past 3 years, mainly because the turkey is smoked far away from the kitchen, leaving room for the other competitors. And the smoked meat makes great leftovers!” claims Roshdi.
Quite content with a fourth place win, Roshdi is looking ahead to next year’s turkey meet, “Next year we want to have a bigger event, we will think of ways to make next year bigger.”
First place winner and self-professed amateur chef, media producer Abbas Fahmy entered the competition with a Castle Zaman first: turkey under a salt crust. With 15 kg of salt in hand, along with the standard 8 kg turkey, Abbas got to work.
The competition rules stipulated that all turkeys are sourced from the same farm and must weigh more or less the same. Castle Zaman provided the turkey, which each team paid for, while each team brought along its’ own tools and ingredients. The multi-turkey feast at the end was free for all invited guests. For the third year running, Kamel Gabr, owner of Camel Dive in Sharm El Sheikh headed the judging panel, and voting was based on a set of criteria that included timeliness, presentation, carving, and taste.
“It was my first time cooking an entire turkey under a salt crust,” admits Fahmy, “I had done veal leg and fish before but never a turkey. The advantage of cooking under a salt crust is that it accelerates the cooking process because no heat or moisture escape,” he explains. Cooking something under a salt crust imparts a flavor, salt is hardened in the oven, and a hammer is literally needed to remove the crust after the turkey is cooked.
Each team is required to create a side dish to compliment the turkey. “My side was fereek with very small diced vegetables so that in one spoonful you carried all the ingredients: zucchini, carrots, potatoes, and sweet potatoes,” says Fahmy. “My winning side was cooked with rendered fat and cooking cream in a crockpot in a baladi oven, everything was pan fried before being put in the crockpot, with the addition of finely diced sausage and spices. I also made crispy oven-baked sweet potato and potato cubes with finely chopped rosemary, mint, garlic and olive oil, tossed together and crisped in the oven.” Fahmy goes on to explain, “Instead of making a gravy, I made an Argentinian inspired chimichurri made with celery leaves, parsley, fresh thyme and fresh rosemary with garlic-infused olive oil.”
Among this year’s highlights were the vegetarian turkey made by Valentina Verbenko, “Her turkey looked perfectly cooked and succulent,” says Roshdi, “but the minute you cut through it, you realize it’s a cake! It was wonderful.”
Perhaps the highlight for everyone at the event, chefs and audience members alike, was the comradery and jovial atmosphere that sprung up among all attendees, a true meeting of spirits hungry for turkey and generous with their friendships. Abbas is eager to maintain his position as title-holder, but he is perhaps most looking forward to, “making more friends next year.”