Going Nuts in Cairo
I’m addicted to nuts.
After giving up a great deal of sugar – save bitter chocolate – earlier this year, I had to find something that could substitute as a snack without being overly sweet, overly additive-filled or overly processed. My demands, combined with my intolerance for dairy and gluten, meant that cookies and chips were out, pretzels and dried fruit were out, and a host of other “on the go” quick-fixes were sidelined in favour of something more filling and relatively healthy.
My food world was turned upside down in February thanks to a month in India and giving my diet over to an ayurvedic nutritionist who introduced my Vata-dominant self to the awesomeness of raw cashews. After a day of munching on a couple of handfuls of these raw, white morsels I was hooked. I gravitated instantly to them and couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t long until I was buying cashews by the kilo (no joke: go all out or go home) and worked my way through 2.2 lbs of nuts in the course of 3-4 days.
Oh yes, there were days – I’m quite sure – where I was thisclose to grinding some up and cutting dusted cashew into lines with a razor.
I don’t know where this sudden adoration for nuts came from. In the past, most of my experience with nuts either involved processed end products, like peanut butter, or heavily roasted, salt smothered, honey drenched, smoky flavoured macadamias, peanuts, almonds and pistachios that, while initially good, were overwhelming for my tastebuds and sometimes terrible for my stomach (word to the wise: certain manufacturers use MSG, whey powder and all sorts of other additives I can’t even pronounce in their nut production).
It was a nutritional shift I continue to indulge in today, which means – obviously – I need to know where I can get my fix regardless of where I am in the city. Given the adoration that Egyptians have with nuts and seeds there’s plenty of shops across the city, it’s just a matter of finding a place with a wide variety on offer and that are sold at a reasonable price. Out in City Stars, for example, there’s the Abu Auf House of Nuts (fanastic name for a shop) that has a broad selection of raw and flavoured nuts as well as goji berries, dried fruits and other gourmet foods. There’s also Al Mouwafak, which has branches across the city and also sells an assortment of nuts, hard candies and soft caramels.
These places are great if you don’t come across anything else, though they are a bit more expensive when buying per gram/kilo. Personally, I’m a sucker for local nut-shops, like the well established H.M. (“Nut Guy”) located on the 26th of July corridor in Zamalek next to Bread Basket and a couple doors down from Café Mex. A family owned place, these guys have everything from walnuts to cashews, pumpkin to sunflower seeds (an Egyptian staple), along with peanuts, pistachios, dried tamarin, dried chickpeas…you name it. You can get them raw. You can get them roasted. You can get nuts that are spiced and nuts that are sweet. If you’re lucky you can get piping hot nuts that come straight from being roasted and salted in a huge cavernous kettle that kind of looks like a cement mixer.
In all, the great thing about these local hole-in-the-wall places is the price/quality. I bought two kilos of walnuts and cashews (it’s an obsession…I know) for roughly 26 USD, which is half of what I would pay elsewhere. You can ask to try a couple kernels or seeds before purchasing, or just grab a few as your order is being filled (I once observed a woman who ate at roughly two handfuls of peanuts while waiting for her half kilo of dates and salted pistachios). If you’re not into nuts at all, these shops also have a wall or two filled with cookies, caramels and candy if that’s what you ache for, though if you’re intolerant to nuts you might want to buy your candy elsewhere as cross-contamination is bound to be rife.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bag of kidney-shaped goodness to get started on.