Q & A With Yvonne & Nancy Boules, Part 2: Change in Egypt, The Comforts of Koshari + Slimy, Slimy Jute Leaf
K. Robbins Yvonne Boules assembling koshari
In part one of our interview with Yvonne and Nancy Boules, the mother and daughter team behind Café Dahab told us about going from home cooks to restaurant chefs and how they make their bright green falafel. Turn the page to read their take on changes in their home country and about the Egyptian love of molokhia, the slimy jute plant. And check back for the Boules' recipe for koshari, a glorious carb-fest of lentils, rice, and elbow macaroni.
Squid Ink: A lot of the dishes are vegetarian. What role does meat play in Egyptian food?
Yvonne Boules: Oh they love meat. You have to understand, the main meal of the day is at three in the afternoon when all of the kids come back from school. It's almost like we adopted the European way of living, where they have a siesta in the middle of the day. So that meal at three o'clock, everyone's hungry, and we have the molokhia with chicken or we have the bamia, okra you know, or green beans with meat in it.
SI: Tell me about the molokhia.
YB: The molokhia - it's very different for the people here. Some, they say it's slimy. It's from jute plant. And we buy it frozen, but it's imported from Egypt. It's already minced, and ready. And it's added to your soup stock of preference. But it's always chicken - that's how we do it. And garlic and what have you. The best way to eat it is with chicken and onions.
Nancy Boules: And call it a day.
K. Robbins Molokhia before it's assembled
YB: It's a great dish for Egyptians, but a lot of Americans find it very slimy.
NB: Even though the day of the revolution, I had a group of about twelve Americans who spoke fluent Arabic. They came dressed full on in abaya, and all they ordered was molokhia and koshari.
YB: They had probably lived over there.
SI: Have you felt people's interest in the events in Egypt here in the restaurant?
YB: Since the revolution started, we've been hit with every news media.
NB: Because we pull up under Egyptian. It was pretty hectic.
SI: And what do you think about what's been going on over there?
YB: We knew it was bound to happen - when was the question. It was bound to happen because the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. That's where the problem was.
SI: Are there traditional Egyptian ingredients that are still hard to find in this country?
YB: Not anymore. In the beginning when I came out here 30 years ago, the first time I made the molokhia, the only molokhia that we had was the dry one. And I never had done it back home, so for me to cook it the first time with that, everyone was laughing at me. Apparently, you're supposed to rub it in your hands and make it softer and more flaky. But thank God, we now have it frozen.
Our cousin owns the factory back home that makes it. That makes the molokhia, the bamia [okra.] It tastes almost fresh. I had fresh molokhia when I went back home, and it didn't taste that different.
K. Robbins Frozen molokhia
NB: It was good, but it wasn't a make it or break it. It was greener.
SI: So when you get a fresh molokhia, what does it look like?