Sunday, September 21, 2008

ArkhuS gouda

A few weeks ago we were craving a Mexican feast for dinner and rather than take a taxi all the way out to City Stars in Heliopolis, we tried our hand at making our own Egyptian-Mexican meal. Fortunately we brought a ton of Western Family fajita and enchilada seasoning packets with us, so we had the right spices. We had to improvise with the beans and tortillas, resorting to unseasoned fuul and the thinnest pita bread we could find (although we've since found flour tortillas at Seoudi and cheapo corn tortillas at Kimo's). Unfortunately we were completely missing sour cream and salsa (although I got my enchisagne fix at the Lewises a few days later). The only other thing we needed was some cheddar cheese.

Unfortunately, cheese is one of the more difficult foods to stomach here. It's mostly made from super salty goat milk and is generally pretty gross. However, as I learned in Italy and we relearned in Jordan, European cheese is great. Laughing Cow cheese is super cheap here and is one of our staples. Our other main cheese is gouda, which is vaguely like cheddar. So we headed down to Metro Market to find some great gouda for our meal.

When I got up to the cheese counter I carefully looked at all the different types of gouda, trying to find the cheapest one; some were stratospherically expensive! After I made my choice I asked the cheese cutter to get me half a kilo of the "cheapest gouda" (arkhuS gouda). He stared at me, waiting for me to continue with my sentence, and when I didn't continue he asked me what kind of cheese I wanted.

I repeated my request for the cheapest gouda, adding that I was a poor student. Again, he asked me what kind of cheese I wanted. Frustrated, I resorted to pointing and grunting, repeating "cheapest gouda, right there, the cheapest gouda."

He finally nodded his head and grabbed a cheese wheel to chop a chunk off of it. However, instead of grabbing the wheel I wanted, he dug under the other wheels of cheese to find some older, less pretty one - one that didn't deserve to be on display anymore.

I figured he was just trying to get rid of his old inventory, took the cheese from him, and went happily on my way. We had our Mexican meal and were content.

The next morning the cheese already had mold growing on it.

We figured the Egyptian heat, combined with our lame fridge that didn't close all the way, was the main factor for this quick destruction of cheese. A few days later, though, I figure out it wasn't. Heat wasn't to blame; the Egyptian Arabic dialect was.

In Egypt, though, all [dʒ] (j) sounds are pronouced as [g], so the Arabic name Jamal become Gamal, the word for beautiful, "jamiila," becomes "gamiila," and so on.

The word for "quality" in normal Arabic is جودة, or jouda. In Egypt that changes to "gouda." I was asking the cheeseman for the "cheapest quality," (arkhuS gouda) which is why he kept waiting for me to finish the sentence with the type of cheese I wanted. Eventually he just gave me the cheapest quality of gouda, or "arkhuS gouda gouda," which explains why he had to dig out the old gouda wheel for me.

I wonder what he was thinking... "This poor American student wants moldy cheese? Weird... Oh well..."


  1. Ah...the joy of the do-it-yourself gourmet cooking. I remember a time when Mom decided to cook some type of green banana and raisin (or prunes) dish (it was either Mexican or South American dish). It really was not bad except for the green bananas, raisins, and a lot of other ingredients that should not of been in it together. With all foreign dishes the language is another thing. Trying to figure out if the measurements - is it metric or U.S. standard? or “how to convert fluid ounces or liters into cups” or “I should of listened more closer in that chemistry class”. But the spoken words from one country to another is quite different and is easy to open mouth and insert foot when you are learning, just get your tongue twisted around the big toe just right and it could result in one big insult not to mention moldy cheese. It could result in either expensive lessons (throwing food away) or funny tasting meals. Enjoy yourselves there.

    Love and miss you...Dad

  2. LOL
    That's funny. Of course, you have to consider that cheese is made by molding. The sharper something is, the longer it's been left to mold.... ;)
    PS. I LOVE goat's cheese!