This last Monday millions of Egyptians
, both Copt and Muslim, celebrated Sham el-Nessim
(literally, "Smelling of the Zephyrs"), a holiday which falls on the Monday after Eastern Orthodox Easter
. It supposedly dates back to Pharaonic times
, when fish were offered to the Egyptian gods. Today, instead of offering it to the gods, Egyptians eat it, specifically
a very specially fermented and salted concoction called feseekh
Feseekh is traditionally eaten with lettuce, boiled and colored eggs, (pita) bread (usually aish baladi
]) and Egyptian onions
(or, as Egyptians call them, onions!
). Here's a video of people eating feseekh with all the fixins
Feseekh is made from the grey mullet
. The fish is dried out and allowed to intentionally ferment, then heavily salted and stored for months in a container
(article with helpful visual).
Feseekh has an extremely strong flavor and smell which some people love
and others hate
It is in the same family as other fish preserved via fermentation, such as Hákarl
, the garum of the ancient Romans and Greeks
, or Narezushi
(the old-style fermented version of sushi).
Along with the traditional form of feseekh made from mullet, the stinky fish proprietor, or "fasakhani" also sells other salted and smoked fish, including two other Egyptian preserved fish traditionally eaten on Sham El-Nessim: Renga, a smoked herring
(the name melouha comes from malh ملح, the root word for salt).
Due to the delicate process of fermentation and the comparatively low level of food hygiene in Egypt, contaminated feseekh is always a problem, and every year there are a few deaths from bad batches of feseekh. This video discusses that issue
(in Arabic, but the visuals often speak for themselves. My Arabic is terrible now and not that great ever, so I can't vouch for what's being said.
). This article in China's People Daily
(!?!) also discusses the dangers of feseekh
not just in terms of food poisoning but also due to its extremely high levels of salt.
In recent years, al-Azhar Mosque declared a fatwa against eating feseekh
, but with little effect.