The tale of Egyptian roasted chicken can’t be separated from my trip to the Bahariya Oasis in Egypt.
Driving through the Libyan Desert: after polite small talk morphs into an awkward jetlagged silence, our driver turns and asks if the crew and I like American music. Before our polite nods finish their upward sweep a cassette tape blares out the Sultans of Swing. The arrow straight road draped in rolling sand dunes seems the perfect backdrop.
Almost four hours later we arrive at the Hotel El Beshmo in Bawiti, a small hotel that serves lunch and dinner. The rooms are simple, adequate but provide the most restful sleep I have had in quite some time. I awake early and go out to the patio to enjoy the peacefulness of the village. This is where I meet Ali a local man who also enjoys the morning’s view. We began what would become our three-day ritual. I arise early, Ali brings tea and we chat using Ali’s broken English and my Arabic phrase book. When I marvel at how old the village is. Ali says Bawiti is only 500 or so years old, not old at all. I adjust my skewed American view of the world.
The assignment that bought the crew and I this far out into the desert is the Valley of Golden Mummies.
So off we go. The valley is only a short drive from the hotel. We take a tour lead by Adbul who discovered the tombs. His donkey fell into a hole in the sand. When Adbul looked into the hole something shiny caught his eye. He reported the incident to the authorities. Excavation revealed that there might be up to 10,000 mummies.
The tomb that leaves a lasting impression on me houses a family of four. The father lies in the largest and most elaborate sarcophagus onto which his image is carved. His wife’s casket shares the same platform as her husband. Her turned face is carved so that she will look at her husband for eternity. The two smaller sarcophagi of their children are placed across from their parents in simple caskets
We enter the dining room and sit at one of its communal tables. The cook brings out our simple meal of rice and chicken. I cut into the chicken breast; the crisp skin crackles as I slice into the tender, juicy meat. Steam escapes laced with the aroma of cumin and garlic. Perfection.
This meal will be served every day at lunch and dinner for our stay. The only difference, dinner has the breasts, lunch legs or thighs.
As I share my last cup of tea with Ali we watch as a man on a donkey slowly negotiates his way down the winding path of the town. Ali turns his ancient eyes to me and says, “Is this not the most beautiful place in the world?” I look around, my eyes filled with new images, knowledge and most importantly, a new friendship built upon tea and trust. I turn to Ali nod in agreement and smile in the splendor of the moment. “Yes indeed it is.”
Here is my rendition of Egyptian Chicken. When I eat this I’m instantly transported to one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had.
- 1 chicken
- ½ cup salt
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 12 cardamom seeds cracked
- 10 black pepper seeds
- 3 T honey
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 4 garlic cloves chopped
- 2-3 T olive oil
- Place brine ingredients in pot. Bring to boil until salt and honey are dissolved. Cool
- When brine is cooled place chicken in large bowl and pour brine mixture to cover the chicken. Add more water if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit over night. The longer the better.
- Heat oven to 350.
- Take chicken out of the brine and let drain.
- To make rub.
- Place garlic and cumin in bowl of mortal and pestle and make into a paste adding oil to make a paste.
- Place chicken in baking pan. Rub cumin mixture on the skin of the chicken.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper
- Bake for about 45 minutes or an hour.