But I am also au gourmand; I wander from country to country in search of the very best food on offer. As often as I ask for directions, I ask for restaurant recommendations. I am a pilgrim, subscribing to the Epicurean faith and bound forever by my inexorable love for food; food is sacred and partaking a meal is a celebration.
Yet, while I was in Egypt, I subsisted primarily on kushari – a textually interesting mixture of chopped vermicelli, macaroni and rice with black lentils, topped by a potent tomato sauce and aromatic fried shallots – and om-ali – a porridge like dessert of phyllo pastry, milk, raisin and nuts. During the twelve-day journey from Cairo to Luxor, I must have eaten a minimum of twelve kushari and fifteen om-ali, the latter I would often have one in the afternoon and save the other for breakfast because, after all, it was very similar to porridge. My diet, otherwise, was interspersed with greasy falafels and burned fowls, introduced by local Egyptian friends, helpful and friendly but lacking any gustatory sensitivity. I deeply missed the green colors in my dishes.
Years have gone by since my trip to Egypt. I may have been a bigot and still may be one, but my insatiable appetite forces me to remain open-minded. There is still no Egyptian category on Yelp and I have not had any Egyptian food since my failed attempt to recreate kushari in my kitchen. Now, here was my chance of re-visiting Egyptian cuisine through the laudable and brilliant Ambassador Program with my own personal food ambassador; it is a miniature trip, but without the plane delays, lost luggage and language deficiency.
Upon receiving the Ambassador Dinner invitation to Cherry Café, I was immediately intrigued by the following comment from the Egyptian ambassador: “There will be a variety of vegetable dishes (the primary part of an Egyptian diet)…” (emphasis added). I read Cherry Café’s menu from front to back and back to front, where were the vegetables? All I had found in the menu had already appeared on the table – the adequate but unexciting Mediterranean / Middle-Eastern staples. Was it a diplomatic trick? Yes, it was, but not to get us here to the restaurant: The trick was to ask for the special vegetables of the day, like a secret handshake. It was not a wonder then that I missed out on the vegetables in Egypt.
Then, two whole browned stuffed pigeons flew in to save the Egyptian meat dishes from utter failure to much happy exclamation (and semi-exasperation because, by the time of their grand arrival, the table was overflowing). Cutting the birds in halves revealed the stuffed rice hidden inside: The rice, rich after having soaked up all the fat and juice of the pigeons, was the real joy of the dish, although the dark flesh was nicely rubbed with spice and roasted until finger-tearing tenderness.
Limeade arrived after the meal and before the desserts. It was a thick, opaque and syrupy drink; its heaviness relieved by the tanginess of fresh lime. In the arid desert heat, a pint of San Pellegrino mixed with the limeade syrup would make an excellent cooler, and that was precisely what I needed to neutralize the abundance of sugar in this drink.
A strong mint tea concluded our culturally fascinating meal, and to make way for, the shisha, a.k.a, hookah.
***Many thanks to Jeff for creating the wonderful Ambassador Program; Sally for being a cheerful and engaging host; and Nora for solicitously answering all of my questions.***
Cherry CaféAddress: 34-02 Broadway, Astoria, NY 11106
Phone: (718) 274-6000