Madfuna: Port Said's Burried Rice

Where fish are cooked in large wood fired ovens and rice dishes are enjoyed as the main course.

Port Fouad mosque (2018-12-07) by NawayaNawaya

Welcome to Port Said

The famous Egyptian port city located at the top of Suez Canal, has many signature dishes that mostly revolve around sea fare. The unique location of Port Said, allows for a variety of fish and seafood from the three water bodies surrounding the city: the Mediterranean, Suez Canal, connecting to the Red Sea, and lake Manzala. 

Fish at market in Port Said (2020-08-30) by NawayaNawaya

An abundance of fish

Port Saidis enjoy many fish and seafood dishes. The variety ranges from denise (seabeam), bouri (grey mullet) and barbouni (goatfish), to gamberi (shrimps), kabouria (crabs) and calamari.

Fish baking whole in ballas oven (2020-09-01) by NawayaNawaya

Using special ovens

A popular way of cooking fresh fish is mashwy- baked whole fish in a clay oven. These ovens, called forn ballas, are unique to Port Said and its closest neighbor Damietta. They are large wood fired ovens located adjacent to the fish market area.

Denis fish (bream) in matruh fish market (2018-01-28) by NawayaNawaya

Fresh fish

People buy fresh fish from the market and take it to the oven for seasoning and cooking. The whole fish, removing the insides, are rolled in wheat bran, and grilled in the oven. Depending on their size and type the fishmonger will place them next to the fire. 

Baked bourri (mullet) lunch in Port Said (2020-08-30) by NawayaNawaya

Spicing it up

Then they are spiced up with salt, cumin, and lemon, traditionally in a cardboard shoebox to take home and eaten alongside home cooked salads and rice. 

Fisherman on lake Burrulus (2020-09-18) by NawayaNawaya

Cooking 'burried' rice

Fishermen, who spent many days at sea had their own way of cooking fish. Bringing on board with them enough rice and onions, they would add to them the fresh catch of the day. Madfuna - in Arabic literally means buried - and is the name inspiring for the recipe that originated on the fishing boats

Madfuna ingredients - a dish made with rice and shrimps (2020-08-28) by NawayaNawaya

Using only one pot

Fishermen prepared this delicious meal from the catch of the day of shrimps. Mostly done with shrimps, madfuna rice can also be relished with seafood, small fish or large fish sliced in pieces. For lack of elaborate kitchen equipment they put all the ingredients in one pot, starting with some onions and vegetables that they fry in oil, then they add the shrimps. 

Madfuna - rice cooked with onion, tomatoes and shrimps (2020-08-28) by NawayaNawaya

What's in the name?

Having only one pot to cook with, the fish catch would be ‘ buried’ fully covered by the rice. Hence the name of the dish. 

Adding shrimps to vegetables to make madfuna (2020-08-28) by NawayaNawaya

Cooking it all together

Once the shrimp acquires color and absorbs the sauce of the onions, then they add the rice, and some water and let it mix together on a slow fire.  

Onions become black (2020-08-28) by NawayaNawaya

A secret ingredient

The star ingredient in this dish is what Port Saidis call sayadeyya - a deeply fried onions that are browned till it’s almost burnt. This burnt onion adds a rich flavor to many seafood dishes, and is often prepared and preserved in jars, whereby a couple of spoons are used for each dish.

Onions are fried in vegetable oil, Nawaya, 2020-08-28, From the collection of: Nawaya
Black fried onions are made this way to be added to madfuna, Nawaya, 2020-08-28, From the collection of: Nawaya
Black onions are blended into a paste called sayadeyya, Nawaya, 2020-08-28, From the collection of: Nawaya
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Madfuna - a seafood dish from Port Said (2020-08-28) by NawayaNawaya


Port Said is definitely a city for enjoying seafood, uncovering tasty recipes like the buried Madfuna rice! 

Credits: Story

Curator: Laura Tabet
Writer: Dalia Bassiouny
Research: Hashin Morsy
Photography: Hashim Morsy, Nawaya

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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