Something for the Brave Palate

Fisikh: Egypt's beloved salted, cured but stinky fish

A Fishmonger At WorkRAWI Publishing

Fisikh

This delicacy of sundried and then salted mullet fish is a highlight of present-day Egyptian Easter celebrations. Ancient Egyptians are known to have salted, sundried, and pickled a variety of fish, which is where the tradition of fisikh would have originated. Several varieties of preserved fish were also documented in medieval Egyptian cookery books.

Today, fisikh is almost exclusively consumed during the Egyptian spring festival known as sham al-nissim, ‘the breathing of the breeze’, a celebration (coinciding with Easter) which features outdoor picnics where fisikh is eaten with raw green onions.

Not for the faint of heart, fisikh’s sharp taste and pungent smell often make it the butt of jokes. This does not faze its diehard fans, though. ‘Never!’, they’ll tell you as they brace themselves for another bite.

Fisikh (Salted Fish)RAWI Publishing

Fisikh reportedly once had a royal moment when a customs official in 19th-c. Luxor, unsure of how to register the recently discovered royal mummies for transportation to Cairo, came up with brilliant idea of registering them as a shipment of fisikh!

Batarekh (Caviar Shaheen)RAWI Publishing

Batarekh

The ultimate delicacy for many Egyptians since the medieval era, batarekh is salted, cured fish roe, typically of the grey mullet.

In case you’ve noticed the etymological similarity between the name batarekh and the famous Italian bottarga, this is because the latter name finds its origins in Arabic, which in turn is possibly a development of the Byzantine Greek word ᾠοτάριχον (oiotárikhon) meaning pickled egg.

For more on the history of contemporary foods in Egypt, check out this story on cheese.

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