Foul’s gold: Egyptian street food is big business in Ramadan

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Unofficial street carts serving foul have become the suhoor ‘restaurant’ of choice for thousands of Egyptians in recent Ramadans. (Supplied)
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Unofficial street carts serving foul have become the suhoor ‘restaurant’ of choice for thousands of Egyptians in recent Ramadans. (Supplied)
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Unofficial street carts serving foul have become the suhoor ‘restaurant’ of choice for thousands of Egyptians in recent Ramadans. (Supplied)
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Unofficial street carts serving foul have become the suhoor ‘restaurant’ of choice for thousands of Egyptians in recent Ramadans. (Supplied)
Updated 07 June 2018
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Foul’s gold: Egyptian street food is big business in Ramadan

CAIRO: Unofficial street carts serving foul have become the suhoor ‘restaurant’ of choice for thousands of Egyptians in recent Ramadans. These carts seem to be on every corner of Egyptian city streets, serving oriental suhoor from midnight until fajr prayer — around 3:00 a.m. local time.   

Though street food is popular in Egypt throughout the year, the whole foul cart experience is appealing to Egyptians for different reasons, adding a special touch to the holy month’s social gatherings.

Some guests do express concerns regarding the carts’ health standards, as most of do not have an official operating permit. But Yousef, one of the vendors, stressed they do their best to maintain the cleanliness of their utensils, preserve the food properly and have it served fresh. 

We visited “El-Sohba” (‘The Friends’), a foul cart run by a group of six college friends who’ve just finished their exams. 

Like most, they offer an oriental breakfast menu. This one includes fava beans mixed with olive oil, butter or tahini.  Eggs are served plain, with cheese or mixed with pastrami — a local favorite. Also on offer are falafel, cheese, fries and salads, alongside soft drinks.  

Mostafa, a member of the group, told Arab News the six friends wanted this to be their project for the summer. 

“Every year, we have suhoor at a foul cart belonging to some of the people we know,” he said. “We liked the idea and kept saying we wanted to have one of our own. This year we decided to go ahead with it.”   

The friends believe customers enjoy suhoor at a foul cart because the ambiance adds to the Ramadan spirit. “It’s not just the food; it’s the lighting, the seating arrangement, and the good company,” Mostafa said.

Almost every foul cart provides a few plastic tables and chairs. If there’s some greenery in the area, they sometimes put out traditional poufs and round wooden tables, giving it a picnic-like atmosphere.  The carts run their electric from nearby street poles and hang a few decorative lights. 

Saif, one of the cart owners, tells Arab News that by the time they’ve served suhoor for everyone, he and his friends sometimes don’t get the chance to actually eat themselves, despite developing a way to serve the food as quickly as possible to those rushing to eat their pre-dawn meal in time

“Some do get angered if the food (takes a long time), but I believe we handle everyone quite well,” Saif said.  


Azzedine Alaia exhibition at London’s Design Museum captures the essence of his creative spirit

Updated 21 June 2018
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Azzedine Alaia exhibition at London’s Design Museum captures the essence of his creative spirit

LONDON: For lovers of fashion, a visit to the Azzedine Alaia exhibition, showing at London’s Design Museum until 7 October, is a must. Looking at the wonderful displays there is a sense of loss at his passing in November last year, but this is a great retrospective of the Tunisian designer’s life and work, which allows you to go right up to the garments on display and take in the breathtaking quality and detail of Alaia’s designs.

Alaia, born in 1935, trained as a sculptor at the School of Fine Art in Tunis. That background is evident in many of his figure-hugging designs — particularly the stunning, pared-down evening gowns.

When you look at the super slim-line garments on display it can be a bit disheartening when you see the tiny hips and waists. It makes you think of the remark attributed to Wallis Simpson: “You can never be too rich or too thin.”

But Alaia’s world was not for ordinary mortals — it was an extraordinary place for beautiful people living a dream. In the film made by Ellen von Unwerth during the preparation, staging and aftermath of an Alaia show in 1990, you see Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen  and Christy Turlington at the height of their beauty and fame reminding us of the ‘supermodel’ era, when these women dominated the international tabloid press.

Alaia himself said, “I make clothes, women make fashion.” And you only have to think of stars such as Rihanna and Penelope Cruz wearing his designs on the red carpet to understand what he means.

The film of models walking in his designs is mesmerising – each model is filmed in sequence with close up shots of what she is wearing — an excellent way of showing the fabrics, cut, patterns and innovation and how they are all brought alive through movement. Alaia’s designs flatter the female form and seem enhance women’s beauty.

The influence of Arab architecture is evident in some of his designs. His use of lace and perforated fabrics, especially broderie anglaise and punched or laser-cut leather, recalls the mashrabiya.

His ability to transform leather into such a soft, wearable, high-fashion fabric was stunning to see up close.

Also notable was his avoidance of surface embellishment such as embroidery or applied decoration. Instead, Alaia keyed pattern into the very fabric of his garments, making it an integral part of their structure, altering both their weight and form.

His fascination with African influences is also evident in his use of unusual materials including flax rope, raffia, shells or Nile crocodile skin and animal patterns.

Alaia was also deeply inspired by Spanish culture — his earliest fashion memories were reportedly of the girls in Diego Velazquez’s 1656 paining, “Las Meninas” and his voluminous ball gowns evoke the formality of the hooped gowns of the Spanish royal court during that time. He also took inspiration from Spain’s vibrant folk costumes, as seen in the effusive flamenco-inspired ruffles of some of his designs.

Through the photographs mapping his life you get a sense of the creative process and hard work that went into his couture. You also realize that this was a man who was at the top of his profession for several decades.

The exhibition does a fine job of conveying Alaia’s creative energy, and reminds visitors that his legacy lives on in the inspiration his work provides for young designers today.