Rotten Easter Fish; Easter and Rotten Fish? What do they have to do with each other?
Well it is not the Christian Easter fish; it is the Pharaonic Easter’s fish.
Let me introduce you at the beginning to the Egyptian spring holidays.
First comes the Coptic Easter Sunday, which isn’t usually on the same Sunday as the Catholic Easter. For instance, at this year, the year of 2012, Catholics celebrated Easter one Sunday before the Copts. The Monday following the Coptic Easter is what is called in Arabic “Sham El Neseem”, which has a literal translation of smelling the breeze, and Egyptians usually call it Easter in English, which isn’t a correct name, but it would be really hard to change what 80% of the population believes is true.
It is believed to be a cultural celebration dating back to the pharaohs, celebrating spring.
The rituals of these celebrations are kind of weird though, it is not a public celebration where you go dancing on the streets, but more of a family gathering. Whether in a public garden, a holiday house or just at home, there is one thing in common: it’s the food they eat at this celebration.
Call it a blood pressure booster; it is extra salty fish of all kinds, with salted sardines being the least salty of them, for those who have blood pressure and heart problems.
Now the fish I want to discuss is called “Feseekh”, I looked for an English word for it; a literal translation using Google Translate was “Herring”. I don’t know if it has the meaning of the word as we have it in Egypt, so read through and correct me if I was wrong.
To cut a long story short, “Feseekh” is a rotten fish, literally. Period.
“Feseekh” is prepared from the Flathead Mullet fish, it is prepared by putting lots of salt on the raw fish and inside its gills, then letting it rot in peace, without much oxygen.
If it is to be prepared at home, the fish is put inside a plastic bag, knot the bag and then put it inside another, knot it, then another, and so on for several layers, to ensure that no oxygen, or other unwanted material (such as insects) would reach the rotting fish.
The fish is left inside the bags for two weeks if prepared in cold weather, and for one week during the summer.
It is eaten raw.
Caution: VERY smelly.
Why I remembered this? Yesterday a family friend sent us a precious gift. I went back from work, to find the house having a strong pungent smell. I thought there’s a dead mouse somewhere. But when I saw a huge white plastic bag on the table I knew what was the smell all about.
That is why I think Egyptians have a sense of humor, they call it “Sham El Neseem” or “Smelling the Breeze”, and instead, every house, and everyone smells of rotten fish!
I cannot tell you much about the flavor; I have only tried it once, one bite, couldn’t take the amount of salt and spitted it right away.
Another type of fish that is eaten this day, the one that I can possible eat, is called “Renga”, I have no idea how it is prepared, and maybe that is why I allow myself to eat it it is still very salty, but the dish is prepared by burning the outside of the fish over open flame, cutting it into small pieces and adding it to salad, it is way more eatable than Feseekh