Red Sea Cuisine

Jewish foods of Yemen, Ethiopia, and Egypt.

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The staff of life for Ethiopians is Injeera, a large pancake prepared from a fermented batter of teff, an African grain of the millet family. A meal without this life‑sustaining bread would be unthinkable.


In the 19th century, the opening of the Suez Canal brought prosperity to Egypt and an influx of settlers until the Jewish population grew to 25,200. There were communities of Italian and Eastern European Jews in Alexandria, and Italian and Turkish in Cairo. The Jews of Salonika (Greece) followed. The new Jews from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East all added their influence to the cuisine, and it developed a Judaic style.

It would be a great culinary coup to report that I had discovered a cache of ancient Jewish recipes from the time of Moses in Egypt. Alas, this is not to be—it is the ordinary foods of everyday life in Egypt, the accumulation of the new foreign communities, that we have.

Onions, garlic, and cucumbers have been eaten in Egypt since 3,000 BCE. Slaves building the pyramids, some of them Jews, were fed garlic and onions for strength. Lentils, beans, rice, simply seasoned, are incorporated into Sabbath and daily foods. Hot chili is hardly ever used, but pepper and allspice are paramount seasonings. Vegetables and salads, in the hot, desiccating desert air, become life savers when interest is lost in meat and poultry.

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Copeland Marks has written numerous cookbooks, including The Great Book of Couscous and The Exotic Kitchens of Peru.