“We have an obesity problem,” my friend Aisha says, “Egyptians eat too many carbohydrates.”
But really, I look around on the Cairo metro carriage (when we’re standing crammed in the carriage at rush-hour, my face a shining mess and the air thick with the scent of sweat), and on the streets of downtown, and I don’t see that many obese people. Large people yes, but not obese. Despite a diet rich in bread (the Egyptian Arabic word for bread is ‘aish’, literally ‘life’) and koshary being the street-food of the masses there are far fewer fat people in Egypt than in Europe or the USA or India for that matter. Aisha doesn’t believe me. She’s horrified when I admit to her that I eat koshary for dinner at least twice a week.
Despite a diet unfashionably high in carbohydrates I am, bizarrely, probably in the best health of my life which probably says something about the eating-fads of the West. I get less acne and maintain a stable weight, though I’m not sure if this has more to do with my lack of chocolate cravings – can there be anything more disappointing for the chocolate-lover than a bar of chocolate that has been exposed to the heat and then refrigerated so many times that the outer layer has gone a speckled white? I’ve nearly given up on eating chocolate in Egypt – or my enthusiastic consuming of koshary.
Aisha is on a diet. The young women of Egypt seem to be beginning to follow the West in the obsession with skinny. It’s not all bad news though. She’s never heard of the Atkins Diet. When I tell her there’s a diet that cuts out carbohydrates altogether and makes your breath smell revolting she looks at me with complete disbelief.
“No bread...at all?” She frowns. “That’s crazy.”
Yes, quite. Despite the young generation’s new-found avoidance of carbohydrates I get the feeling that koshary is safe in its role of Egyptian staple for some time yet.