Hanan Radwan blogs about this favourite Eid food.
It was the morning before Eid El Adha when I was six years old. Strolling with my parents and brother towards the Shooting Club, looking forward to a day of fun, I saw a woman wrestling herself away from the front of a long queue at a bakery selling baladi bread. When she approached a dripping hose in a nearby garden, she suddenly dropped all 10 loaves on the ground and began spraying them with water, turning each loaf to make sure it was completely soaked.
Horrified, I tugged at my mother’s skirt and cried: “Look at that poor mad woman!” My mother’s answer: “She’s not mad. She’s going to feed that bread to her ducks or chicken, and because it’s so dry, she’s soaking it so that they can swallow it easily.” Although I was upset by that scene, I thought no more of it until the next day when I sauntered into the kitchen and got the shock of my life: my mother was ladling hot soup on a pile of bread!
Until today, my relatives recall the meal that ensued with giggles and sneers. Refusing to eat like poultry, I pursed my lips defiantly throughout the lunch and turned down all efforts to make me taste even a spoonful of fattah, which I had never had before. It took more than 30 years of cajoling and blackmailing by my mother before I finally did. As I ate the warm, broth-infused bread mixed with rice and drizzled with that heady concoction of garlic, vinegar and tomato puree, I realized what I had been missing. It was delicious!
This “queen of all meals” is more than a just tasty lunch. Of course, it’s one of the hallmarks of Eid El Adha, signifying bounty, generosity and home-cooked goodness. I love it that fattah is one of the few, one-pot, versatile dishes that can on its own make a banquet and feed a crowd, whether for the Eid, a wedding, funeral, the birth of a child or the return of a family member from the hajj.
And it has taken on so many versions. The traditional lamb chunks that it’s served with have been replaced by some in favor of beef, chicken or kawarei (trotters). Each fattah dish is prepared with the broth of the meat in question and bathed in the Egyptian garlic-vinegar-tomato blend, which differs from the Lebanese and Syrian versions that substitute yoghurt for the tomatoes and vinegar. There is even a fattah for lentils, made with their broth and without the rice. Whatever the method, the secret to making good fattah is in using dry bread so that it can soak up all the goodness of the concentrated broth. It seems we can’t get enough of the hearty stuff.
No matter the protein component, fattah can never be fattah without rumpled pieces of bread drenched in bahariz (rich broth). I, for one, can’t have it any other way.
Hanan Radwan is a rural development consultant and an avid cook. When she’s not out in the countryside working at her day job, she writes restaurant reviews for Al-Ahram Weekly and swaps recipes with friends and relatives.