Reader question: “Was that strange combination Egyptian meal you described real?”
The reader was referring to koshari, the national dish of Egypt (also known as kushari), which Fatima treats Kate and Jackson to in the third GhostWriters book, Temple of Ghosts.
Koshari, an unlikely combination of macaroni, lentils, rice, and tomato sauce topped with crispy onions, is not much to look at, but is surprisingly delicious.
Many of my readers are surprised to learn I’ve traveled the world to write the GhostWriters series. For City of Ghosts, I toured China and spent time in an abandoned Chinese ghost city. For The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts, I finagled my way to Poveglia, the world’s most haunted (and forbidden) island. For Temple of Ghosts, I explored the tombs and ancient temples of Egypt, and for the upcoming fourth book in the series, I visited the most haunted forest in the world. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
One of the greatest pleasures when traveling is sampling another culture’s cuisine. (Okay, I may have done more than sample.) Authentic Chinese food is both phenomenal and frustratingly unavailable anywhere else in the world; pizza in Italy will leave you forever unsatisfied with our pathetic imitations–and how on earth do they get their lemons and tomatoes to taste like that? After drinking mint tea in Egypt, you will wonder why everyone doesn’t go for the pick-your-own-mint approach, bringing an adorable potted plant to your table.
While my memories of Egypt of course include the Great Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and poor Tut’s tomb, they taste of the sweet, bright purple hibiscus juice–which was like grape juice, only better–savoury, sesame-flavoured tahini dip with fresh, melt-in-your-mouth pita bread, and the best sandwich I ever had in my life: gleaming strips of meat sliced from a vertical rotisserie and tucked into pita bread with a delectable sauce.
There’s a lot you can learn about different cultures and cuisines from the web, but for me, nothing replaces being there. As I started to write Temple of Ghosts here at home, the things I didn’t know and couldn’t find on the net frustrated me. What does the sand in Egypt feel like? (Answer: it has a coarse texture, not soft–at least in the areas I visited, and it’s a medium brown, not white.) What does the air smell like? (Answer: depends where you are.) There was only one thing to do–book a trip to Egypt. Thank goodness for Airmiles.
If I hadn’t traveled to these places myself, I wouldn’t know that Bali smells like frangipani and incense, and sounds like bamboo chimes. I wouldn’t know how delicious jian bing tastes for breakfast, made by a frightened woman with a cart who is always glancing over her shoulder as she cooks, watching for the police. I wouldn’t have tried tart, sour tamarind straight from the tree or felt the simmering tension of Curaçao. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted the deep sadness I’d feel as I looked down at Tut’s tiny, wizened body, or viewed the mummified remains of Pompei’s unfortunates. And I wouldn’t have made friends from all over the world.
Not everyone can travel where they’d like, and I’ve done my best to turn my books into an escape for my readers. If you’re not in a position to sit shoulder-to-shoulder on a metal bench, eating koshari for the first time with a dozen new friends, the least I can do is bring the koshari to you.
For the recipe, click here.