A gutty delicacy for Eid

The final product. Image: Shady Alaraby

Arabs are not shy when it comes to food. Nor are they generally big fans of waste.

This combination of qualities leads to a completely bizarre collection of ‘delicacy’ dishes on Arab family menus that ranges from sheep brains and chicken kidneys to cow tongues and the all-notorious Iraqi meal of sheep testicles.

If you’re lucky, you’ll only see this spread of organs on the rarest of occasions.

For Muslim Arabs, that rare occasion would be this week, to coincide with the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha. As pilgrims in Saudi Arabia perform one of the final pillars of hajj by sacrificing sheep, cows or goats in commemoration of Abraham’s same action when his son Ishmael’s life was spared by God, Muslims all around the world also take part in sacrificial rites.

This means that once you’ve distributed a third of the resulting meat to the poor and a third to friends, relatives or neighbours, you’re left with a third of a sheep or cow or goat for your family.

I never quite grasped what “keeping a third of a sheep” really meant until I witnessed a sacrifice myself during a trip to Egypt. The head was saved. Mushy organs I’d never heard of were put aside (Fesha? Kersha? What?). And the intestines. The long, slimy intestines were slowly curled into a bucket to begin the cleaning process.
Stuffing and tying the mombaar.

Stuffing and tying the mombaar.

That was the day I learned that some things are better left undiscovered. Because when you find out that the ‘special stuffed Egyptian sausages’ you were recently introduced to and utterly adore are actually intestines stuffed with rice, herbs and mince, you can’t help but gag a little.

And when you protest, upon this discovery, your fondness for snags on the barbie is destroyed by news that sausages are actually ground animal fat, meat and fillings cased in the outer lining of the intestine.

Recall, then, the day that your mother tricked you into eating fried, white cauliflower-like pieces that were actually fragmented, fried sheep brain.

You can no longer remain in denial; you just ate intestines.

This year, I decided to embrace the weirdness. Odd as it sounds, the Egyptian delicacy of mombaar tastes pretty delicious – and thankfully, it’s the only fishy organ that my family dishes up on Eid.

It takes about a week to prepare mombaar. The intestines soak in vinegar for a day. Next, they’re buried in flour, lemon and other items of cleaning qualities. Then they’re turned inside out and subjected to the cleaning process again.

Once the casing is as clean as Mr Sheen, it is cut into manageable lengths and stuffed with a mixture of rice, herbs and minced meat. The lengths are divided into smaller links with cotton thread and boiled with celery and cardamom.

When serving day comes along, the boiled pieces are fried to a crisp. Voila! It’s almost like looking at stuffed vine leaves.

Except for the part where you discover that they’re not, in fact, vine leaves.

Bon appetit and Eid Mubarak!

Categories: Food

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