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Eat like an Egyptian

We are still fascinated by all things Egyptian.

Sultry Cleopatra, as embodied by Elizabeth Taylor, or not, with asp or Richard Burton variously clutched to ample bosom. Strangely-bearded pharaohs. The sublime and mysterious Sphinx. Even the pyramids themselves, as monumental reality or compelling symbol.

(Check out the back of the next US dollar bill you find in your hip pocket. That pyramid with the disembodied eyeball floating above comprises one side of the Great Seal of the United States, thanks at least in part to George Washington’s status as a Freemason.)

Even the Bangles’ 1980s hit, "Walk Like an Egyptian", speaks to, or is that sings to that magical mystical place lined with kohl and gold and myrrh where the imagined exotic Egypt resides.

You don’t have to be an Edward Said buff to notice that, unlike Saddam’s gaunt face and all other things Muslim posed as terrifying in our post-9/11 world, Egypt doesn’t suffer from the same bad PR in "western" consciousness as does the "Middle" and even "Far" East.

At least part of the reason, or fault if you want something to blame, is that as Orientalism evolved in Europe in the early 1800s, Egypt straddled a special sort of schizophrenic place in the average colonial European mindset. It was far enough away, both literally and symbolically, to be romanticized as tantalizing and exotic, yet close enough to be similar and somewhat familiar, ergo not so strange and scary. It was also apparent that ancient Egypt had a pretty cool (read: advanced) civilization, and so it was adopted as a good and powerful thing to align yourself with, much like ancient Greece or Rome.

All of this has not been lost on the good folks at the British Museum, originators of the "Eternal Egypt" exhibit featured at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria until October 31. One good example of the strange-but-familiar spot Egypt occupies in our consciousness is the food stall the equally good folks at the Royal BC Museum created as part of the Egyptian marketplace.

The shopping list for food to replicate from the 3,000-year period covered by the exhibit includes everything from pomegranates and figs to flatbread, fish and fowl. In fact, other than a few exceptions such as your basic ibex and gazelles, it looks much like your own shopping list for the week.

Lettuce, leeks, garlic, onions (if you have any spares, use them in your next mummification to fill the hollows where the eyeballs once were), grapes, cukes, cabbage, olives (which were imported, just as they are today), honey, salt, milk, butter cheese, eggs, vegetable oil galore from sesame to flax, and a variety of meat, from beef to pork and mutton. Don’t forget the spices, including cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, marjoram, mustard, and thyme. And of course, the wine and beer.

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