I grew up in London England. I grew up not far from Trafalgar Square in Central London, the home of the pigeon. I grew up believing that pigeons are rats with wings. I don’t mean that in a sort of metaphorical sense, I literally mean that I have always considered a pigeon to be the bird version of a rat. A vermin. A pest. A dirty animal which feeds on next to anything including, when in hard times, other birds. The uncaring, selfish cousin of fowl which breeds just for the sake of annoying me. A bird which likes to wait up above on branches and lamp posts and on the tip of bus stop signs, for me to appear down below in my best suit, just dry cleaned and ironed and en route to a very important customer meeting; just to sh*t on me. Yes I used that word. It takes a lot for me to use that word. I really need you to know just how hard it was for me to put one of these “feathered gremlins’” into my mouth – MY MOUTH – the gate to my inner being, the doorway to my health and well being.
It was delicious!
And that is why pigeon and in particular the pigeon at Ard El Ma’ared in Madinet Nasr gets the LTC seal of approval. Its a must eat.
Be prepared though. If like me you view pigeons as disgusting little irksome creatures that you only allow to live because they are so dirty you dread the thought of a dead one being near you and/or like me, as much as you can’t stand them, you just can’t bring yourself to be so cruel as to kill them on sight, then I’m 100% behind your thinking ‘…yeah thanks…. but no thanks buddy’. You must realise that I was starving hungry, actually I was just really hungry. (I dislike using the word starving I don’t think I’ve ever really starved in my life thank God).
I’d come to Ard El Ma’ared with some of my wife’s cousins for a late feast. We had been loitering outside this infamous eatery for what seemed like a decade, waiting for a table to become available. Whilst that stood as a sure sign that the food was good, I was still very apprehensive. I could see the pigeons being prepared through the window. They were being stuffed with rice and what looked like lentils. (The rice is soaked in stock, whilst cooking, to give it flavour.)
Once inside, the narrow corridors jammed tight with tables, the smell of the stock and the roasting bird made me salavate. Mixed with the smell of kofte (minced marinated meat) and shorba (soup), rice and salad the smell was too much for me and I made up my mind that I would definitely try one. Everybody else I was with was Egyptian or had eaten and loved eating pigeon, so I was being constantly reassured that this delicacy was a ‘must try’. After being seated the four of us ordered starters which consisted of bread, pickles, tahina, humous and soup (shorba). The soup came (like tea) in a glass mug and I now know it was actually the pigeon stock with extra spices and onions. It was strong, but delicious and I highly recommend it.
I wolfed it down like there was no tomorrow. I tried to limit the amount of bread I ate as this always fills me up before the main meal, but I was so hungry I ate at least two. The bread was ‘beladi‘ flat bread but was not the wholemeal version (which I find a bit bitty) this was the white one which I like much more.
Well, it was not long before the waiter turned up again and this time he came with the goods. Everyone else had ordered two pigeons each. I opted for one and some kofte. Actually Magid, one of my wife’s cousins and the biggest out of us, ordered two pigeons and a kofte portion but Mashallah had no problem wolfing it all down. As soon as I saw the pigeon I gasped (quietly). The head of the pigeon was still on it. You can see it if you look closely at the picture. Not a good start. The last thing I needed to encourage me to try this thing was to have it staring at me through spit-roasted eyeballs. I was hungry, but not that hungry.
My brother in law had already begun tucking into his opposite me. To my left Muhammad, another cousin, saw my distress and elbowed me in a gesture to ‘get on with it’. He grabbed one of the pigeons out of the serving plate and yanked it’s head off. He then turned it breast side up and sunk his teeth into it. You see there is very little meat on a pigeon, its a skinny bird. The delicacy here in Cairo is to stuff it with rice (Hamam Mashi) although at barbeques you will often get it without the rice as it is grilled on the fire this is called (Hamam Meshwi). While I’m on the subject the word Hammam notice the double ‘m’ means toilet/bathroom – before I ate pigeon for the first time I found it a little amusing that a single ‘m’ divided the two meanings considering what these birds are famous for in london.
Well needless to say I eventually took the plunge and really enjoyed it. It sort of tastes like duck, quite red in texture and a little more chewy than chicken. Be prepared though there is not that much to eat (hence the rice) and it really does look a little different. I’m still not a huge fan of pigeon. I’ll definitely eat it again but I much prefer chicken. I can at least go back to the UK now armed with the threat of consumption if any pigeons start “giving it large” (London slang meaning – “trying it on”). I’ll be like ….”Get out of my way or I will rip your head off and eat you (with some rice)”. Yes. I think that ought to sort out the Trafalgar Square ‘massive and crew!’