Shahir Massoud. Eat, Habibi, Eat! Fresh Recipes for Modern Egyptian Cooking. Toronto: Appetite by Random House, 2021. 248pp. $35.00 CDN.
Shahir Masoud has written an engrossing and delectable collection of over 100 recipes filled with as much flavor and inspiration as the heartwarming memories of an Egyptian immigrant family’s food cultures in Canada. As Shahir relates in the introduction, it is a book only he could write; a Canadian born to Egyptian parents, trained in French cuisine, and employed for the bulk of his career cooking Italian food. Drawing on his years of experience between New York and Toronto, he reimagines Egyptian cooking and questions “authenticity” in every recipe. In fact, he warns the reader early on: “Your teta may flip through this book and think that I’m insane – I mean, there’s tarragon in the baba ghanough!” (6)
Massoud is a chef and Canadian television personality, best known as a co-host of the CBC Television daytime talk show The Goods. A graduate of York University and the French Culinary Institute, he is a former executive chef of the Levetto restaurant chain. Born in Mississauga, Ontario his parents left Cairo in 1974 and travelled first to London, England before moving to New York, then Montreal, and finally settling permanently in Toronto. His mother is a pharmacist, his father an entrepreneur. Coptic Orthodox, the family attended St. Mary and St. Athanasius Church in Mississauga regularly and, after high school, Shahir enrolled in Schulich business school to become an accountant. But he quit soon after securing a job to pursue his passion and moved to NYC for culinary school. Jumping headlong into the unknown, he attended classes by day and spent his evenings apprenticing at Chef Cruz’s Lupa in Astoria, Queens.
Shahir’s choice to pursue cooking was met with shock and awe when he told his parents. His account is both relatable and empowering, especially for those of Egyptian background experiencing the often grueling task of mustering the courage to chart their own path. Nothing encapsulates the breakneck pace of his early years in New York quite like a scene he vividly confides: “unexpectedly, I stopped in the middle of Houston street and tears began to fall down my face. I was exhausted, lonely, and afraid. But I was comforted by the fact that I was working as hard as I could.” (4) His hard work paid off, as Shahir joined a start-up of fast-casual Italian spots on his return to Ontario and in 2016 he was asked to co-host The Goods.
After a heartfelt and very witty introduction, the rest of the book gives you everything you need to prepare your Egyptian (Canadian) feast. From “How to Stock your Pantry” to “Tools of the Trade”, Shahir teaches you how to build the ultimate Egyptian pantry using some special food items, but mostly ingredients that can be found at your local grocery store. We are then treated to classics like Shakshuka, Shawarma, and Fattoush Salad, and invited to experiment with reimagined recipes designed with fine dining in mind, like Chickpea Fries with Harissa Mayo and Coffee and Coriander Beef Ribs with Pomegranate BBQ Sauce. Each recipe is introduced with an endearing story of family traditions and Shahir’s choices to experiment with seasoning for a fresh twist. My favorite recipe was without a doubt Gido Habib’s Ful Breakfast (see recipe below – Yum!).
In all, this cookbook is a must read if you are interested in a fresh take on Egyptian cuisine. Although it may not fully satisfy those seeking a “traditional” meal, it is indeed authentically a book only a migrant of Egypt could write. Each recipe is a sensory journey carrying readers from sumptuous breakfast options, to late night snacks your partner will scold you over, and everything in between.
Michael Akladios is an historian of Egyptian migrations to the Americas and the founder and executive director of Egypt Migrations.
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