Food means fraternity

Hosam Eldin, from Egypt, the Ais Milano delegate, explains how food and wine can put cultures in contact

13-12-2015
Writes Hosam Eldin, egipyan, Ais Milano delegat

Writes Hosam Eldin, egipyan, Ais Milano delegate: "Demonising food, demonising wine is silly. When I visit a producer, he hugs me, takes me to his vines, lets me smell the scent of the earth, then perhaps tells me about a little church a stone’s throw away, or a local legend... He tells me about century-old popular beliefs. Then we sit and we enrich each other with further knowledge. Through wine. It’s a constant discovery"

At two, I ate little and my mother Nazek was worried. She took me to the doctor who told her: “When Hosam doesn’t want to eat, take a teaspoon and pour a drop, just a drop of wine. Give it to him. You’ll see he’ll eat”. My mother followed his advice and from that moment on she had no more problems feeding me, and I never stopped asking for a drop of wine during my meals. After all, I’ve become a sommelier, in 2003, for this reason.

I tell this episode because I believe it was the foundation of my passion, which is now my job. But it also exemplifies how Egypt has changed today. It is now unimaginable that a doctor would prescribe some wine (still, it was really just a drop) to an Egyptian child. At the time, it happened normally. I’m 49, I was born in Aswan in 1966, my family was originally from there, but since I was a child I lived in Alexandria, where I graduated in Chemistry before moving to Italy in 1993.

Hosam Eldin with Fiorenzo Detti, Ais Lombardia president

Hosam Eldin with Fiorenzo DettiAis Lombardia president

Alexandria was, and in fact still is, a free, open, tolerant, cosmopolite town. I wouldn’t compare it to Paris, la Ville Lumiere: still I can find a few analogies. This is why what happened in the transalpine city struck me immensely.

I’m not a religious person, but I come from a Muslim family. Still, in my family there’s always been a bottle of spirit, perhaps to be offered to guests. When I chose not to embrace faith, to drink wine, eat pork, no one turned up their noses, in fact they supported me. I’m not surprised, it was the spirit of Alexandria that I know and love. A place where hurting a foreigner was unthinkable: where doors were always open for guests, and if you had nothing else you were happy to offer at least a smile.

I don’t know how much my town has changed, in these years. Not too much I’d think. Of course Egypt has changed. I don’t want to speak about politics, I work with wine, I want to speak about food and about tables set with food. I have travelled around the Mediterranean area at length: whether you’re in Morocco, Egypt, Italy, Greece or Turkey, food is a way of sharing. During a meal you can recover common cultural origins, or become acquainted with the differences developed over the centuries.

On the 15th November, the Ais congress had just ended and the Diamond Tower in Milan where it took place turned into the colours of the French flag as Paris had just suffered a terrorist attack

On the 15th November, the Ais congress had just ended and the Diamond Tower in Milan where it took place turned into the colours of the French flag as Paris had just suffered a terrorist attack

I remember years ago, when I was in Dogon, in Mali. I was hiking and at the end of each leg, the women from the village we had reached would cook delicious food for us. Those were poor areas: I noticed that while we were served meat, locals would do with couscous and some vegetables. I told our guide: we want to eat like them. At first he opposed himself, then he agreed. From that moment on, they adopted us, they had changed, they prepared banquets that were perhaps poor, but tasty and friendly. The vegetables were excellent. This is the spirit of travelling, this is the spirit of man.

A few days later, my guide wanted me to taste a local beer from Mali, homemade by a woman considered as a bit of a witch, though friendly so. The beer wasn’t that good: it was very light, made with millet, even too sweet... During the night they took me to this lady, while she was preparing her beer: it was a magic moment. The following day I saw her at the local market: people would walk past her with condescension, to show others they didn’t give in to the temptation of that alcoholic beverage, though bland. They then turned round the corner and returned, buying bottles secretly, from the back door.

Hosam Eldin with Alfredo Zini and Gian Arturo Rota at the opening of the walk recently dedicated in Milan to Luigi Veronelli

Hosam Eldin with Alfredo Zini and Gian Arturo Rota at the opening of the walk recently dedicated in Milan to Luigi Veronelli

Demonising food, demonising wine is silly. When I visit a producer, he hugs me, takes me to his vines, lets me smell the scent of the earth, then perhaps tells me about a little church a stone’s throw away, or a local legend... He tells me about century-old popular beliefs. Then we sit and we enrich each other with further knowledge. Through wine. It’s a constant discovery.

The wine was served in abundance in the courts of the caliphate, or of the Ottoman sultan. That was Islam too: why is it no longer the case today? The nice thing about wine is it makes people stay together in good company, it builds bridges, helps to socialise. In our days, it is ignorance that creates taboos. Let’s overcome these, with food perhaps. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary?


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