South Korea surprised me. Seoul, a bustling metropolis, is a dynamic modern city with efficient public transportation, pristine outdoor pedestrian areas, and people dressed to the nines. I recalculated its seemingly immaculate image as older ladies by the side of the road harassed me to buy their gimbap (Korean sushi) and I watched people jostling each other as they rummaged through large bins of 1000KRW (1USD) clothing. I squeezed through “noodle alley,” an indoor cafeteria with wall to wall bar stools in front of female vendors with their towering bowls of banchan (Korean side dishes) and noodles, crumpled napkins covered the floor.
I was in the ancient land of pharaohs and mummies for nearly two weeks before venturing north to Cairo. Coming from India where vegetarian food is bountiful, spicy, and vibrant, I knew that eating in Egypt would require an adjustment period. What I didn’t expect was how much of a gamble the tastiness of a meal would prove. I’d tried koshari from a popular spot in Luxor, a wonderful mix of large and small noodles, brown lentils, an oily tomato sauce, crispy fried onions, and a thin vinegary hot sauce. A few days later in Aswan, the same dish was lackluster at best; undercooked noodles, mushy lentils, and minimal seasoning. Same thing with fuul (fava bean strew) and tameya (fava bean fritters, Egyptian falafel). The slow cooked beans could be creamy and delicious, with fritters crispy and hot. But more often than not the fuul was bland and the tameya was dry.