Posted by: foodtalker | July 5, 2008

the egg man cometh

Growing up in the Middle East in the ’50s provided some rather different childhood memories than most.  Camels, dirt roads, curries, barasti huts, mosques, beetle nuts, the souk.  Fresh food was hard to come by, everything was frozen or canned.  Milk was made from a powder and tasted like a diluted form of Elmers Glue.  There was only one “sweet” water tap in the house.   We took salt pills daily, sweated profusely and learned to deal with the sand storms that blew in from the desert in a wall of dust that couldn’t be excluded from anywhere and even found its way between the sheets of made beds.

Apart from the usual games and habits of kids, playing marbles, riding bikes, hanging out, there were two major highlights to each week.  One was chasing the “smoke machine” which would drive around expelling dense clouds of noxious DDT spray for roaches, scorpions and such.  No one knew of the health risks back then.  It was as if the Pied Piper of Hamlin had come to town.  Kids emptied out of every home and there we were every week without fail, running around in the fog and the fumes squealing, laughing and bumping into each other.

The other significant event was the egg man’s house call.  This was never heralded or scheduled like the smoke machine.  He would just show up unceremoniously and unannounced.  A little man, an Arab, dressed in a Tide-white dishdash and white keffiyeh carrying a galvanized pail filled with eggs for sale.  There was little conversation.  None was really necessary.  Small talk would have been out of place – this was serious business.  He would be shown into the kitchen and a large pudding basin full of water would be placed on the floor.  We would gather round.  Hitching up his skirts he would hunker down and start taking eggs, one at a time, out of his pail and placing them into the bowl.  We would watch and wait holding our breath.  The air this time was not thick with smoke, but with suspense.  A moment would pass, the egg would sink, we’d let out a sigh.  Then another egg into the bowl, and again we’d hold our breath.  Each time the egg sank our sigh would be one of disappointment.  We were waiting and hoping for one to float.  We knew if it did it was rotten and a rotten egg promised many more possibilities.  It sometimes happened.

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