The vegetable outlawed by royalty

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The two-metre-high, super-green is also cultivated on Cairo’s dusty, abandoned roof terraces. Malik Tag, head of smart farming at Schaduf, gave me a tour of the social enterprise’s rooftop headquarters (located in the upmarket neighbourhood of Maadi),where new urban garden concepts are being trialled. Molokhia was one of the first vegetables to be grown as part of Schaduf’s community-led hydroponic farming projects, he said. “The initiative(s) enabled low-income families to sell leafy greens (including molokhia) to the city’s high-end supermarkets.”

Eleven kilometres away in the outlying city of Giza, I met with 27-year-old receptionist Mimi Melad, a self-proclaimed stickler for tradition when it comes to molokhia. “I always cook with fresh (molokhia) from a stall on Al-Haram Street near my home,” she said. “And I do the shahe’t (pronounced “cha-h’a”) every time,” she continued, referring to an age-old cooking ritual still practised today by some Egyptian women. Believed to make the dish more flavoursome, the cook leaned over the steaming molokhia, mouthing the words “shahe’t el mulukhiyahwhile making an audible gasp, before clamping the pan’s lid shut.

“My mother, grandmother and her mother all did the shahe’t,” Melad said, brimming with pride. Something tells me the shahe’t will be around in another four generations.

Culinary Roots is a series from BBC Travel connecting to the rare and local foods woven into a place’s heritage.

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