By Saloni Bhugra
Maha Barsoom is preserving Egyptian culture in Toronto by using ingredients that were a part of ancient Egyptian cuisine 5,000 years ago.
Barsoom opened Maha’s Fine Egyptian Restaurant in 2014 with the help of her son, Mark, and daughter, Monika.
“The Egyptian cuisine’s history goes back as far as the ancient history of the Pharoahs. The same ingredients were found in the tombs during the Egyptian archeological excavations. Loaves of bread, dried seeds of beans, vegetables like onions, and fruits like dates. Same ingredients are still used until today in our restaurant,” Barsoom said.
The cuisine is influenced by the country’s geography which also determines what’s available to the rich and to the poor. Egypt’s land is mostly desert and just about 3.5 per cent of the fertile land is around the Nile river, which keeps the prices of meat extremely high.
“Legumes became the primary source of protein and all the vegetarian dishes have developed to work around this economic reality,” Barsoom said.
While both rich and poor enjoy vegetarian meals which are high in carbs and protein, Maha’s brother, Ibrahim Bemz, said “the rich people like to visit restaurants to enjoy seafood and meat.”
Egyptian cuisine has also influenced most Middle Eastern food with dishes like hummus, falafel, and rice.
Barsoom started to learn about food and its history by picking up books when she was 14 and trying all recipes at home. “I came from a family of great cooks and I enjoyed great food growing up,” she said.
She worked as a translator after moving to Canada in 2000 until 2011 when she brought a casserole to an event at work. Her children helped her start a catering-from-home company that grew into a restaurant that’s been called one of the best brunch spots in the city.
Maha’s restaurant opened after Mark and Monika applied for a line of credit and Barsoom brought in money from the land they owned in Egypt. “The money I started off with was from a share in a piece of land that we inherited from my father when my mom got very sick and she had to do a dialysis,” she said.
Bemz told Skedline more in a 360-degree tour at Maha’s. Watch the video below.