Saturday saw me and many others return to the Date Palm Festival, which gathers Cairo’s foodies and environmentalists in a family-friendly, festive atmosphere once a year. It was the festival’s third edition and my second time to attend, as food and handicraft vendors celebrate the palm harvest season under the organizational auspices of Slow Food Cairo.
Fagnoon Art Center, which hosts the event, always holds memories of school trips full of painting, silk-screen printing, pottery and water balloon fights. Add to that several types of date, innovative cooking and the soft yet distinct voice and guitar strums of Safi, and you’ve got a delightful day of urban escape.
Slow Food Cairo, a branch of the international Slow Food movement, supports local production and biodiversity as well as highlighting the pleasure in food. Establishing the festival, they chose to celebrate dates in particular because the area hosting it is famous for dates, and Egypt is one of the oldest civilizations in the world to have date palms. The festival is co-organized by Nawaya, a sustainable agriculture organization that works a lot with the farmers around the Fagnoon area, promoting social and environmental justice.
The one-day date festival explores various types of dates, and a multitude of uses and recipes for them. It’s a great opportunity for Cairenes to spend the day outside getting to know local initiatives working to grow and cook organic, healthy food.
This year a gourmet lunch, cooked collaboratively by Ma7ali and Nafas School for Agroculinary Arts and Sciences, was based around a slow-cooked goat pit roast and marinated in date juice, and had to be booked in advance. I opted instead for a mini-pizza from Baladini Kitchen, who were offering hot meals at very reasonable prices, and a delicious date milkshake from the relatively new downtown Cairo venue Eish w Malh. Nafas were also leading cooking classes for children and adults to experiment with date recipes, such as date crunchies and date prosciutto salad.
But it wasn’t all food. Rayhanna Naturals’ booth showcased soaps and beauty products made from natural materials (including dates, of course). Habiba Organic Farm, located in Sinai’s Nuweiba, exhibited handicrafts next to its produce. And Fawzy Mashhour sold miniature wooden chairs and demonstrated how to make them too.
And alongside all the food options and shopping, there were several festive and energetic activities happening, including camel rides, rope making and the most exciting attraction for many: palm-tree climbing, which someone there told me is easier than it looks.
All photos: Rowan El Shimi