Foul has allegedly been THE Egyptian staple food from time immemorial. It is typically consumed cooked to within an inch of its life, mashed and scooped into baladi bread, or in sandwiches. In sandwich form it is a sad envelope of paste, resolutely unadorned with vegetables or other additives considered appropriate by other sandwich-eating cultures. Repeated attempts to convince foul vendors to include some tomatoes or cucumbers in foul sandwiches have been met with naked derision and in one case the hanging up of the phone.
Foul is usually seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon, oil (the type and quality of which depends largely on the establishment), cumin and sometimes tahina. A key, nay, indispensable, side, is onions, particularly green, and hard-boiled eggs, which may be mashed into the plate.
It is sold everywhere from donkey-drawn carts to “touristic” restaurants, and is a beloved cheap food for penniless, authenticity-seeking foreigners and office breakfasters alike. Other Arabs have come up with their own versions of foul seasonings, many of which are far tastier, particularly the Lebanese version. It is now considered practical, smart and modern to purchase foul in cans, available from foreign companies in a variety of forms. This saves the casual consumer from the historical method of foul preparation, a process which involves a large pear-shaped pot named an edra and more than 12 hours (tadmees).
Foul is used, in Egypt, for the manufacture of ta3miya. Not falafel. But that’s for another post.
Egyptians attribute sleepiness, hardiness, virility and flatulence to eaters of foul. Flatulence has been the only physical effect this writer has observed, along with a certain burst of self-pity that a whole meal should thus have been wasted. Most Egyptians, however, have little choice but to eat foul every day.