I’m not usually a hateful guy, but I pretty much hate pigeons. When I lived in Chicago sometime last century, I spent an entire summer getting woken up every morning by a nest of pigeons on my tiny windowsill. That’s OK and everything, but the fatass pigeons had a massive nest that seemed to be built entirely of pigeon shit, and that’s gross. By the end of the summer, I was convinced that pigeons were at least as disgusting as flying cockroaches.
Years later, when my then-girlfriend was disturbingly ill from hemorrhagic dengue fever in Brazil, I walked out of the hospital… and a pigeon dropped a huge, epic bird deuce all over my neck and shoulders. I was already in a bad mood, and that flying cockroach pigeon really chapped my hide.
But now, I’ve gotten my revenge. I ate one of the bastards, stuffed with a delicious Egyptian barley pilaf. Take that, you flying cockroach pigeon bastards!
When we first opened the menus at El Karnak, an Egyptian restaurant in Astoria, I was pretty disappointed: the food appeared to be generically Middle Eastern, with a standard array of kabobs, falafel, and appetizers. Not interesting at all. Luckily, there was a single, dog-eared sheet of paper wedged into the menu, and it had about ten lines of Arabic on it. After asking the friendly servers for a translation, I realized that we’d hit the Egyptian food jackpot: they had stuffed cabbage, stuffed intestines, stuffed grape leaves, koshari, couscous, and stuffed pigeon. Revenge would be mine at last!
And I got some really tasty Egyptian food with my revenge, and that’s pretty cool, too.
After some endearing miscommunications, we accidentally ended up with a pair of appetizers: a fattoush salad ($7) and a monstrous bowl of Moroccan couscous ($10). We only intended to order the salad, but we weren’t about to whine, since both dishes turned out to be absolutely phenomenal. In the spirit of El Karnak’s Palestinian neighbors at Duzan, the fattoush salad was a ridiculously fresh mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and toasted pita bread, tossed with lemon, olive oil, and parsley. Simple, but excellent.
The Moroccan couscous, despite being of thoroughly non-Egyptian origin, was also outstanding. The dish featured chickpeas, insanely tender lamb, extra bits of thoroughly awesome lamb fat, roasted carrots and yams and onions, and some bizarrely delicious pieces of roasted cabbage, all on a mountain of perfectly cooked couscous. For a restaurant run by non-Moroccans, that Moroccan food was pretty rad… and a hell of a deal for $10.
Out of obligation, we also ordered a mountain of koshari (sometimes spelled koshary, kushari, or kosheri), which is arguably Egypt’s national dish. As much as anything, koshari is a form of fast food in Cairo, seemingly found on every street corner. It’s a hearty, simple, cheap dish, made from macaroni, rice, spaghetti, lentils, chickpeas, tomato sauce, fried onions, and a side of hot sauce. I’m not sure that koshari can ever be all that amazing, but it’s usually pretty good. And blissfully cheap.
The real highlight was biting the hell out of that frickin’ flying cockroach pigeon bastard, though. He tasted like chicken. Dark meat, if we’re being specific. And he was nicely garnished. I guess he wasn’t all that meaty, but the meat that was there was damned satisfying, thanks in large part to the barley pilaf—seasoned with a hint of cardamom—stuffed inside the pigeon’s body cavity.
Now that dirty bastard is in my belly. Thank you, El Karnak, for making my revenge possible.