El Shah2a: The Origins Behind the Mysterious Egyptian Molokheya Tradition
by Nadine Arab
Jew’s Mallow, or molokheya as we call it in Arabic, is one of the most heavenly Egyptian dishes. However, el shah2a — an Egyptian tradition where the person inhales whilst cooking the glorious dish — has always been a mystery. You wouldn’t be a true Egyptian if you don’t leave this signature sign while pouring the sauce onto the green soup.
The funny thing is that the tradition has been passed down from one generation to another, but nobody has stopped to ask where it actually came from. That’s why we had to step in to reveal some hidden mysteries, and after extensive research, we found ourselves in front of three legends about where el shah2a came from.
The first myth says that a woman was peacefully cooking in her small little kitchen, and as she moved the saucepan from one place to another, she slipped and almost dropped the burning hot sauce on herself.
*Insert shah2a sound effect* TA DA! And this is where it supposedly came from, fear that she would get herself burnt. The lady managed to save the situation, and the molokheya turned out to be very delicious.
The second myth took place in a king’s palace in an unknown era. It was known for that particular notorious king that he would kill if his hunger wasn’t immediately satisfied. One day, the cook was preparing the king’s favorite dish, which happened to be molokheya (obviously), when the guard suddenly came in to tell him that the king was very hungry. Out of extreme fear to be put to death, el shah2a came in. Lucky for him, he managed to finish the dish in time.
In the the third and final legend, the story was set in the era of Al Hakim Bi Amr Illah. Back then, the meal was only cooked for the ruler and the green leaves were planted in his private garden. This backs up another myth we’ve been always told about where the word molokheya came from — that it came from the word molokeya (which means royalty), since it was only eaten by royals. One day, Al Hakim was waiting for his special meal and as it was being served, a very hot sauce was accidentally spilled in his dish. Again, el shah2a, obviously happened. It was super hot, he couldn’t stand its taste and refused to eat molokheya again. Ever since then, the meal turned from an elite specialty into a local Egyptian dish that everyone could have.
After knowing the 3 legends, which one do you believe in the most?