Day 46: Egypt
Lately, I’ve been feeling the grind. Lack of sleep doesn’t help things, but there have been a lot of big events lately, so today, I’m going to an old standby. Café Dahab in West L.A. used to be a regular place for me to sit with friends and have a long, casual dinner with a bottle of wine and at the end of the night, a hookah and some mint tea. It’s one of those places that’s close to your house, but can also transport you for a few hours and give you a break from whatever part of your life it is that you need a break from. I’m told it is specifically Egyptian, but most of the food is pretty similar to a lot of other Middle Eastern cuisine. Regardless, I haven’t been back in a while, but in need of a break and a short drive today, I decide to go for lunch with “Danielle” and Mr. Meatball. We have also heard quiet rumors of a potential pop-in by folk hero Jason Bernstein, which always makes things a little more interesting.
When I arrive, Meatball and “Danielle” are already seated outside. I find my way into a chair and notice that the menus are shiny and new, but the food seems to mostly be the same. While preparing to order, we snack on the salty marinated olives and slightly spicy pickled radish which precedes any meal here. Then, with the earliest folk hero pop-in in Man Bites World history, he appears! Dressed in a black suit and black sunglasses, he enters with a relaxed confidence that could calm a rabid pit bull, sits down, says “Hey players,” and gives me my first ever Folk Hero Fist Bump. Bernstein takes over as the de facto photographer for the afternoon and looks so qualified for the job that our server even asks to pose for a picture with “Danielle” and me. It must be the suit. For the record, I’m wearing shorts, a t-shirt and sandals. That’s classy, right?
Thick, creamy hummus topped with herbs and drizzled with olive oil, light, fluffy baba ghanouj and bastirma (Middle Eastern pastrami, like the Amrenian basturma) fried together with eggs arrive on the table, comprising our “Egyptian Appetizer Feast”. We also make sure to get an order of their wonderful, freshly oil-submerged french fries— thin, salty, crispy and absurdly addictive when dipped into their thick, white garlic sauce. The egg with bastirma is a brilliant idea for a very dense breakfast, but right now it’s just too much. Heavy, rich, aggressive and more than a little exhausting. Soon after, our sandwiches arrive— shish kabob with tahini and a side of cabbage salad is set in front of me, reaffirming my belief that the best way to present a long, cylindrical food item is to wrap it inside of aluminum foil. Kabob sandwich, burrito, warm hoagie, you name it.
The steak is juicy, the tahini refreshing and there are a wide variety of fixings to toss inside. Mr. Meatball has a similar experience with his chicken kabob sandwich, adding yet more evidence to the longstanding truth that properly cooked meat served with good sauce, something crunchy and pickled, then stuffed inside of bread— is very delicious. It’s nothing revolutionary, but I’m very glad it’s still accurate. “Danielle”, unfortunately, was not as lucky with her falafel, which she accurately describes as “all right”. This was never a place where everything was tasty, but the right ordering still makes for a good meal. Folk hero Jason Bernstein, meanwhile, does not ingest any food, but rather looms over us like some well dressed, picture-taking specter.
We decide to get out of the sun, moving inside to enjoy a white peach hookah. We lay back comfortably into our corner as I’m handed the stem of our smoke contraption. I slide the disposable mouthpiece into its proper position, my brain still actively trying to plan out tomorrow’s food while figuring out what’s to be written about today, I bring the stem toward my lips, my eyes still unable to focus totally on any one thing, release all of the air from lungs, then breathe in, bubbles gently rumbling in the base of the hookah, I sit up straight, giving my body room to take in as much air as possible, allowing the smoke to fill every remaining crevice, then hold it all in for a moment before delicately releasing the fruity toxin through my nose, allowing it to take all of my tension, analysis and neuroses with it. My body dissolves, my lower back slides into the seat, my brain clouds, my eyelids drop. Where did I just go?
Once tea has arrived, I barely exist. Gazing not at, but through, the television showing odd, avant garde music videos for the fast, powerfully rhythmic Middle Eastern house music, the hookah stem rotates around the table with folk hero Jason Bernstein still not partaking, but simply floating above us, taking pictures of us as I dissipate into what seems like will be nothing. I turn to “Danielle” and say “Isn’t this ridiculous? How is this legal?” She shakes her head, thinking with every ounce of strength she has left. “I don’t know,” she says. I turn to Mr. Meatball and ask the same question. He responds with “I don’t really feel anything.” We chalk it up to the fact that “Danielle” and I don’t ever smoke cigarettes, meaning that this feeling is caused by a lack of experience with tobacco, but also, as Mr. Meatball points out, a lack of oxygen to the brain. Whatever it is, it’s nice to be able to relax for a moment— and it is just a moment— as fifteen minutes later it’s gone. I say goodbye to my friends and saunter toward the car, feeling like I’ve just left a spa. Recharged, refreshed and ready for whatever happens next.
1638 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Food Breakdown: 3 non-alcoholic beverages, 4 appetizers, three entrees
Distance From My House: 4.6 miles