Why do Egyptians risk death for this fish dish?

Published May 3rd, 2016 - 12:36 GMT
Patrons buy fesikh in Cairo (Khaled Desouki / AFP)
Patrons buy fesikh in Cairo (Khaled Desouki / AFP)

A potentially fatal dose of fermented fish is probably not the first meal you’d pick to mark the start of spring.

But in Egypt millions of people tuck in to Fesikh every year as part of the Shams el Nesim – or "smell the breeze" – festival. The meal – fermented, salted and dried gray mullet – is a delicacy on the national seasonal holiday, but it’s certainly an acquired taste and it could come with a heavy price. 

In 2010 two people died from eating the fish, which if prepared incorrectly can contain the deadly botulism bacteria sometimes found in spoiled tinned foods. In 1999, 18 people were reportedly killed by the meal – a record that’s since prompted authorities to issue annual warnings over Fesikh consumption. In preparation for the festival local authorities have even set up special emergency centres for those suffering from food poisoning.

Websites have also featured guidance on keeping safe while eating Fesikh. Top tips include buying from reputable vendor, drinking plenty of water, and not consuming the salty treat for breakfast.

The warnings, however, didn’t stop Britain’s Ambassador to Egypt from trying the delicacy yesterday.



He describes it as an experience that passed peacefully.

In Egypt, the dish is both loved and loathed. “If you enjoy human rights violations then you’ll enjoy Fesikh” was the final word of one Egyptian Redditor.

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