The story of Sham El-Nessim

by Radwa El Samahy

Have you ever heard the original story of Sham El-Nessim?

Every year, we celebrate the famous Sham El-Nessim, which, despite what some people think, has never been a religious holiday.  

Sham El-Nessim, formerly known as “Shamo” - Renewal of Life -  in Ancient Egypt, dates back to the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom. It’s a festival that celebrates the arrival of spring. Around 2700 BCE, the changing of the seasons and particularly, arrival of Spring, would be highly celebrated as it had a great effect on the Nile and the prosperous agricultural seasons.

When Egypt was under the rule of the Roman Empire, Shamo was integrated into the Christan Easter celebrations, then when Egypt became an Arab country, the holiday acquired the name “Sham El-Nessim”, which translates to ‘Smelling the breeze’. It stayed on its Easter date, as that is based on a Lunar cycle like most Muslim festivales, which is why they, often, get confused with one another.
In reality, Sham El- Nessim is celebrated by Egyptians of all religions.  It is an Egyptian national festival marking the beginning of spring; where Egyptian families celebrate together, usually taking trips to parks to enjoy the pleasant weather or getting together with family. And as most Egyptian holidays are associated with a certain dish or meal, this one might be the most iconic, and interesting.

As you may have already guessed; ‘Feseekh’-a type of fermented fish-, ‘Renga’/Salted Herring and spring onions are the top known dishes for this time of year.

It’s worth noting that numerous cases of food poisoning from eating Feseekh are reported every year, so always be careful where you buy it, and how much of it you consume.  

Here are a few bonus tips and tricks to help you eat your favorite Sham El-Nessim dishes healthier this year:

 

  • Add lemon, lettuce & cucumber to the salted fish in order to avoid the high acidity level in the stomach.
  • Wash it with diluted vinegar and lemon juice before consuming, to reduce the salt levels in the fish.
  • As it’s an extremely heavy dish, siding it with red & green onions helps the respiratory system from getting affected negatively.
  • Avoid eating more than 150g of Feseekh or Renga per meal.
  • Side it with lots of vegetables such as green and red bell peppers, rich in antioxidant vitamins including vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, and lettuce which contains vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It's a good source of beta carotene, which converts into vitamin A in the body.
  • Feseekh and Renga are usually eaten with Baladi bread, and for good reason; the Wheat Bran in this kind of bread is very nutritious and healthy, it facilitates digestion and bowel movement, reduces the absorption of fats, and prevents the rise of harmful cholesterol in the blood.
  • You could also try different recipes, like Feseekh Purée with lemons, tahini and spices, or Feseekh salad with boiled eggs, baked potatoes, green and red onions, bell peppers and mayonnaise. These recipes can help balance the salt levels in the stomach.

 

This year let’s aim to be mindful of the quality and quantity of dishes we consume during Sham El-Nessim, in order to enjoy it while staying healthy.


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