Monkey Brains – Seriously?

BrainsThey say you eat with your eyes first. So if you’re a bit squeamish then keep your eyes closed as you read this.

Traveling solo opens up various invitations that otherwise might not be extended. Before leaving the States for a trip to Cairo, I was given the name a local family in the town of Dahshur. Dahshur is only a few kilometers outside of Cairo, and other than the pyramids, is not a hub of activity. The homes are modest, but some don’t even have indoor plumbing services installed.

One of the most memorable events that took place on my trip was meeting the Nahas family of Dahshur. We had been introduced through a mutual friend who they had met the year before my arrival. Our mutual friend, Paul is a medical doctor and had helped their youngest child, Dendera, overcome a chronic cough that had plagued her for several months. The Nahas welcomed me into their home with lavish appreciation for my visit out of respect of our mutual friend. I stayed with them for three days, and was overwhelmed by their generous hospitality.

On the third evening of my visit with plans to leave the next day, a feast was thrown in my – and Paul’s honor. I saw special dishes being prepared in the rudimentary kitchen throughout the day. I knew from all the fuss it was going to be a lavish ordeal and felt a little humbled that they would go to such an extent. I knew the flurry of activity was a demonstration of gratitude, once again, for the health that Paul had restored to their little girl.

The table was exquisite and we were seated on beautifully embroidered, silk pillows. The first course arrived, steaming hot. I noticed that not everyone received the same covered platter and the men and “special” guests were delivered domed plates. The domes were lifted, and what was unveiled was the decapitated head of a monkey. It was small and the eyes – thank God, were shut. It had a peculiar smell. The aroma, was raw and wild and very fresh. The skull had been carefully carved to exhibit the still pulsating brains of the primate. It took every bit of self control I could muster not to react in horror. Everyone was ooohhing and aaahhhing over the magnanimity of Mr. Nahas’ show of opulence. He beamed with pride and looked up and down the long table to take in the expected compliments. What was I to do? This ain’t chicken.

I had traveled enough to know that one would never intentionally offend your host. I had experienced different cultures and strange foods, but I was not prepared for this. Nonetheless, there comes a time that offending another who is regaled as a loving, unselfish person within his own culture simply is not done. It was imperative that I took a wildly different perspective in order to not embarrass my host. There was no way that I could avoid partaking in his presentation of culinary extravagance. It was a must that I show my respect for the graciousness that was intended by my most esteemed host.

Comments to the right of me indicated that the monkey brain was an expensive delicacy that was served as a gift indicating mutual respect. I received a few knowing glances from a couple of other guests who perhaps understood that this was my first encounter with warm, throbbing monkey parts. I watched others and then was approached by a servant from behind who graciously and deftly removed the brains from the skull. He removed the head and placed the little pink and white mass on the plate in front of me. This made it slightly easier to partake, but it still took all I had to place a bite in my mouth. What did it taste like? To be completely honest, I can’t tell you. A mechanism within me shut down all unnecessary sensations. I did not want to taste. After one bite, that I swallowed whole, I knew another was obligatory. That was it for me. I did what I had to do and I can tell you for sure that monkey brains ain’t chicken. I admit though, that I nearly chickened out. Instead, I stood by the “right thing to do” and hope in my travels I’m never put in that position again.

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