Friday, June 4, 2010

Breakfast/Light Meal: Basturma b'il bayd (basturma with eggs)

I went home to visit my family the other weekend which always results in me coming back with bags of food from the Mid-East store. Specifically basturma. My parents are of the thinking if I was starving and had no money for any food, at least I could live off of cured meat and eggs.

It's a funny thing this basturma. In case you don't know it, it is a cured beef that is seasoned with a paste of cumin, garlic, paprika and fenugreek. It lingers in your system for days, and you can probably smell it sweating out of you. But it's kind of amazing. And it's the easiest thing to eat that fills you up for some time.

My parents, even through their differences, both adore this food. When you buy it, it's generally sliced already, and you can eat it as is with some bread, olives and cheese, or the real masterpiece is with scrambled eggs. That's generally how we all eat it in my family. When my parents or aunt comes to visit, chances are there's a tray of basturma so we can have a feast of a breakfast with it. Growing up, when no one could think of something easy to make for a packed lunch, the default sandwich was pita bread stuffed with slices of basturma. In theory, this is a great idea, apart from the fact that a kid's lunch will sit at room temperature for a few hours, only to reveal a potent, garliky, sandwich that other kids notice... I still am a little self-conscious bringing a basturma sandwich to work. No matter how many times you tightly wrap it, you can smell it from far away.

It's a food that is eaten more in Egypt than any other country outside of Armenia. It was the Armenians who brought basturma to the Middle East after the Turkish genocide of 1915. Many of them fled to Lebanon, and Egypt. Cured meat is not a new idea to many cultures, but in Armenia, it was a way of eating meat during the cold months of the winter, or when travelling long distances. One source explained how when travelling by horse a long distance, the hunk of meat was wrapped in the paste of spices and put in a satchel to cure throughout the voyage. According to some Armenian resources, basturma is in fact a Turkish name meaning 'pressed', as in a pressed meat. Basturma is not a pressed meat though since it is left to cure in open air. Instead, the original Armenian word for this meat, abouhkd, predates the Turkish one by a few thousand years, but it's the Turkish name, basturma, that is used.

But when the Armenians moved into these Middle Eastern countries, they became known for their basturma; or the heavy smell that came from the basturma. Apparently the older generation in Egypt made derogatory remarks about 'smelling an armenian' from far away, which is reference to the spices in the basturma. Funnily enough, it's a food that is now highly integrated into Egyptian cooking.

Today's recipe is super easy. It's our version of bacon and eggs for breakfast. The only difference is you eat it with only pita bread, not a fork, and it has flavour. It's a meal that many friends of mine were reluctant to try, but after one bite, were hooked. It's also one that you may want to make when you don't have anything important to do soon afterwards. The smell does linger a little. A friend of mine loves this so much, but only eats it on a Saturday before soccer practice so he can 'sweat out the basturma'.


Total Preparation and Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 persons


a handful of basturma
4 eggs
1 tablespoon butter/oil


1. Cut basturma into bite-size bits

2. Add butter/oil to a hot pan

3. Add basturma and cook for 30 second, or until the basturma starts to go a lighter colour

4. Crack eggs, and scramble with the basturma

5. Serve with warm pita

And that's it. Egypt's (and Armenia's) answer to bacon and eggs. But no need for a fork and knife. All you need is some pita bread for this dish.


  1. We used your recipe this evening to make some authentic Armenian food for my Armenian boyfriend. Thanks for the recipe!

  2. I'm an Armenian who grew up in the city of Nazareth to parents who survived the Armenian Genocide which was perpetrated between 1896 and 1922 by the Ottomans and Turks that followed them. Thank you for calling it what it is, a Genocide. Alos thank you for correctly giving the Basturma credit to the Armenians. Although it is difficult to find good Basturma in the US where I now live, it still is one of my favorite Armenian foods. I love your blog and site. Every recipe I have seen is well written and accurately explained. I'm cooking Moulukehia according to recipe this weekend. Thank you.

    1. Thank you very much for your letter. Hearing from my readers always makes me happy, especially when it is about a particular recipe that pertains to a specifici moment in history. Do let me know how the molokhia works out for you. All the best.

  3. Great post. Recipe looks very tasty and yummy. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.
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  4. i love all about this dish.