Last month, at the invitation of Dr. Adel Abdel Salam, coordinator of Slow Food Egypt Begawi Chicken Presidia, I traveled to Tameya, Fayoum, a town south of Cairo, to meet delegates from Themar Project , an NGO in Sohag, Upper Egypt dedicated to safeguarding and promoting Begawi chickens (also known as Bigawi), including two rural women who are currently raising this particular breed.
Traditionally raised by women in their backyards in Fayoum, this chicken gets its name – Begawi – from the people of southern Egypt who are known for their experience in animal husbandry. It is an indigenous rural breed, with silvery white feathers on its head, which gradually turn blue or black in patches until becoming completely dark on the legs and tail. The chickens are prized both for their meat – dark and with a flavor similar to turkey – as well as their eggs – smaller than those of other breeds, but particularly flavorful.
The visit began in the village of Ezbet Elgabal in Tameya, Fayoum, where we met Noura Khaled, a woman trained by Dr. Abdel Salam on the care of these special chickens. She has been involved with Begawi chickens for the past five years and her business includes several chicken coops and an incubator that can hold up to 600 eggs. The coops for the chicks are clean, airy and spacious, where the small birds can run freely and are cared for according to Slow Food Presidia guidelines with regards to farming conditions, animal welfare, and diet. Noura fills the feeders with wheat, corn kernels, and water to which she adds onions and lemon juice. The older chickens run freely throughout the day in the village and return to their coop at sunset.
Noura prepared a typical Egyptian breakfast for us, with homemade bread baked in the early hours of the morning, served alongside areesh cheese (a local cottage cheese), pickled green olives, mesh (a type of fermented cheese), feteer meshaltit (a type of Egyptian flaky pastry), honey, molasses, and freshly harvested tomatoes and cucumbers. Noura then led us through her village to look at the various coops where her chickens live, eat, and run. Along the way, her neighbors and customers greeted us with big smiles until we reached the small house where the incubator is housed. Dr. Abdel Salam gave us an overview of the machine and its capacity and then led us to the area where the chicks are kept.
Later we visited Rehab Adel in the village of El Mandara. Rehab is a young widow raising two young children on her own. Her father bought her an incubator, which he installed on the ground floor of his house. He gave her the roof where she raises the chickens along with ducks and the rare Egyptian goose, which – like the Begawi chicken – is another breed facing extinction. Here too we were pleasantly surprised to see how happy Rehab was with her business and financial independence. Her chickens have free reign of the roof and are taken care of according to Slow Food guidelines.
Both Noura and Rehab run successful businesses, selling eggs, chicks, and chickens to the villagers, spreading the word about the benefits of free-range, homegrown chicken. Dr. Abdel Salam is working to replicate these two wonderful examples of animal husbandry in other villages and across Egypt.
To learn more about the Begawi (Bigawi) chicken, visit:
By Ménar Meebed, Slow Food Egypt Representative, November 11th 2019