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What you should know about Sham El-Nessim

easter eggs

Sham El-Nessim which comes immediately after Easter,  it always occurs on Monday. Egyptians have been celebrating Sham El-Nessim (or Spring Day) for more than 4500 years. It is called Sham El-Nessim because the harvest season in ancient Egypt was called “Shamo” in hieroglyphics. In Arabic, Sham means smell and El-Nessim means air. It must be spent outdoors, so that all the Egyptian population can “sniff the breeze”.

Egyptians used to offer salted fish, lettuce and onion to Egyptian deities in this festivity. The same kinds of food are still eaten in Egypt on this day, as a tradition giving the day a special taste. The whole idea behind the specific foods is their symbolism explained by myth: basically, eggs were symbolizing the renewal of life in the spring season. It was the sacred token of the renovation of the mankind after the flood. It is believed that ancient Egyptians were the first to dye eggs. Salted fish symbolizes fertility and welfare. It was sacred to Egyptians, as it comes from the Nile , the source of fertility in Egypt . Lettuce represents the feeling of the hopefulness at the beginning of the spring. Onion was also a sacred plant. They used to join its bulbs in necklaces because they believed it could heal and bless any body.

A major Egyptian concern, salted fish such as Feseekh (فسيخ) and Ringa (رنجا) are commonly eat by them. It is more safe and more cheaper for ringa than feseekh. The price of feseekh ranged from LE40 to LE60 a kilo while for ringa it about LE22. The process of preparing the fish is passed from one generation to another to ensure its quality. The fish that Egyptians are willing literally to die for is processed. It is no wonder that dozens are poisoned and several meet their fate every year during Sham Al-Nessim, usually as a result of botulism contracted from the foul-smelling feast. Nationwide, centres for the treatment of poisoning announced a 48-hour emergency. Medicines to treat botulism were distributed nationwide, but unfortunately four out of the 26 upstanding Egyptian citizens with severe feseekh poisoning in 2008. The highest number was in 1991, when 90 cases were reported and 18 died. And also lately, there are most reported cases for patient with food poisoning.

Importance for medical student to know about this salted fish.


Feseekh is a semi-putrid form of salted and dried Grey Mullet species (Mugil spp.), a saltwater fish that lives in both the Mediterranean and the Red Seas. There is a scare about feseekh consumption, and its dangers. This is not unfounded, because each year food poisoning tales involving incorrectly prepared Feseekh appear in Egyptian periodicals. Feseekh can be indeed deadly, due to toxins by food poisoning bacteria.

90 samples of Feseekh were subjected to microbiological examinations to determine their hygienic quality. The two main factors studied were the season (summer and winter) and the sites according to the socio-economic levels.  Results showed under all studied factors that, the total bacterial count, Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli count were higher than the acceptable limit. All the samples under observation were free from Salmonella, Clostridia and mycotoxines. The samples also were subjected to analysis for the detection of protein, fat, ash, heavy metals, histamine and amino acids. Results showed that mean protein content on dry matter basis was 54.62 for Feseekh. It was revealed that, sites had a significant effect on protein content. The pickling process has a great effect on the quality of salted fish protein, where a reduction of some amino acids such as lysine, methionine and cystine was recorded. Cadmium and lead content in the examined samples were higher than the permissible level.

Interview’s part about this festival.

With Doctor Wael Galal Abdalazem, (Asst. Prof. of Community Medicine) :

Q : What is Shem el Nessim and the history of it?
A :Old Egyptian national holiday marking the beginning of spring

Q : When is Shem el Nessim?
A : It falls on the day after the Eastern Christian Easter 

Q : How do you celebrate it?
A : We celebrate it by having picnic together with our family at the garden.

Q : What food usually eaten on this festival?
A : We usually eat salted fish called “Fiseekh” which symbolised “Our soul is preserved after death” and also eat boiled coloured eggs which means “Living things come from non-living”

With two Egyptian Pharmacist students : 

We go out or travel, buy Ringa because it is more cheaper than Feseekh nowadays and eggs, play games and have fun, and get together with my family.

This kind of food (the salted fish) makes it more special more than any other festival. It has the qualities of the best holiday, it is Spring, the weather is good and it is also a national holiday, so we can congregate together and go out and eat among nature and have fun.

Written by :

Journalist Department,
Publication and Information Unit,

PERUBATAN Cawangan Zagazig 2012.

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