From the serene Nile River to picturesque beach towns to the awe-inspiring pyramids of Giza, Egypt is known for a lot of wonderful things. If you are interested in touring the chaotic bazaars of urban Egypt, you might want to know that Egypt serves some of the world’s best street foods.
While Egyptian food is not as popular as Chinese or Mexican, there are hundreds of cookbooks and blogs singing praises of traditional Egyptian dishes and contemporary Egyptian food. Egyptian food is a blend of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern ingredients that date back to Ancient Egypt.
Gorge on this Delish Egyptian Food!
1. Full Medames
Full medames is a popular breakfast favorite almost everywhere in Egypt, from village households to fast foods on the city streets. It is a dish of fava beans cooked in vegetable oil with cumin, chickpeas, parsley, and garlic. It is served with hard-boiled eggs, occasionally with a lemon juice or tomato dash for a tangy flavor. You might want to scoop it in some pita bread to balance out the creamy and pungent taste.
Bread, chickpeas, and egg are the primary ingredients of breakfast recipes in Egyptian food. Ful Medames, falafel, and Beid Bel Basturma are common dishes found in most homes and food outlets. Egyptian falafel, also called Ta Meya, is made of crushed fava beans. Beid Bel Besturma is a dish made of beef and eggs.
Shakshouka is a popular breakfast in Egyptian food. It is traditionally served as poached eggs in a pool of tomato sauce, cooked in olive oil and spiced with pepper, cumin, and nutmeg. Onion and garlic, of course, are the staple ingredients of any breakfast dish. Some variations of this dish contain Brussels sprouts or goat cheese.
Now turning to the main course, Koshari is a rice-based street food combination of Middle Eastern, Italian, and Indian cuisines. In fact, it is the national dish of Egypt. The primary ingredients are rice lentils and macaroni boiled together and garnished with fried onions and chickpeas.
It is usually served with garlic vinegar and hot sauce on top. Koshari is a mixture of ingredients with distinct tastes, and it is hard to believe that they can be blended in a single recipe. But it is quite a hit in every major restaurant, household, and street corner in Egypt.
Mulukhiya is a soup made from mallow leaves, a local vegetable with a distinctly bitter flavor. It is not very appealing at first glance. You need to develop a taste for it. It hails from the royal cuisine of the pharaohs, so it looks like Mulukhiya was a royal delicacy in ancient Egypt.
Attention, meat lovers. Although Egyptian food is primarily vegetarian, it includes various meats like chicken, lamb, beef, and seafood. Bamia is a trendy non-vegetarian Egyptian food, especially during fasting seasons. It is a stew comprising of lamb, tomato, and okra as the main ingredients. It is seasoned with onion, garlic, tomato sauce, cardamom, and pepper. It is called Bamia because it means okra in Arabic.
Shawarma is a non-vegetarian street food dish of either lamb or chicken. The meat is pressed together vertically on a rotating cone. The cone moves over a flame grill, sending out the delicious smell of roasted meat. It is typically displayed on sheltered carts on the street. While shawarma is a popular dish in most Middle East countries, this one is special because it is served with tahini sauce. Tahini sauce is made of toasted, ground, and hulled sesame, and it is commonly used in Egyptian food.
7. Hamam Mahshi
Pigeon meat has been a part of Egyptian food since ancient times. The pharaohs kept mudbrick lofts for rearing pigeons. Hamam Mahshi is a pigeon stuffed with rice or cracked wheat and herbs. It is boiled and then roasted or grilled. It is typically cooked on family feasts or festivals and is quite a fancy delicacy.
8. Feteer Meshaltet
Feteer Meshaltet literally means “cushioned pies,” which is exactly what it looks like. It is a pastry made of many layers of dough strung with ghee. It may have sweet fillings like cheese, milk pudding, coconut, starch, or chocolate. On the other hand, it may also be filled with cheese, sausage, or ground beef.
9. Sayadeya Fish
Sayadeya is common in coastal cities like Alexandria, Suez, and Portsaid. Mullet, bluefish, and bass are the commonly used species in the recipe. It is cooked with onion, tomato sauce, and spices in yellow rice. A good Sayadeya dish carries the distinct aroma of being cooked in an earthen pot.
Fattah is made of chunks of spiced lamb or beef and a type of vegan flatbread tossed together with rice. Sometimes it is laid on toasted pita bread. It is served in a tomato, garlic, or vinegar-based sauce. It is served in weddings, festivals, and family feasts. Different variations of this dish are found in the Levant and Syria. They include ingredients like chicken, eggplants, chickpeas, and more.
10. Dips and Sauces
Egyptian food features some of the world’s tangiest, creamiest, and savory dips served alongside street food as well as multiple-course meals. One such popular recipe is baba ganoush, a dip made of eggplants and parsley mashed with cumin, lemon juice, and pepper. Tahini is a sesame dip flavored with lemon juice and garlic. Hummus, made of mashed chickpeas, is also popular on the streets. Bessarah is a green dip with herbs, fava beans, and garlic garnished with fried onions.
11. Egyptian Desserts
Egyptian food contains a rich variety of some of the world’s creamiest, most mouthwatering sweets, pastries, donuts, and puddings. Some of these are exclusively served on special occasions like the month of Ramadan. Breaking the Ramadan fast, a Muslim practice wherein people fast for the entire month, is a family feast. Desserts like Katayef and Kunafa are exclusively served on this day.
Atayef, also written as Qatayef or Katayef, is an Arabic dessert. It is like a dumpling filled with nuts, raisins, and cream. Kunafa is a filo pastry soaked in sugar syrup and layered with sweet cheese and nuts. Filled with pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and rose and vanilla extract, it is quite a premium delicacy.
Apart from Ramdaan specials, Om Ali, meaning “Ali’s mother,” the national dessert of Egypt, is a hot bread pudding. Baqlawa is a famous sweet dish made from layers of filo pastry dipped in sugar syrup and sprinkled with nuts. Another staple dessert in Egyptian food is Rozz Be Laban, a sweet rice pudding flavored with vanilla. Basically, cream, cheese, nuts, and sugar icing are the defining features of the hundreds of dessert recipes that comprise Egyptian cuisine.
Egyptians call their tea “shai.” They import it from Kenya and Sri Lanka and prepare it using the Turkish method. Egyptian tea is black and sour, but sometimes it is also served with milk. There are two varieties of tea in Egypt- koshari and saiidi. Koshari tea is popular in Nothern Egypt. It is a refreshing black tea lightly brewed with sugar and mint. Saiidi, popular in Southern Egypt, is made bold and bitter by excessive brewing and sweetening.
Tea is more popular than coffee and the cheapest drink in Egypt after water. Tea in Egypt is more about socialization and business than about actual drinking. Herbal teas having ingredients like hibiscus, lemon and honey are also served for their taste and medicinal properties. A majority of the population of Egypt follows Islam, which prohibits the drinking of alcohol. That is another reason why drinking tea is a daily affair for people of all social classes.
Coffee is not native to Egypt, but it was popularized by Sufi mystics, who drank it during prayers. The coffee pot is called kanakah, and the cup is called fengan. Based on how much sweetener is added to the brew, Egyptian coffee is classified as al Riha (mildly sweet), mazbout (medium sweet), and ziyada (unsweetened). Bitter coffee is reserved for sad occasions, like funerals. Today, you will come across a lot of modern coffee houses on the streets of Egypt. The cafes are known for not just brilliant coffee but also the ambiance, breakfast menus, and opportunities for socialization.
Although observant Muslims don’t drink, beer and wine are widely sold in Egypt. Bouza, a beer made from barley and bread, has been quite popular in Egypt. Wine is made from grapes imported from Alexandria and Middle Egypt.
But these imported wines are expensive, and you might have to spend some time hunting them down in the cities of Egypt. Also, drinking in the street or in public is considered taboo by the people of Egypt.
If you are traveling to Egypt, it is important to remember that eating pork, drinking alcohol, eating without washing your hands, and eating with your left hand in a meal are frowned upon. The street food is cheap and delicious, and cafes are open all day and night, although some cafes serve only drinks, no food.
Restaurants can range from simple diners to expensive hotels, and ordering European food is not always a good idea while visiting Egypt!
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