I had an open mind about what Egyptian food might be like so deliberately didn’t do any research. Instead I chose to embrace whatever came my way. Ahh the delights of travelling as a foodie. Egyptian food blends the elements of French, Syrian, Turkish, Lebanese and Greek cuisines. Taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that each dish from town to town can vary depending on the influences. A good example was the Mediterranean tastes in Alexandria and later on my trip experienced the Nubian cuisine of the south.
Most of the food I experienced was street food from stalls or from small cafes and restaurants. Whole food. Fresh. Simple. Tasty. I did visit one classy restaurant which had a larger range of dishes on the menu but my heart is ‘with the locals’. Note: classy restaurants will jab you for up to 15% services and tax + tips onto that of around 10% and you’re meal suddenly is more expensive than you thought.
Bread is one of Egypt’s stable foods and is served with most meals. It’s usually like a pitta style bread or a more dense bread made with coarse flour. As you can see (picture above) the bread is taken from place to place by ‘delivery men’ with dozens and dozens balanced precariously on their head while navigating their bike with one hand – all of this through traffic.
Falafel are abundant throughout all parts of Egypt with a slightly different flavour depending on where you are. Basically they are made of spicy green beans, pickles, tahini and salad inside a pita bread pocket.
Sometimes the pickles are served in a dish on the side. Beware, you may have to pay the exhorbitant amount of $E1.50 (30c Australian). One is a nice snack size but if you’re really hungry you could easily have two. Note: Falafels are also called Taamiya and tahini is sesame paste.
Sometimes I was served a small plate of torshi which is an appetizer of carrots, gherkins, pickled radishes and turnips. Colourful little combination and something different for the palette to get used to but quite tasty.
If you have the chance try fava beans. They cost next to nothing and are served mashed with tomatoes, onions, spiced and served with a chopped up hard boiled egg.
A popular meal is kushari (pictured above) which I initially thought would taste weird with rice, macaroni and noodles together but have to say, it is sooo delicious. One of the most popular places to eat kushari in Cairo is Abou Tarek. I dined there a couple of times and it a must visit with portion sizes generous and the food filling. The famous rice cream is a prepackaged rice pudding that didn’t ‘float my boat’ at all.
I also tried a small serve of makarona at a stand-up cafe for the princely sum of £E7. ($1.50 Australian). Makaronia is macaroni with minced lamb and tomato sauce baked into a cake.
Shawarma – always reminds me of an Avengers movie – is a staple. Something like a souvlaki or doner kebab but far superior. A thin pitta bread is spread with thinly sliced lamb (or chicken), a sprinkling of salad (but not too much) and a spread of tahini before it’s wrapped. I tried about ten of these and they varied in contents and price. Some were like a small snack and others a whole meal. Prices range from £E5 – £E10 ($1 – $5 Australian).
I wish I could remember what these were (above). From memory they were like a large rice cracker and are in only what I could call a delicatessen. This photo was taken in the Attaba Market in Cairo.
This fairy floss vendor stood in the middle of the Attaba Market all day selling bags of floss for only a few coins. He was a little shy so I snapped this one without his face out of respect.
You can experiment at street stalls just make sure it’s being cooked in front of you over a hot flame. Although I was encouraged to try this by the chef, I’m not a fan of offal and politely declined.
I’m not much of a seafood eater but there are some samak readily available. Seafood in Alexandria has a good reputation as does the Red Sea coast, Sinai and Aswan.
Certainly my travelling companions found the fish in Dahab excellent.
Some western style food is always freely available especially at places like the touristy bus and truck stops.
Or in the centre of Cairo at 7pm at night I found a bakery / ice cream shop that was selling baklava (filo pastry soaked in honey and nuts) and gelato. The queue out the front was a testament to how popular it is.
Tip:Salt shakers are several holes, pepper shakers have one.
In Alexandria I had the most wonderful meal at the Atheneos on the boulevard which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea out to the site of the Lighthouse. My guide ordered the food pictured below. Soup, vegetables, bread, pickles, hummus. That’s round one.
For the second round, we had rice, pickled vegetables, deep-fried cauliflower (yum) and fish / chicken and those little round meat circles are what I would call a rissole but they are in fact kofta, a spicy meatball.
All of this was finished off with a cup of Tetley tea – although the label is in Arabic it’s unmistakably Tetley.
Breakfast in my three star hotel looked like this photo below – every! single! day! Predictable – yes! Boring – yes! Notice how there is three pieces of tomato, cucumber, bread, three different cheeses.
In Dahab it was similar in being predictable but the range of food was better with omelette and yoghurt and cheese/tomato dish. (pictured below)
You can try some western style meals such as this lasagna below but I’m not a fan of that while travelling. I’ve had dysentery on two occasions both from eating western style food in non western countries. I’ll keep eating what the locals do.
Cheese is commonly served with meals and there are mainly two types – white (gibna beyda) which is similar to a Greek feta and hard yellow cheese which tastes something like an Edam (gibna rumi). Processed cheese is often served to westerners with the well-known Laughing Cow picture on the label.
One night a group of us dined at a restaurant that had everything – Egyptian, Indian, Thai and more so we jumped in and gave it a go. The photos below show the progression of food from the starters of drips through to the main courses. This cost us about $15 Australian each and we had to roll ourselves back to the hotel afterwards.
We also had two bottles of wine that cost about $15 Australian for both. It wasn’t too bad. Certainly not what I get from home but palatable and the red wine was nicer than the white.
We found some snack foods for the trip on the boat from Nuweiba to Aqaba. These croissants pictured below were filled with a feta style cheese.
If you are using the boat to travel to or from Egypt / Jordan you can also buy food onboard. These Pop Mie noodles (below) are common around many parts of the world. There is an urn with boiling water nearby and you peel off the plastic, open the lid, take out the fork, sprinkle the savoury topping then add water. Put the lid over the top for around three minutes and you can then eat your noodles.
The curry dishes (below) were popular with the locals and only cost a few pounds for a large serving of rice, meat and pitta.
Other food you’ll come across in Egypt are:
Nut shops which sell seeds, nuts, chickpeas, roasted and sugar-coated nuts, dried and salted nuts and even sweets. They are sold by weight. There are other stalls that sell dried – stuff! Fish, anchovies and things I couldn’t identify.
Fruit is plentiful and easily available at markets and stalls. Some will press your fruit into juice and juice bars are becoming more popular too. Do try juiced pomegranates – a unique taste. Vegetables are also freely available at markets. This night market was only 200m from my hotel and I visited it several times to buy food.
Tea is the national beverage but served somewhat differently to how I have it back in Australia. In Egypt they often boil the leaves and serve it with a little sugar in a glass. Tea with milk is rare. Many stallholders would invite me in to show me their carpets or silverware and offer me a tea which I always accepted. Sometimes it had a sprig of mint which is refreshing. Coffee is mostly Turkish coffee served in tiny cups and sugar already added. I had one cup that had cardamom which brought flash backs of my tie in India. Instant coffee is in popular tourist areas with or without milk but I tend to stay away from that. If you’re after a latte, flat white, cappuccino, soy skinny…..whatever your coffee is, then you’ll most probably have to go to an upmarket hotel as they aren’t common in Egypt.
Tea and coffee houses are popular with and I’d often see men smoking shisha with a coffee hanging out with their friends. These days women also join in and smoke shisha but they are discreet.
Alcohol has a low profile in Egypt and being drunk in unacceptable. ‘Bottle shops’ weren’t easy to find and their range is minimal. Alcohol is prohibited on Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.
These ‘alco pops’ (above) are becoming more popular but at 10% and 12.5% they are quite potent. Or you can try good old Heineken which I had in in my hotel at the rooftop bar served with stale pretzels (pictured below).
Now it’s your turn. Share your food and travel stories in Egypt. Leave a comment below.