When we speak of Egypt, no dish immediately strikes our mind because its cuisine has never really crossed its borders. But when you visit there for the first time, you would realize its food is very similar to Mediterranean cuisine with a lot of rice stuffed vegetables, legumes, fruits and meat.
Here are a few dishes which are local favourites and often turn up in the recommended list of must-haves.
Everyone has heard of and loves falafel, and Egyptians are no different. Ta’meya is Egypt’s answer to the falafel of the Middle East that has crushed fava beans instead of the conventional chickpeas. The bean paste is usually mixed with a variety of spices and chopped onions, garlic and coriander and then rolled into a patty and fried. Sometimes it is also coated in sesame seeds to give it extra crunchiness.
One of Egypt’s national dishes, Ta’meya is enjoyed at all meals of the day and equally by the rich and the poor, by the hardcore foodie or the strict vegan. Also has become one of the famous street-food delicacies. It is served with tahini sauce, salad or veggies and eaten with a side of Ful or Pita Bread. It is being touted as the hamburger of the Middle East and would replace the meat hamburger of North America pretty soon.
Considered the national dish of Egypt, it has become a cult phenomenon, with restaurants across Cairo serving it exclusively. Made from a mouth-watering pot-pourri of rice, spaghetti, round macaroni, black lentils and hummus, it is topped with a mix of tomato, garlic and chilli sauce.
It is further garnished with caramelized onions and chickpeas. Loaded in carbs but having a unique blend of tastes, this dish has both locals and tourists hooked. Street vendors have also picked up this deliciously filling yet cheap dish and turned into the most widespread dish around town!
3. Kebab wa Kofta
This is a dish most meat lovers are familiar with, and Egypt doesn’t disappoint when it comes to meat! Kebab is prepared with pieces of beef, veal or lamb on skewers. The meat is marinated with oil, salt, cumin and other veritable spices after which it goes into the grill and comes out sizzling.
An assortment of green salads and dips like tahini sauce or tzatziki are thrown in and finally served with Egyptian bread (Baladi). Kofta, on the other hand, is made from a variety of meat depending upon the preference of the customer. Most koftas are made of lamb meat that is soft and adds a succulent flavour, but otherwise chicken meat, pork and beef can also be used.
The meat is first minced and then a host of spices along with onion, garlic and chilli paste is added. The minced mixture is then given a cigar-like shape and grilled over charcoal. This melt-in-the-mouth dish is served with tahini sauce or yoghurt and can be dipped in hummus and served with mini Pita bread on the side as well.
Best known as the staple feel-good Egyptian dish, it is their version of a stuffed meat sandwich. Made from minced meat with bell pepper, onions and tomatoes, it is stuffed inside pockets of Aish Baladi (Egyptian bread) and cooked in a traditional wood oven. By the time it comes out, the bread is as crispy as if it were deep-fried.
This delicious, hot and spicy dish is commonly eaten for lunch or dinner and is a popular grab-and-go street food option. Hawawshi is a filling meal and has turned out to be a very common take away food for people looking for a savory snack.
5. Ful Medames
This dish is the archetypal Egyptian staple food that can be traced back to its Pharaonic roots. The word ‘Medames’ means buried, which refers to the way it used to be cooked – in a pot buried in hot coal or sand. This dish consists of stewed fava beans that are simmered overnight in a large pot and then seasoned with lemon, olive oil and spices.
Families and restaurants have their own versions of this famous dish and it is served with butter, spicy oil, tomato sauce, pastrami, sausage and boiled or fried eggs. Popularly eaten at breakfast, this dish can also be eaten throughout the day and can be found at street food stalls too. This widely popular dish is eaten with Egyptian bread (aish baladi) and pickled vegetables.
This is one of the standout dishes of the Egyptian people. It includes vegetables of one’s choice (like zucchini, eggplants, bell peppers, cabbages, tomatoes or almost anything that hits one’s fancy) stuffed with rice filling mixed with herbs, onions, tomato sauce, spicy seasoning and a dash of cinnamon. Then these sumptuous veggies are cooked in a pot which is filled with beef or chicken broth. Served warm, it is a must-try when you visit Egypt.
7. Hamam Mahshi
A non-veg twist to the traditional Mahshi, this includes a stuffed pigeon instead of vegetables. The birds are stuffed with a grain called Freekeh( a nutty flavoured green wheat) or alternatively rice, mixed with the usual onions and spices. Finally, it is marinated and roasted over an oven for a hot filling meat dish. Hamam Mahshi is mostly eaten on special occasions although one can still find it on restaurant menus.
8. Baladi Bread
The staple Egyptian diet can’t survive without this. This bread is made of whole wheat and bran and baked in ovens. Eaten all over the country, it’s a wholesome accompaniment to almost every dish, or can be eaten on its own too, as this freshly baked bread has a subtle taste of its own.
9. Fiteer Baladi
This is called the Egyptian pizza that is made of layers and layers of filo pastry and cooked in a brick oven. Originally served plain, it can also be topped with juicy meat, cheese, veggies or if you like it sweet then sweet syrup or honey. Loaded with calories yes, but totally worth the taste when it hits your taste buds!
Egypt has something to serve everyone, be it a vegan or a seafood lover. Sayadeya is a dish mainly served in the coastal regions in Egypt like Alexandria, Suez or Port Said. This flavourful dish consists of white fish like bass, mullet or bluefish cooked with yellow rice, tomato sauce, and a variety of spices and topped off with sautéed onions and carrots, pepper or small shrimps.
One of the simplest yet delightful dessert or more of a drink, Sahlab is Egypt’s warm sweet milk made from hot milk blended with pure orchid root powder that gives it a thick and flavorful consistency.
The orchid powder is a form of flour in Egypt that is added to a lot of desserts, ice creams and drinks to improve the flavor and texture. When the weather starts getting a bit chilly, households tend to serve up this warm fragrant milk that is topped off with vanilla, sugar and cinnamon and in addition, crunchy nuts, shredded coconuts, crushed pistachios, roasted hazelnuts, dates and figs can be added too.
Modern twists to it include fresh fruit toppings like strawberry or banana slices. Sahlab can be found in hotel menus or even conveniently made from ready-made sachets that already contain the powder along with vanilla and cinnamon.
12. Umm Ali
Literally translated to Ali’s mother, this is a dish that dates back to the 13th century. This is a hearty dessert that is made from sweet puff pastry and sweetened hot milk topped with whipped cream and broiled to perfection. The result is a crunchy dessert, caramelized on top and deliciously creamy at the bottom.
In the modern versions, Palmiers(crunchy cookies made from puff pastry rolled with sugar) are used as the base for Umm Ali. Combined with milk and nuts that give it a crunchy caramelized top contrasting with the creamy bottom that has palmier undertones, this dessert is a weakness for every person with a sweet tooth!
13. Roz Bel Laban
Egypt’s rice pudding, this is another dessert that is a favourite amongst people no matter in restaurants or in households. Rice cooked in milk with cream and sugar added and topped with pistachio pieces is every sweet lover’s nourishing idea of a dessert! For more added flavor, vanilla or coconut essence is added along with chopped nuts or sultanans for garnish and a warm bowl of creamy rice pudding is ready to be eaten!
No food journey is complete without a dessert, and Kunafa is the queen of Egyptian sweets. This dessert is made by soaking sweet cheese pastry (called kunafa) in sugar syrup and baking it. The original version of this sweet dish was made from thin semolina flour noodles that were baked till they became crunchy.
These were then arranged around a central filling of soft cheese and then finally baked in sugar syrup. Alternatively, the noodles were replaced by thin strips of filo pastry or shredded wheat in many households while the stuffing varied from mixed nuts to custard. Modern versions of kunafa have mango, chocolate and even avocado for a foodie twist, all of which are equally satisfying!
Traditionally served during Ramadan, it kept the people full during their fasting hours. This heart winning sweet dish is a must-try and can be found in most Egyptian bakeries and restaurants.