The national cuisine of Egypt.
A comfortable hotel, a beach on the Red Sea and all-inclusive is not the whole of Egypt. Somewhere out there, beyond the hotel walls, in the Arabian Desert, the waves of sand are rolling, and the pyramids are arguing with time, and the eternal Nile is flowing.
And somewhere there they cook unsophisticated falafel, eat warm flatbread with hummus and drink refreshing hibiscus tea.
Getting to know the national cuisine of Egypt is like a tour. You need to go out into the city, find a restaurant where the local dishes are prepared, try something with a hard-to-pronounce name – and be surprised how delicious it is.
We will tell you about the most common dishes of Egyptian cuisine and what of them you can offer a child.
Features of the cuisine
The national food in Egypt is an outlandish mixture of different culinary traditions. There are dishes characteristic of the entire Middle East, and a clear influence of Mediterranean cuisine, and a very special food that is cooked only in this country.
The cuisine of Egypt has several distinctive features.
- The popularity of legumes . It is a valuable source of protein, and much cheaper than meat. Almost all of the most popular Egyptian dishes are made from beans, lentils, or chickpeas.
- Original meat dishes . Mainly lamb, goat meat, rabbit meat, poultry, less often beef and never pork are used for cooking.
- An abundance of fish and seafood dishes .
- Frequent use of vegetables – fresh, boiled, stewed. Eggplant is probably in first place in Egypt, but fresh vegetable salads and vegetable soups are prepared here very often.
- There is a small selection of porridges . The locals eat rice, bulgur and couscous, other cereals almost never occur.
- Generous use of spices. Most of them are usual – black and red pepper, cloves, coriander, cumin, zira, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla. But there are some special ones that are almost uncommon in European cuisine. First of all, it is mastic – light golden bits of resin, which are added to the meat to add flavor to the game. Another amazing spice is mahleb, the ground kernels of wild cherry seeds.
Egyptian National Dishes
The names of the most popular Middle Eastern dishes are well known: falafel, hummus, halva, baklava. But these are only a tiny fraction of the national dishes of Egypt. Imagine from the descriptions the taste of unfamiliar food, and then while dining at an Egyptian restaurant, recall whether this is how you imagined the taste of “full medamese” or “kushari.”
It is customary to begin a meal in Egypt with appetizers. This tradition requires only one comment: appetizers are so delicious that you can get full before you are served the main course.
Full medamese is a bean puree seasoned with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Full medamese can simply be spread on bread or eaten with scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, or fresh vegetables.
This dish has many variations: if you come across the name “Ful bi l l hodra” or “Ful bi l zebda” on the menu, feel free to order it.
Gibna Domiati is a soft cheese made from buffalo (sometimes cow) milk. This cheese is sold in cans, and aging only improves its taste. Therefore, gibna domiati can be taken with you as a reminder of a vacation or as a tasty gift.
Dukka is a mixture of chopped nuts and aromatic herbs (most often coriander, sesame, zira, mint, and thyme) with salt. It’s hard to call this dish just an appetizer, since dukkah is used as a breading or as a spice mixture for meat and fish.
But the most wonderful way to eat this fragrant dish is to break off a piece of bread, dip it in olive oil, then in dukkah and send it to your mouth. Aish baladi or semet, a soft Egyptian bread, would be suitable for such a snack.
Baba ghanoush is a popular baked eggplant dish in many Arab countries. The eggplant puree is topped with olive oil, and sesame paste (tahina) is often added. Sesame paste is also often put on the table as a separate dish and hommus (mashed chickpeas).
Dishes called shorba or shorbet are soups. Most often they are cooked in meat or fish broth, topped with vegetables, legumes, eggs. Seasonings unusual for soup, such as cardamom, are used.
- Shorba khudar bil l mawasir – vegetable soup in meat broth.
- Shorba ful nabet – sprouted bean soup with lemon juice.
- Shorba asfar – mashed lentil soup.
- Sahina bi l l beid wa el ruz – rice soup with egg.
- Lysan asfur – soup with pasta and chicken broth.
If the appetizers have only whetted your appetite, it’s time to get down to the serious stuff.
Kushari is a dish of pasta, rice, chickpeas, and lentils seasoned with tomato sauce and garlic. This dish is not that ancient: it appeared on Egyptian menus about 100 years ago, and it is believed to have been invented by the British, who occupied Egypt as a result of the Anglo-Egyptian War.
Be that as it may, several sources of slow carbohydrates in one plate at once is the key to keeping you full for a long time.
Mulukiya is a hearty dish with beef, rabbit, chicken or fish. But that is not the main thing in it, but the leaves of jute, a tropical plant whose tough stems are used to make ropes and burlap. Mulukia is usually accompanied by rice or Egyptian bread.
Falafel – deep-fried patties made from mashed chickpeas. Spices are added to the minced meat, so the dish can be quite spicy. Falafel with sesame sauce and fresh vegetables wrapped in a flatbread is a great snack.
Fatir (fatir) – thin pies with sweet or savory fillings. The dough for the fatir is made of flaky paste, while the filling is made of cheese, minced meat, onions with eggs, or cheese, raisins or jam.
Meat and Poultry
In Egypt, meat is not eaten every day. Rather, it is a holiday dish prepared in honor of significant events. Among the everyday dishes can be attributed except for meatballs kofta, which are made from a mixture of ground beef and mutton. But in the menus of restaurants you can see other names.
Tarb is ground beef or lamb cutlets wrapped in mutton fat and baked on coals. Under the same name you can be offered stuffed lamb’s stomach (gourmets will appreciate it).
Dema bi lil lahma – beef stew in tomato sauce. Fahda dani – lamb ham stuffed with garlic and baked in the oven. Kishk bi lil dagag is chicken in yogurt sauce. Often, instead of yogurt, the sauce is topped with laban, a delicate cottage cheese.
Butt mehmar – fried goose. It seems to be a common dish, but in Egypt they cook it with the addition of mastic and cardamom, which makes the goose meat acquire an unexpected flavor of game. Ouarak ainab is an Egyptian dolma. It is made from minced rice and meat wrapped in grapevine leaves.
Egypt is rich in fish and seafood. The Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Nile, and Lake Nasser provide a rich catch. All this deliciousness is prepared only in specialized fish restaurants.
Pay attention to the way it is prepared: fish, shrimps, clams are fried on coals (mashui) or in a deep fryer (Makli), less often they are baked in the oven.
Let us mention just one unusual dish. Ruz bi fwaqe el bahr is rice with seafood prepared according to a special recipe. It includes fish fillet, squid, shrimp, as well as walnuts and peanuts.
Egypt’s sweet dishes are a challenge for dainty eaters. The abundance of different desserts makes you salivate, and there is only one way out: try everything.
Halva is everyone’s favorite sweet. In Egypt, halva is made from sesame seeds and added to it chopped pistachios, almonds or pine nuts. Halva is one of the few products that store well, even in hot climates.
We are used to seeing halva as an independent dessert, but the Egyptians use it to make another sweet dish – salakan. For this purpose, halva is mixed with honey and whipped cream.
Kunafa is a dish that resembles a casserole made of very thin pasta. In fact, it is not pasta, but cadaif dough, dried in the form of thin threads. The filling for kunafa is made of nuts and whipped cream.
Basbousa is a cake made of semolina. Golden squares of basbousa are decorated with nuts.
Ka’kat is a soft and puffy bagel sprinkled with sesame seeds. It smells special because mahleb – ground wild cherry kernels – are added to the dough. Their aroma is slightly reminiscent of almonds and deceives the taste buds well: the bagel seems sweet, although there is almost no sugar in the dough.
Umm-Ali is a puff pastry dessert filled with coconut, raisins, and almonds. The products are placed in a mold, poured with hot milk and baked. This sweet is often compared to tiramisu.
Hegazeya is a cake filled with semolina and nuts. It smells unimaginably sweet because they add cinnamon to the filling, but it doesn’t taste sweet, so the pie is often served with honey.
Many Egyptian dishes in one way or another resemble the usual food. But not all: this country also cooks very unusual dishes.
Fesik (fisikh) is a dish of salted fermented mullet or sardine. Fesikh is not available at all times, but only on the Sham el Nessim spring festival, celebrated at the end of April. The smell of this dish is not very pleasant. By the way, for the holiday of Sham el-Nessim in Egypt, it is customary to dye eggs. They are served for breakfast with soft buns and green onions.
Makhshi is a pigeon stuffed with rice and baked on coals. Pigeons for culinary purposes are bred in poultry farms.
Colocasia soup is a dish prepared for the Feast of the Epiphany. They use tubers of tropical plant colocasia (taro) that have an islandish taste. For the broth, the colocasia is cooked together with the meat. The broth is topped with coriander, minced garlic and lemon juice. The boiled tubers are then mashed and served as a side dish.
Fatta is a spicy dish for big feasts and special occasions. It consists of rice and fried bread, laid in layers and poured over beef broth with garlic, spices and vinegar. The fatta is served with boiled beef and eggs.
Ros bil shaareya is boiled rice to which fried small vermicelli are added.
Tips for children
For tourists, getting to know the peculiarities of Egyptian cuisine is more of an entertainment than a necessity. Therefore, the child in any case will not remain hungry, even if he does not like or does not suit the new food.
A child who is already eating from the adult table can be offered many Egyptian dishes. At the same time, it is advisable to try only one unfamiliar dish at a time and combine it with something familiar (for example, stewed or fresh vegetables).
With particular caution we recommend to treat those dishes, which contain honey and nuts, including peanuts. These are primarily desserts, but nuts are also part of the mixture “dukkah” and rice with seafood “ruz bi fwake el bahr.
Very spicy dishes in Egypt are few, but try the food before you give it to your child, is still worth it. The spiciest dish is fatta, which is also dressed with vinegar. We do not recommend giving your child colocasia soup. Even the common falafel may be too spicy to be on a child’s table.
Meat dishes may seem greasy. Although fat is well digested in Egypt’s dry climate, a child should not pile on lamb dishes.
Drinks for Kids
The best drink in a hot country is still water. In Egypt, you can drink only bottled water. But if you want to try something unusual, start with the drink “asyr asab”.
Asyr Asab is a cane juice. This very sweet green drink is considered an essential part of Egyptian cuisine. For sale, the cane juice is usually mixed with the juice of other fruits. Important: you cannot store the juice, drink it immediately after purchase.
Do not order drinks with ice in Egypt. Ice may well be made from tap water, and it is dangerous.
Carcade – tea made from hibiscus flowers. It is an acidic drink, slightly tart to the taste, and is good for quenching thirst. In hot weather, it is better to drink it chilled.
Shai bi-ling nana – tea with mint. Mint is not boiled as usual, and put fresh sprigs into the already brewed tea. Also in Egypt, tourists are treated to Bedouin tea with lemongrass. Coffee is also very popular in Egypt. Here it is brewed with the addition of cardamom. Ziyada is sweet coffee, spada is bitter, and mazbuta is coffee of medium sweetness.
Where to taste
There are many restaurants in tourist towns where you can try traditional Egyptian dishes. Deliciously cooked and beautifully served food in gourmet restaurants (there is also often national music playing). In the so-called Bedouin cafes, the menu is small and the serving is artless, but everything is very tasty.
There are also fast food restaurants in Egypt, where they cook traditional dishes. Some establishments specialize in selling falafel: hot cutlets with fresh vegetable salad sold in a soft flatbread.
Other eateries sell only foul, which is also wrapped in a flatbread. Fatir pies are sold in cafes called fatatri.
We strongly advise against buying food on the streets. It is best to eat lunch and dinner in trusted restaurants.
Egyptian cuisine is rarely found in hotel restaurants. Often they are adapted, averaged, cooked without special spices. This is a plus: a child who does not like changes, will not spoil his mood with an abundance of unfamiliar dishes.
We wish you a pleasant gastronomic experience! And as soon as you get interested in other Egyptian attractions, check out the Kidpassage collection of family activities. You’ll find excursion options to suit all tastes.
What to try in Egypt: Traditional food and cuisine
In Egypt, cuisine interested me the least, but that was only at first. I wanted to move to this country, so such tourist “little things” as yummy and traditional dishes did not really impress me. But the more I was in the country, the more cities I looked around, the more I realized that Egypt, alas, is not the country of dreams, and that life here will not help you anything at all – no big money, no good friends, no beach with the sea and beautiful fish.
Somewhere in the middle of my trip I realized that while I’m going back, it would not hurt to get acquainted with the cuisine of Egypt, so that there was something to tell friends. Otherwise, all my reviews of Egypt are reduced to the fact that a third-world country is a third-world country, and you can do nothing with it.
Ultimately, discovering the national cuisine of Egypt, often so spicy and unconventional, was my main goal during my several weeks in different cities. I want to say right away that the recipes for this or that traditional dish do not vary much from city to city, but a lot from the particular place of preparation. Usually in local canteens everything is more spicy and greasy, and in restaurants it is drier, smaller and more familiar to the European taste, even if it is really Arabian food.
I have tried a huge number of dishes in Egypt, even without knowing their names, and only then I got to write everything in one article, so that someone else could also plunge into this amazingly colorful abyss of Arabic cuisine.
What to try
Among Egyptian salads there are several that I found particularly spicy and interesting. I’ll tell you about them in a moment:
- Basengan . An amazing and colorful eggplant salad that looks more like an appetizer. When I ordered it, at first I thought I had been brought a dish that I had chosen as a side dish to the meat, and after not waiting for the salad and tasting it, I realized that this was it. It uses a lot of garlic, vegetable oil and bell peppers, and the eggplant itself is pickled. The salad tastes slightly spicy or very spicy, it all depends on the particular place. In some restaurants this salad was bland, in others it was very fresh and light, almost heavenly delight.
- Hummus . A chickpea salad appetizer popular in Syria and Lebanon, and now in Egypt. It is now served with meat dishes, as far as I know. To the chickpeas here are added garlic, olive oil, lemon, sesame (sesame) paste and chili peppers. It’s the spicy chili options that I liked best.
- Tahina/Tahini . A paste that is served before the main meat dishes as a salad. It simply consists of ground sesame seeds (sesame seeds), lemon juice and vinegar. There’s also garlic and parsley. The weirdest thing is how tahina changes the taste of chicken, it’s just amazing! Truly, the Egyptians themselves eat it with a piece of toasted bread with a black crust.
- Cairo salad with feta and mint . It’s usually eaten before meat or soup, but I ate it as a main course since I’m basically always content with small portions. Feta is just a white cheese made of sheep’s milk, popular in Egypt. To this cheese we add cucumber, mint, cumin, various peppers, and pour lemon juice over it. It all looks about the same as Olivier, but because of the mint the taste is completely different. The price is very low!
First courses are often staples for lunch in Egypt:
- Khudar bi l l mawasir . An interesting soup with the addition of shredded bones, which makes it very nutritious with no meat in it. Basically, it is a simple vegetable soup with tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, peas and celery. True, it also adds mystique and cardamom.
- Ful nabet . An amazing soup made from sprouted beans or lentils! It tastes quite unusual, but you can eat it a couple of times for its small price. Corn oil, mysticum, onions and lemon juice are added to it. By the way, the Egyptians use lemon juice almost everywhere.
- Tomatem . Tomato tomato soup with sour cream, butter, onions and mystique. It has a very unconventional taste because of the butter, so natives of the Soviet Union may be prejudiced against the dish, but still the soup is very cheap and tasty. Personally, I ate tomathem for less than 1 USD!
- Ads asfar . Probably the most delicious soup in Egypt that I have tried. It is the usual lentil soup with potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. I ate it in several places, and the best variation was when it had the highest amount of onions fried in oil.
- Cavera . Beef shank (shin) soup with lots of onions and cardamom. A bay leaf, a mystic and more salt and you’ll have the perfect cavera if you don’t have the means or desire to eat a meat dish right now.
Among the hot dishes, I would urge you to try everything on my list:
- Beef fattah is a traditional dish popular in so many Arab countries. In Egypt, fattah is very common, you can find it in almost all restaurants, and it is made with beef, garnished with rice with herbs and tortillas. I would advise you not to get upset if you don’t like the fattah somewhere. Try it somewhere else, because everyone cooks it differently.
- Fazda dani bi lil batatez is a roasted lamb ham with potatoes. Another insanely delicious dish, expensive but worth every pound of it if you like lamb at all. I would strongly suggest you try it at an expensive restaurant, like I did, so you don’t ruin the experience.
- Fowl meadows are simply beans with lentils and olives in a porridge format. I’m sure you, like me, will be impressed not only by the taste, but also by the unique price of this dish. In Cairo, you can find it in a regular canteen for 1-2 USD. If you like legumes, you will definitely like the dish.
- Egyptian Eggplant – Stuffed and spicy Egyptian eggplants are actually also pickled, with not only bell peppers and chili peppers (and ground chilies) but also spices like curry, cumin, coriander, as well as parsley, vinegar and garlic added to them. This was almost a staple in Cairo for me, so much did I enjoy this light snack. I just ate it with bread and coffee, because I’m not really fond of lamb, and eating chicken and fries on the other side of the world was kind of silly. And here you have spices and spices and flavor!
Among the drinks in Egypt there are local, fairly cheap analogues of different brands, as well as a lot of imported alcohol:
- The usual “Sprite” in Egypt drink always and everywhere, especially the locals. It is perceived here not just as cold lemonade, but also as a cure for stomach problems. In general, Egypt has very serious problems with hygiene in cooking, so “Sprite” with a relaxing and disinfecting lemon the locals here drink constantly, so as not to poison their own food. It helps! Tried it myself!
- Egyptian wines are famous for their unique aroma and flavor. They really taste completely different from those in Europe. There are many popular brands in the country, and the cost of wine is low. If you prefer to drink this drink at home with friends, be sure to bring a bottle from Egypt. I recommend the brands Omar Khayyam, Cru des Ptolmees, Rubis D’ Egypte and Abarka, a bottle from each will suffice. All these wines are made under the supervision of French specialists, so they have, unlike local beer and whiskey, decent quality and taste!
- The local beer Stella or “Star” is made in the town of El Ubourg, the brewery was founded here by Europeans, but since 1963 it was nationalized. The taste of the drink is very simple, there is nothing special about it, but its undoubted advantage is that it is very cheap.
- Auld Stag Egyptian whiskey is sold in the country for a very high price, and tastes like a regular cheap whiskey. Basically, this very unpalatable drink with a pungent odor is not to the liking of many. Although, maybe that’s the combination you like.
Pastries and Desserts
Among this part of the traditional cuisine of Egypt are a lot of dishes that will not suit the taste of a European. But not all, there are some simply amazing finds:
- Fytyr is the most common puff pastry with custard without any unusual spices. It can be used as a cookie for tea, not as a pie in the traditional Russian sense, when it is necessarily supplemented with something (apples, peaches, chocolate, jam, etc.). Basically, it is just a nice sweet dough in the form of a pie.
- Kahk cookies with dates are a holiday tradition in the country, they are served to all and sundry during religious holidays, no matter what faith one belongs to or who they serve them to. This amazing tradition really appealed to me. Neighbors told me that the recipe for the cookies is many hundreds of years old, which struck me even more. The inside of the cookies uses cinnamon, dates, and sesame seeds, and the rest of the ingredients are fairly standard for the dough.
- I had my first mehalabia dessert in an expensive restaurant in Cairo with a gorgeous view of the city. The dessert itself turned out to be very simple, exceptionally Arab and yet it looked like a holiday cocktail. Inside there is just pudding (mostly white, but sometimes colored), cinnamon and pistachios, but it looks and tastes amazing.
- I like the higazeya / baklava pie with my favorite ingredient in sweets – cinnamon. Plus the pie is covered with a layer of honey and sesame seeds, and you’ll find lots of different nuts inside. When served, the dessert is very nicely cut into irregular diamond-shaped pieces.
- Aish baladi flatbreads are a substitute for bread in Egypt. They are served almost always and everywhere, except in the cheapest establishments, where there is only pea soup (no salad or flatbread is added to such a dish). The rest of the pastries in Egypt are not very popular, in my opinion.
Dates ! In Egypt, they are very much in favor, and with tourists even more so. And they are not the kind of fruits that you can find in Russia. They are usually served in hotels during breakfast or lunch, and all of them are local. The date palms themselves look amazing in the streets, which unfortunately are not so many.
Popular in Egypt are guava (November-March), mango (July-September), medlars, figs, passion fruit, red banana.
However, do not think that here in the markets you can find these fruits for a small price, as in Europe or Turkey. Usually all deliveries go to the big expensive hotels.
Other nuances of gastronomy
Egypt has a lot of spicy and spicy spices that cope with disinfecting food in this hot Arab country.
Usually they are already added to all dishes in cafes and restaurants, you do not have to choose specific sauces or spices to taste. It is best to trust the Egyptians themselves in this matter.
Where to Eat
There are several types of eating establishments in Egypt, some very affordable and some the other way around:
- Street food, snacks . You can get a vegetarian dish for 1-4 USD in cheap canteens, a meat dish for 2-6 USD. Usually these places, if they are oriented to locals, are quite acceptable quality. But if they are on the main street near the road and are tourist-oriented, then expect total unsanitary conditions. I advise you to eat only in expensive restaurants, they still have all the national dishes, but there is less risk to digestion.
- Cafes and restaurants . In the cafes and restaurants of Pre-European level, with normal interior and service you’ll get the dishes for 3-10 USD per serving. There will be a nice interior, a big choice and in general it will be clean, which in such a hot country is also important.
- Restaurants in expensive hotels is a special group of food establishments in Egypt. They serve not only Arabian and Mediterranean cuisine, but also French, Italian and others. Usually the cost of the main course is about 10 USD (from 150 to 280 EGP), so it’s worth discussing your budget with your family in advance and agreeing on a possible large expenditure.
In all establishments, the names of the dishes you can try are duplicated in English. However, this applies only to the tourist areas. It is best to write down in a notebook what you want to try so you do not forget, and then tell the waiter these names.
I advise you to eat as much as possible and in as good places as possible – you won’t regret it! Don’t be afraid to order something unconventional, try it in good health! Especially now you know that you have a great choice.