What to eat in Egypt
If you need to carb load when in Egypt, koshary is the way to go. This is one of Egypt's most well-known dishes, consisting of pasta, rice, lentils, garbanzo beans and fried onions, smothered in a tomato-based sauce. Throw on as much shatta (chilli sauce) and da'ka (garlic vinegar) you like, garnish with chickpeas and more crispy fried onions, and you're set for a memorable meal. It's sold at hole-in-the-wall eateries and street carts, and will fill you up for the day.
Simply known as ful (or foul, or ful mudammas, or a number of other spellings), this warm fava bean stew is a staple food in the northern cities of Cairo and Gizah, and is often served as part of a larger mezze throughout the day with babaganoush, hummus and labne, or by itself topped with parsley, chopped tomatoes or boiled eggs. It's had a long history – said to have been invented over 2500 years ago – and is often still eaten at breakfast as in years past.
What's a Middle Eastern country without a falafel? Luckily, Egypt has got you covered with their ta'ameya – a take on those crunchy and soft herby street food bites, but instead of using chickpeas as the main ingredient, the Egyptian version relies on dried fava beans to give them their signature texture. They're covered in coriander seeds, spices and sesame for extra crunch. Have it stuffed in a pita with salad and tahini, and you'll be set for lunch.
Stuff yourself full of hawawshi – a stuffed pita with spiced mince meat, onions, pepper, parsley and (sometimes) chillis. The original version is called baladi (a pita filled and then baked), but Alexandrian hawawshi differs slightly, with different spices added to the meat filling which is then placed between two circular layers of dough and baked until golden.
Pigeon. Annoying bird or delicious ingredient? Egyptians have gone with the latter, stuffing the plumpest squab they can find with rice or freekah, onions, giblets, spices and nuts, then roasting it over charcoal or grilling it whole. Hamam mahshi is usually served on special occasions, but often appears on many restaurant menus, and when cooked well, is hearty, complex and delicious.
You'd think a green stew of only a few ingredients would be easy to get right, but no – knowing how to make a good molokhia is a skill hard to come by. Molokhia is the name of leafy greens known in English as mallow leaves, which are blitzed up and served as a thick stew, usually with a side of rice. The traditional form of this dish was served with rabbit, but nowadays you'll often find some chicken to accompany.
Also known as, simply, fiteer, this is an Egyptian pastry layered with all kinds of stuffings, toppings and garnishes, and is super versatile as a savoury or sweet treat. Traditionally, fiteer is eaten with eshta (a type of clotted cream) or honey, but other variations feature meat, cheese, sugar, nuts, Nutella, fruit, or plain and unaccompanied. What's better than flaky, buttery bread, dressed like a pizza?
There's much folklore about the origins of this ubiquitous dessert, but most involve the death of Egypt's first – and last – Sultana, Shajar al-Durr. She became ruler after her husband, As-Salih Ayyub, died, and the story goes that she was then killed by her late husband's first wife who wanted her own son, Ali, to take over the throne. To celebrate, Om Ali ('Ali's mother') instructed her cooks to come up with the most delicious dessert they could – a pastry version of a bread and butter pudding, with nuts, coconut, raisins, honey and hot milk.
Vegetarian and vegan options in Egypt
Many of Egypt's culturally significant meals do revolve around meat, but vegetables are an important staple and a crucial ingredient in many dishes, particularly at the affordable end of the scale. Pulses and grains are prevalent across Egyptian cuisine, and vegetarian travellers can happily choose from all manner of lentil, fava bean and bread-based dishes – including the 'national dish', koshary. Vegan options are plentiful too, just be sure to check if breads are brushed with butter before grilling or if those stuffed vine leaves are hiding minced meat inside.
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