Egyptian cuisine echoes many flavours of the East. Below you will get a delicious flavour of what food and drink to expect during your visit to Egypt.
Eating out in Egypt today can range from the traditional to the international. You will find inexpensive Egyptian establishments serving native food very cheaply or Western-style fast food which is relatively expensive, so there is plenty of choice for anyone thinking of purchasing a property in Egypt. Food from the little booths in the streets is generally safe and local food is normally safe to eat, although the change in your diet may produce minor short term tummy upsets.
Egyptian food originates from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria and has been adapted to become the Egyptian food we know today. Ingredients are invariably fresh while in the south the flavours are a little more zesty due to its close links with North African cuisine.
Bread (Aysh) is a mainstay of Egyptian food. The most common form is a pita type bread, made with refined white flour, aysh shami or whole wheat flour, aysh baladi. The Egyptians enjoy stuffing their bread with several different fillings. Aysh shams is a bread made from leavened dough and it is left to rise in the sun. French-style loaves are also commonly eaten, moistened with water or heated on a fire.
Beans (ful) are also a staple part of Egyptian food. They can be boiled or mashed with vegetables and spices and stuffed into bread for sandwiches. Beans are often served for breakfast with eggs, alternatively they can be mashed and deep fried or made into patties (ta'miyya in Cairo and falaafil in Alexandria) for sale on the streets.
Molokhiyya is an Egyptian green, summer vegetable that is made into a typical thick soup that is often served with bread or over rice. The leaves are also served in stock with meat.
Mezzeare a variety of small dishes served with drinks. Some are dips made with tihina, an oil paste of sesame seeds. Tihina mixed with oil and garlic or chili and lemon can be served alone, but can also be combined with mashed eggplant and served as a dip or sauce for salads. In Alexandria, chickpeas are added to the tihina to make hummus bi tihina.
For most Egyptians, meat is a luxury used in small amounts or eaten while out in restaurants. It is usually cooked with vegetables and served with rice.
Torly, a mixed-vegetable casserole or stew, is usually made with lamb, or occasionally with beef, onions, potatoes, beans and peas.
To make Egyptian-style kebabs, cooks season chunks of lamb in onion, marjoram, and lemon juice and then roast them on a spit over an open fire. Kufta is ground lamb flavored with spices and onions rolled into long narrow "meatballs" and roasted like kebabs.
Chicken is often imported because native (firaakh) are often scrawny and tough, but you will find grilled chicken (firaakh mashwi) in restaurants already cooked at street-side booths.
Hamaam (small pigeons) are raised throughout Egypt, and when stuffed with seasoned rice and grilled, are a national delicacy. The best are usually served in small, local restaurants where you may even have to order them in advance, but beware - hamaam are occasionally served with their heads buried in the stuffing!
Egyptians serve both freshwater and sea fish, samak. As well as the common bass and sole, try gambari (shrimp), calamari (squid), gandofli (scallops), and ti'baan (eel). Eels are a white meat with a delicate salmon flavor and can be bought deep-fried on the street.
Ruzz (rice) is cooked with nuts, onions, vegetables or small amounts of meat.
Bataatis (potatoes) are often fried, boiled or stuffed. Egyptians stuff green vegetables, including vine leaves, with mixtures of rice. Westerners now them by the Greek name of dolmadas.
Native cheese (gibna) comes in two varieties; gibna beida, similar to feta, and gibna rumy, a sharp, hard, pale yellow cheese. These are the ones normally used in salads and sandwiches, but other Western types are becoming increasingly available. Mish is a spiced, dry cheese made into a paste and served as part of the mezze or an hors d'oeuvre.
Fruit in Egypt is available year-round, but since all are tree- or vine-ripened, only those in season appear in suqs (markets). In winter months, mohz (bananas), balah (dates), and burtu'aan (oranges) are for sale. Egyptian summers are blessed with battiikh (melon), khukh (peach), berkuk (plum), and 'anub (grapes). Tin shawki is a cactus fruit, or prickly pear, that appears in August or September.
Nuts (Goz) and mohamas (dried seeds) are a popular snack foods in Egypt, and vendors can be found selling them nearly anywhere.
Desserts are normally pastries or puddings drenched in honey syrup. Baklava (filo dough, honey, and nuts) is one of the less sweet. Fatir are pancakes stuffed with anything from eggs to apricots and basbousa is quite sweet, made of semolina pastry soaked in honey and topped with hazelnuts. Egyptian rice pudding, mahallabiyya, is served topped with pistachios.
Coffee was developed and popularized in the Middle East and it remains a popular local tradition with coffee houses catering for men who come to drink coffee, discuss politics, play tawla (backgammon), listen to Egyptian music and smoke the shiisha (water pipe). Although Turkish coffee has a reputation for being tart, its actual flavor depends on the mix of beans used in the grind; the larger the percentage of Arabica, the sweeter and more chocolate flavor. You must specify the amount of sugar you require at the time you order, as it is sweetened in the pot.
Tea and other hot drinks are also popular in Egypt and it is served with milk, lemon and sugar on the side. A refreshing change from after-dinner coffee is shay bil na'na' or mint tea - dried mint is mixed with tea leaves and the mixture is brewed like regular tea . Kakoow bil laban (hot chocolate) is available during the winter, as is Sahlab, a thick drink that tastes like a cross between Ovaltine and oatmeal. Karkaday, a clear, bright red, native drink is especially popular in the south and is made by soaking dried hibiscus flowers, sweetened to taste, and served either hot or cold. Locals claim this drink calms their nerves.
Alcoholic drinks are available in bars, restaurants, and some shops although devout Muslims must abstain from alcohol. Foreign beer and wine are the most expensive to buy, but the local beer called Stella is a light lager is available in 20 oz bottles for a reasonable price. A stronger variety, Stella Export, is available in bars and restaurants and is more expensive and in smaller bottles.
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