Egyptian cuisine. What food do they eat in Egypt?
Egypt is a vibrant country cloaked in rich ancient history. From the pyramids to the market bazaars, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the smells, sounds, sights and culture. What’s more, Egyptian food sets a precedent for much of the Middle East and is home to some bountiful regional delights.
Typically, Egyptian food combines vegetables, beans, legume, lentils, onions, pasta, rice and cumin with Mediterranean influences to create notable national dishes. Meat in Egypt is often quite expensive so is rarely used in Egyptian cooking, although some of the more coastal regions do utilise fish and seafood in their dishes.
What is typical Egyptian food? Traditional Egyptian cuisine and dishes
There are variations of dishes and flavours in Egypt depending on the region, although some dishes are revered throughout. Egyptian bread (Aish) is often a common side to Egyptian dishes and is sometimes used in place of utensils, much like injera in Ethiopia.
Furthermore, Egyptian cuisine is characterised by a range of delicious spices that made their way to North Africa with the spice routes. Spices commonly used in Egyptian cooking include cumin, chili, cardamom, coriander and parsley, among others.
Typical Egyptian dishes include:
Whilst meat isn’t particularly common in Egyptian cooking, when they do use meat they will often go for lamb or beef for grilling, and chicken, duck or rabbit for soups, broths and stews.
Ful medames is a popular breakfast dish in Egypt, most notably in bigger cities such as Cairo, but it is also eaten at other times of the day and throughout more rural parts of Egypt.
Often shortened to ‘ful’, it is a staple dish of Egypt and, in fact, much of the Middle East including countries such as Ethiopia, Iraq, Djibouti, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
There are many variations of Ful medames, but it is typically made by using cooked fava beans (sometimes mashed into a paste), with olive oil, spiced with cumin, onion, garlic, lemon and chili, and served with bread, vegetables and sometimes hard boiled eggs or tahina.
You can find Ful medames throughout Egypt, either in restaurants (sometimes served as a mezze) or in the atmospheric Egyptian food markets you find in every town and city.
If you have ever been to Egypt, you will be remiss to have not tried Kushari.
Often considered Egypt’s national dish, Kushari has a rich history dating back to its first origins in India in the 19th century.
When the British ruled India, the story goes, they embraced Kushari as a delicious, filling, inexpensive meal, which they then brought over to Egypt in the late 1800s. Egyptians adopted Kushari as their own, evolving it over time, making the dish a staple of every household, restaurant and street-food vendor across the country.
The ingredients are somewhat of an unusual combination, mixing lentils, macaroni noodles and rice with a spicy tomato sauce made with garlic, fried onions, garbanzo beans and a special Middle Eastern spice blend called Baharat, garnished with chickpeas.
The tomato sauce is particularly note-worthy in Kushari, adding depth and flavour with a spicy kick that is synonymous with Egyptian cooking.
As with most Egyptian food, Kushari is vegetarian and can be considered vegan so long as the food is fried in vegetable oil. It’s not difficult to find Kushari in Egypt if you’re ever visiting, and it’s suitable for most diets.
Molokhiya is a hugely popular Middle Eastern soup, rich in vitamins and iron, that is also incredibly hearty.
The word Molokhiya comes from a term meaning ‘belonging to the royals’, as it was traditionally a dish that was only served to the pharaohs due to it’s incredible health benefits. Jute leaves are incredibly nutritious and rich in vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as iron. Thanks the jute leaves, Molokhiya helps to support a healthy heart, healthy bones and a stronger immunity system.
Molokhiya is made using minced jute leaves that are boiled into a thick broth and seasoned with coriander, garlic and stock. It is mostly served with white rice as a vegetarian dish, but is often also served with chicken or rabbit. It’s also common to serve warm pita bread as a side for dipping into the delicious broth.
Whilst the texture of boiled jute leaves is somewhat slimy and rather bitter tasting, the spices bring out a full, hearty flavour.
Bamya (okra stew/soup)
Okra soup is hugely popular in Egypt; a quick and easy recipe that is healthy and filling, it’s definitely the understated mainstay of Egyptian household cooking.
Okra is the main ingredient and is prepared using the green seed pods of the plant, giving the dish its green colour. It is made by combining chunks of meat (usually beef or lamb) with tomatoes, okra, onions, vegetable oil, onion, garlic, cajun and coriander.
Chicken or lamb can also be used in Okra stew; the recipe has evolved throughout regions of Africa and the Middle East, and you can find variations on it wherever you travel.
Whilst mostly associated with France, Foie gras was actually first practiced in Ancient Egypt, going back as far as 2,500 BC.
Foie gras refers to the practice of fattening up geese and ducks with corn, and then eating the liver of the bird which will be around ten times the size of a normal bird weighing as much as 600g.
Whilst it is a morally questionable technique, it is a dish associated with ancient Egypt and subsequently worth mentioning, even though it is not particularly common in Egyptian cuisine.
Foie gras is most often cooked and served with brioche and red wine, or with a chutney and salad.
Shawarma is popular across Arabic speaking regions, originating from the doner kebab which is associated with Turkey.
Shawarma uses a vertical spit to grill seasoned meat for a long period of time, commonly a whole day. A variety of meats are used, including chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, or a mixture of meats, which are seasoned before cooking with a variety of spices such as turmeric, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom.
Meat is shaved off the split and served in a pita or a flatbread with lettuce, onions, tomatoes and sauces such as hummus, tahini or pickled mangos.
Shawarmas are also eaten across the western world, served as fast food, but an authentic shawarma will focus more on Middle-Eastern flavours and spices, and so a real shawarma is best experienced in Egypt or the Middle East.