When you think about Egypt, people often think the pyramids, the Sphinx, the River Nile, and the Red Sea.
But there’s another equally pleasant thing to try while visiting this country – their food.
There are many similarities between the Egyptian and the Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. Both of them use plenty of vegetables, fruits, and legumes. This makes them especially good for vegetarian diets.
Common meats in Egyptian cuisine include chicken, pigeon, rabbit, and duck. Beef and lamb are mostly used for grilling. The national drink of Egypt is tea, and the most popular alcoholic drink is beer.
Here are some of the most delicious traditional Egyptian food dishesto try when visiting the country.
1. Ful Medames
This food is the most common breakfast for Egyptians and a staple in their diet.
It is believed that it dates all the way back to ancient Egypt. It is a traditional stew made with fava beans, oil, and some lemon juice and salt.
The broad beans are encased in green pods and soaked overnight. They are cooked over low heat in a narrow-necked pot called idra the next morning. This makes the bean casing removal easier as the cooking process lasts for hours.
This is the traditional way of cooking and serving Ful Medames. You can find it sold in street carts around the country.
This dish is usually served with cheese, eggs, and pita bread. Sometimes it’s also served with falafel, another popular food, or with butter and tomato sauce.
Egyptians prepare this food in many ways. Some include ingredients such as cumin, onion, chili pepper, parsley and garlic for an even better taste.
The cooked beans also make a nutritious sandwich for breakfast.
Koshari, or koshary, comes from an Indian dish of lentils and rice cooked by the British settlers in Egypt back in the 1800s.
Before the Egyptians added tomato sauce and fried onions to the dish, the Italians first added pasta. The interesting mix full of flavors is now known as Koshari, Egypt’s popular dish.
You can find Koshari sold in many Egyptian restaurants and sold by street vendors. When ordering this carb bomb, make sure you specify the size of the dish, small, medium, or large.
It’s a delicious filling meal that’s really inexpensive. Layers of macaroni, rice, chickpeas, and lentils are topped with thick red sauce, caramelized onions, and a sauce. This is either chili, garlic or vinegar. Locals often prefer it with some lemon juice.
This is a popular Egyptian street food that’s similar to the Greek gyro. It’s made of beef or chicken marinated with a mixture of Middle Eastern spices and cooked on a spit for hours.
The cooked meat is shaved off and stuffed in a wrap together with onions, tomatoes, fatty sauces, and spices. The chicken version is typically served with garlic sauce called Tomaya. The beef one is usually served with tahini.
It’s a healthier version of fast food that comes at a surprisingly low price in Egypt.
4. Macaroni Béchamel
This mouth-watering dish is the Egyptian version of macaroni and cheese or lasagna. It’s a filling dish including protein, dairy, and starch and locals enjoy it regularly. It’s made with rigatoni noodles, minced meat, usually beef, tomato paste, onion, and the classic béchamel sauce.
The noodles and the meat cooked in the tomato paste and chopped onion are topped with the béchamel sauce and baked until golden and bubbly.
Macaroni Béchamel is the most delicious Egyptian pasta dish. You can often find it served with some side salad for an amazing dinner.
Fattah is a centuries-old dish that used to be served only during celebrations in ancient Egypt, such as weddings or the birth of a child. Today, the tradition continues because you can find this national dish at almost every major event such as the first day of Eid-al-Adha.
Fattah is made with meat, rice, crispy bread or Aish baladi, and tomato/vinegar sauce. Usually, it’s made with beef, but when it comes to a special occasion, lamb is the choice of meat.
The preparation of the dish is easy and requires mixing of cooked chunks of meat, cooked rice, and prebaked pieces of Aish baladi.
The mixture is coated with tomato sauce right before serving. Vinegar-based condiments can also be used.
Sometimes, you can find this simple but filling dish served with Tomaya or garlic sauce and rotisserie chicken.
Torly is a national dish made with meat and vegetables. Egyptians use lamb or beef for the preparation of this dish, and various vegetables such as green beans, squash, onions, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes.
Additional ingredients and spices include salt, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili pepper, tomato sauce, and vegetable oil. The meat is seasoned and cooked separately from the seasoned vegetables.
Then, both of them are spread in several layers, the last one consisting of meat. Everything is baked for around 30 minutes.
There are different versions of this rich and nutritious meal. For example, Egyptians living near coastlines use seafood such as shrimps instead of beef or lamb.
This is the perfect breakfast to enjoy in Egypt. It’s a combination of poached eggs and tomatoes — plus other ingredients like onions, paprika, chili peppers, cumin, nutmeg, garlic, and cayenne pepper.
The preparation includes sautéing the onion, pepper, chili, and garlic until softened (about five minutes). The chopped tomatoes are then added and simmering until a thick tomato sauce is formed.
Finally, the spices are added, everything is mixed, and the eggs are cracked on top of it and cooked for about 7 minutes.
Shakshouka is served hot with chopped parsley and pita bread.
This green, low-calorie soup is a popular Egyptian dish that shows the nation’s love for vegetables.
Molokhiya, Molokhia or Mulukhiyah is based on a chicken broth combined with chopped Mallow leaves, garlic, and coriander, and seasoned with salt and pepper.
In some parts of Egypt, the base of the soup is fish broth, while in others, shrimp or rabbit broth is used. It’s served with pita bread and a vinegar and onion sauce, or over rice.
Don’t let the slightly mucilaginous texture stop you from trying this delicious soup.
Molokhiya used to be a traditional dish eaten only by the royalty in ancient Egypt, but today it’s a common food enjoyed by everyone.
This national, inexpensive dish is essentially vegetables stuffed with rice mixture.
The vegetables of choice can include eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes, bell peppers, grapevine leaves, or cabbage leaves. The filling is made with rice, cilantro, dill, parsley, tomato sauce with seasoning, and a bit of cinnamon.
It’s a delicious vegetarian meal. However, there’s a meat version for all the meat lovers. In that case, minced meat is added to the filling.
The preparation process is a bit slow because it requires removing most of the vegetables’ core and carefully stuffing them with the previously prepared filling. The stuffed vegetables are then covered with water and boiled and simmered on low heat. It’s then served warm.
Falafel is another traditional Egyptian food that looks like fried meatballs. The truth is, this dish contains no meat but fava beans or chickpeas, or both of them.
The cooking process includes crushing soft fava beans in a food processor after soaking overnight. The crushed beans are then mixed with fresh parsley, cilantro, leek, garlic, and onion, hence the green color. Spices like coriander, cumin, cayenne, pepper, and salt are added in the mixture, as well as chickpea flour.
The mixture is then rolled into balls and finally fried in oil. Falafel is usually wrapped in the traditional Egyptian flatbread Aish baladi, and served with hummus, tahini, and salad. It’s perfect for vegetarians.
This Egyptian dish is perfect for those who love spinach. It’s a spinach stew that’s usually served with rice. It’s ideal for vegetarians and vegans, but there’s also a version with meat.
Small beef chunks can be added in the stew for those who love meat. Other ingredients include chopped onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and sometimes even hummus and tomato sauce.
It’s a delicious comfort meal that’s usually eaten with pita bread or rice.
12. Bamia Bi-lahm
This Egyptian dish is basically okra and meat stew. Bamia means cooked okra in Arabic, but this stew also includes lamb as the main ingredient. One of the keys to a good Bamia Bi-lahm is perfectly cooked lamb, which requires getting the timing right.
Some Egyptians use lamb tendons for the preparation of the stew as they can withstand long cooking hours.
Other ingredients include tomato sauce, tomatoes, garlic, onion, coriander, cardamom, salt, pepper, and vegetable oil. Sometimes, tomaya is also added to the stew for an even richer taste.
This is a popular Egyptian street food that’s basically a meat pie. Locals eat it as a snack, lunch, or dinner. The preparation includes minced meat, usually beef, enriched with the flavors from onion, parsley, salt, pepper, and chili. All the ingredients are mixed and used as a filling for dough or Aish baladi.
The meat pie is baked in a wood oven that makes the bread crispy as if it was deep-fried. Hawawshi is a great street food that’s usually served with pickled vegetables. It’s similar to the Middle Eastern pastry called Burek.
It’s a stew made with beef and liver. Besides the main ingredients, the stew contains garlic, parsley, olive oil, cumin, and beef broth. The Egyptian Kamounia is similar to the Tunisian version which includes bell peppers and harissa as well.
The cumin highlights the dish and makes it different from the typical beef stew. There are various versions of this delicious stew, but one particularly interesting includes bull’s genitals. Now that’s something you don’t eat every day, or ever.
Kamounia is sometimes served with rice.
15. Hamam Mahshi
The main ingredient of this Egyptian dish is truly unique – a pigeon. Locals here pick the plumpest, 6-week old squabs for the preparation of Hamam Mahshi. Using older pigeons would mean too tough and muscular meat.
The bird is then marinated and stuffed with rice or freekeh, chopped giblets, and onions. The filling is spiced up with cumin, cinnamon, nuts, and pepper. The whole bird is grilled or spit-roasted.
Generally, this dish is served on special occasions in Egypt. It’s similar to the roasted turkey and chicken in the West.
One thing to consider when ordering Hamam Mahshi: the Arabic words for bathroom and pigeon are very similar, so there is the possibility of ordering a stuffed toilet unless you’re a native speaker.
This simple, but tasty Egyptian dish is a type of omelette that’s similar to a frittata.
It’s made with eggs, parsley, and flour, but additional ingredients include cumin, cinnamon, coriander leaves or seeds, raisins, turmeric, nutmeg, pine nuts, and fresh herbs.
The egg-based dish is generally thick and filled with different vegetables such as onion, zucchini, spinach, tomato, leek, and artichoke. Some variations include meat such as chicken and bread. In either case, the dish is cooked until completely firm.
Eggah is usually served as a breakfast, snack, appetizer, or a side dish.
Feteer , or Feteer Meshaltet, is the Egyptian’s variation for pizza or pie. It’s a flaky layered pastry made of thin, crispy layers of dough and ghee.
There are many different fillings used for this pastry, from cheese and sautéed vegetables to fruit and chocolate.
It’s packed in boxes similar to those used for pizza deliveries and cut into slices or wedges. That makes it a great dish to share with friends. It’s equally delicious when eaten hot or cold as the pastry stays crisp even when it’s cooled.
Basbousa is one of the most popular traditional Egyptian desserts. It’s made with semolina batter soaked in a rosewater syrup or orange flower water. It’s usually served at Ramadan or Eids.
19. Roz Bel Laban
This sweet dessert is the Egyptian’s version of rice pudding. It’s made by adding milk, or sometimes cream, to cooked rice and baked in an oven. The dessert is usually topped with crushed pistachios.
20. Umm Ali
The name Umm Ali, or Om Ali, literally means the mother of Ali in Egyptian Arabic. It’s a dessert that dates from the 13th century when the wife of Sultan Ezz El Din Aybak made it after her husband’s victory and shared it with common people. That’s why the dessert is known after her.
It’s made with milk, puff pastry (bread), and sugar, topped with a flavorful mix of nuts, raisins, and coconut pieces. It’s always served hot.
Kunafa, Kanahef, or Knafeh, is a popular dessert in Egypt, as well as other countries like Palestine and Levant. Variations of this dessert are found in Greece, Turkey, and in the countries of the Balkans.
It consists of layers of finely shredded kataifi, which is pastry, and a creamy mild cheese filling which can include dried fruits, honey, sugar syrup, or melted butter. Everything is soaked in sugar-based syrup and topped with crushed nuts, so it’ll definitely satisfy your sweet tooth.
Sahlab is a traditional winter beverage in Egypt, made with flour produced from the tubers of Orchis which are packed with glucomannan – nutritious, starchy polysaccharide.
Besides this flour, which gives the drink a particularly thick consistency and a unique, sweet aroma, it also contains hot milk. Sometimes it’s made with instant sachets which contain this flour and other ingredients like cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla.
Traditionally, this warm drink is topped with a pinch of cinnamon, crushed pistachio, and shredded coconut.