No matter where you go, food is an insightful (and scrumptious!) way to get to know a destination. But in Egypt, dining can be especially exciting, as the fertile Nile Valley produces dozens of varieties of fruits, vegetables, grains, and other ingredients that come together in aromatic, flavorful, time-honored dishes. Thinking of visiting Egypt on tour? Here are eight delicious Egyptian dishes that will give you a true taste of Egypt, past and present.
Think of this popular Egyptian street food as falafel’s cousin. Instead of chickpeas, Egyptian ta’ameya are made from ground fava beans, and they’re often sprinkled with sesame seeds before they’re fried to crisp perfection (hello, extra crunch!). Ta’ameya are commonly served with pita bread, tomatoes, onions, and tahini sauce, but some vendors offer different variations, as staffer Claudia discovered while on tour in Egypt.
Claudia’s recommendation: The pickled lemon ta’ameya sandwich from Zooba, a Cairo-based street-food chain with locations around the city. “It had the most delicious blend of ta’ameya, pickled lemon, pickled beetroot salad, arugula, and tahini,” she said.
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2. Ful medames
Ful medames, one of many Egyptian foods that locals commonly enjoy for breakfast, is also considered one of the country’s national dishes. This simple, flavorful dish comes together when dried fava beans (“ful medames” means “fava beans” in Egyptian) are cooked to a saucy or stew-like consistency and served with garnishes such as fresh parsley, crushed garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, chili pepper flakes, ground cumin, lemon wedges, hard-boiled eggs, and bread. It’s hearty, filling fuel for a day spent exploring Egypt on tour.
A famous food in Egypt, this flaky, layered pastry can be made with fillings and dips that are sweet (honey, molasses, chocolate syrup) or savory (harissa, hummus, cheese). Staffer Claudia tried both variations at El Dawar, a restaurant in Cairo’s Maadi neighborhood. “My favorites are either cheese or Nutella, or served plain with honey and tahini,” she said of the popular Egyptian food.
Many Egyptian meals start with mezze (sometimes spelled mezzah or mezza, depending on where you eat). Like Spanish tapas, Egyptian mezze are hot or cold small plates designed to be shared before a main course. (They’re also a great way to get a little taste of everything.) Options can include tabbouleh, hummus, kofta (meatballs or meat skewers), and pita bread, to name just a few. Staffer Claudia recommends the mezze—and grilled chicken—at Andrea, a restaurant in New Giza.
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Typically served during holidays such as Easter and Eid (the latter marks the end of fasting for Ramadan), these shortbread cookies are stuffed with date paste, chopped walnuts, pistachios, agameya (a honey-walnut mix), or loukoum (Turkish delight). For an extra-tasty—and delightfully messy—finishing touch, they’re dusted with powdered sugar. Staffer Claudia picked some up at Mandarine Koueidar, a cafe, bakery, and sweets shop with several locations in Cairo.
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If you enjoy eating dishes that pack in lots of texture and flavor—and that are wallet-friendly and vegan to boot—then kushari (a.k.a. koshari or koshary) is a traditional Egyptian food you won’t want to miss when you’re on tour.
What is kushari, exactly? Staffer Claudia described the dish as “a comfort bowl of lentils, rice, and chickpeas with a special tomato sauce, zesty oil, vinegar, and crispy onions on top.” Kushari is served at restaurants and market stalls throughout Egypt, but Claudia suggests heading to a branch of Koshary El Tahrir in Cairo. Try visiting during free time in Cairo on our Egypt & Nile River Cruise tour.
These bite-size, golden-fried fritters are for you, sweet-toothed travelers. They’re crunchy on the outside, fluffy-soft on the inside, and can be doused in simple syrup (the traditional way), drizzled with Nutella (a modern-day twist), or dusted with powdered sugar—though the variations don’t end there. Like kahk, zalabya are often served during holidays such as Eid, but you’re also likely to find them at kiosks and street-food stalls all around the country. During your free time in Cairo, follow in staffer Claudia’s footsteps and order them at Batates & Zalabya.
If you have an appetite for fresh seafood, ask our travel experts to help you plan a Customized Tour of Egypt, or an independent pre- or post-tour stay in cities like Alexandria, Suez, or Port Said, along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. There, you won’t have any trouble finding this traditional Egyptian dish, a combination of yellow rice, onions, tomato sauce, spices, and fried fillets of white fish baked together in an earthenware pot. It’s filling, fluffy, fork-tender goodness. Sayadieh can be garnished with chili flakes, fried onions, or a tahini-based sauce.