Egyptian food is absolutely delicious. Though everyone knows about kebab and falafel, there’s much more to it and if you are traveling to Egypt it would be a real pity to miss out.
As a popular tourist destination, Egypt receives millions of travelers every year. They go there to see the Egyptian Pyramids, sail the River Nile, take photos next to the famous Great Sphinx, tour ancient temples and museums, or to sunbathe at its beautiful beaches and dive in the Red Sea.
While Egypt’s numerous tourist attractions are a good enough reason to travel to the country, Egyptian cuisine is another reason to visit. By taking a culinary journey to Egypt you’ll learn more about its history, people and experience their culture first hand.
In this post, I will highlight the best of the culinary delights you’ll find if you decide to travel to to Egypt. At the end, I will share some tips to better prepare for your trip.
Without further delay here is my selection of Egyptian food you absolutely have to try!
All The Egyptian Food You Should Try: 18 Delicious Egyptian Dishes
This is one of Egypt’s national dishes, and it has an interesting history to it. It started as an Indian dish of rice and lentils that British settlers in Egypt used to make in the 1800s. Italians added pasta to the meal before Egyptians finally added fried onions and tomato sauce to make what is today known as Kushari.
Apart from rice, lentils, pasta, fried onions and tomato sauce, other ingredients used to make this vegan meal are garbanzo beans, spaghetti, hummus, garlic, chili, and vinegar sauce. This interesting mix of ingredients gives kushari several mouth-watering flavors.
The dish is sold everywhere in Egypt, from street food stalls to five-star hotels in cities across the country. You must try koshari when in Egypt, but if you don’t want to add too much weight while on holiday don’t eat it too often. The dish is loaded with carbs which can lead to weight gain.
This is another vegan meal that is named after the plant used to make it. It is prepared using molokhia plant leaves which are cooked with lemon juice, garlic, and coriander to make a thick dark green soup.
When served, molokhia may not look appetizing because it has a slimy, mucus-like appearance. But I guarantee you it tastes better than it looks, and it has many health benefits. You can have molokhia with bread, rice or chunks of beef, chicken or rabbit meat. It’s an absolute must when it comes to Egyptian cuisine.
Ful medames is one the best known traditional Egyptian food, believed to have been cooked way back in Ancient Egypt when pharaohs ruled the land. Together with koshari, this meal is one of the most popular dishes.
Its main ingredient is fava beans which are cooked with vegetable oil, lemon juice, onions, and salt. The fava beans are usually soaked for long hours so that their bean casing can be removed before they are cooked. The delicious beans stew is a popular breakfast meal in Egypt but you can have it at any time of the day. You can enjoy it together with eggs, cheese, pita bread or pickled vegetables.
Shawarma is now a popular street food in many cities across the world, and especially in the Middle East. In the streets of Cairo, the capital city of Egypt, shawarma joints with mouth-watering beef or chicken rotating on a grill are common. As you tour the city you can stop at one of these places and grab a shawarma.
To make the Egyptian shawarma slices of marinated meat carved from a slowly revolving skewer are wrapped in a bun together will tomatoes, onions, spices, and fatty sauces. When you take the first bite of the shawarma your taste buds will be blown away. I wouldn’t be surprised if you order 3 or 4 of this because they are so tasty.
For the best shawarma in Cairo visit Abu Haidar located on 13 Ibrahim El Laqqany Street.
Hamam Mahshi (Pigeon)
When you travel the world you’ll be surprised to learn some of the things people eat. In Egypt, pigeon meat is a delicacy that is mostly served during special occasions such as weddings, because it is considered a luxury food.
Pigeons are bred across the country until they are six weeks old, after that they are turned into one of the most famous traditional dishes in Egypt. To cook the dish a pigeon is stuffed with rice or freekeh (wheat), nuts, spices, and chopped onion then grilled over a wood fire until it turns golden brown. The bird has a crispy and unique flavor.
I know pigeons are seen as pests in the western world, but when in Egypt forget about that and try some hamam mahshi. You can order this meal in restaurants across Egypt. When you order pigeon eat with your hands like the locals do, that way you can get the meat between the bird’s bones.
If you love meat pies then you’ll enjoy eating hawawshi. This is a snack, a kind of sandwich you can take-away from many restaurants in Egypt to enjoy later as you sightsee. It is also often taken for lunch or dinner.
To make it minced meat, parsley, onions, and pepper are mixed then put in dough before they are baked in a wooden oven. Because of the pepper hawawshi is rather spicy; so have some water to cool your mouth if you’re not used to taking chili – alternatively, you can order one without the chili.
Known to the rest of the world as falafel, this is a snack many Egyptians take for breakfast. It is also made from fava beans or chickpeas, which are first soaked to make them soft, then crushed to create a bean paste. The bean paste is mixed with coriander, chopped onions, parsley, garlic, cumin, salt, paprika, cayenne, chickpea flour, then everything is rolled into a ball that is deep-fried to until.
You can ask for this cheap and delicious vegan food in nearly all food stalls and restaurants around Cairo. While common as a breakfast snack, you can have it at any time of the day. It is usually served with salad, aish baladi (Egyptian flatbread), tahini and a side of ful.
Just like ful medammes, this dish is centuries old. It was served in ancient Egypt during big occasions such as weddings or at celebrations to mark the birth of a child. Even today, this traditional Egyptian food can’t be missing from the menu of a major event. For example, on the first day of Eid-al-Adha (an Islamic feast), fattah is often the main dish.
It is very easy to prepare because all it takes is for prebaked aish baladi, cooked rice and meat pieces to be mixed together with copious amounts of olive oil. The mixture is then coated with tomato or vinegar sauce then served. Most of the time ordinary beef is used to prepare fattah, but on special occasions, lamb is the meat of choice.
While simple this dish is very filling and delicious, it is also rather nutritious. So if you’re usually concerned about your weight, limit the number of times you have fattah while in Egypt.
Feseekh isn’t for everyone. This traditional Egyptian food is typically eaten during Sham El Nessim, a spring celebration. It consists of fermented mullet that’s prepared by letting the fish dry in the sun, soaking it in salty water for about a month. It’s served with salad and pita bread.
When you order this dish whose main ingredient is eggplant don’t expect anything like Greek moussaka. This typical Egyptian food is more similar to a curry than to a dish of layered eggplants. It’s prepared with eggplants, potatoes, bell peppers, chickpeas and all sorts of spices and seasoning such as garlic and pepper. It’s vegan!
One of the best Egyptian food for vegetarian is this dish of stuffed vegetables – there are similar versions all across the former Ottoman Empire. It can be prepared any vegetable really – zucchini, peppers, cabbage leaves, eggplants, tomatoes and even vine leaves. They are stuffed with rice, a variety of herbs (parsley is ever present) and tomato sauce and then cooked in the oven. The non-vegetarian version also includes ground beef.
The Egyptian version of lasagne or pasta al forno is this dish which is very similar to Greek Pastitsio (then again, both countries were in the Ottoman Empire). It’s a truly filling, comforting dish prepared with short pasta like rigatoni or penne layered with a sauce of ground beef, onion and tomatoes and a thick white sauce called bechamel (prepared with milk, butter and flour) and sprinkled with a copious dose of cheese.
The debate over who invented hummus will never end, just as much as the debate over where you can eat the best hummus. In fact, hummus is found across most countries that were under Ottoman rule, including Egypt. This combination of crushed chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon and tahini is served warm, with pita bread. It’s a fabulous dip.
Israelis will shiver at the idea of shakshouka, which they consider one of their national dishes, being mentioned in a post about Egyptian food. Yet, this dish of poached eggs cooked in tomatoes with spices, garlic, paprika and bell peppers is very common in Egypt.
Another sweet dish of Egyptian cuisine that can actually be found in many other countries, with a slightly modified recipe. It consists of rice cooked in milk, cream and sugar and served hot topped with pistachios. It’s simple yet delicious.
This lovely Egyptian dessert is made with baked noodles made of phyllo pastry and a very sweet syrup. Much like baklava, it’s a common sweet across all countries that were under Ottoman rule. Have with piping hot mint tea for perfection.
Another traditional Egyptian food worth having for its interesting history – according to legend, umm ali was created in the 13th century by the wife of Sultan Ezz El Din Aybak in order to celebrate a victory. It’s similar to bread puddiing and it is prepared using bread, milk, sugar, raisins, nuts and coconut flakes. It’s served piping hot.
In between a drink and a dessert, this Egyptian food is prepared with milk and orchid root power, topped with cinnamon, shredded coconut, pistachio. It’s a great thing to have on a cold winter day. If you are lucky, you may even find the vegan version of this drink made with coconut or soya milk.
Egytpian Drinks To Accompany The Best Egyptian Food
Make sure to visit an ahwa, a traditional Egyptian coffee house to enjoy a cup of some of the best coffee in the world, or a shai (tea). Ahwa’s are a great places to interact with the locals, so don’t be surprised if the person sitting at the next table starts a conversation with you.
Egyptians also love juices and there are many juice shops around Cairo. A popular juice is assab, made from sugar cane.
Five Important Things To Consider Before Visiting Egypt
Tap water is not safe to drink
If there is a country where tap water is not safe to drink, that is Egypt. Not only you should directly avoid drinking tap water, but you should not even use tap water to brush your teeth, and you should avoid things such as salads and cocktails with ice unless you are 100% sure that tap water has not been used. As plastic is an issue in Egypt – and in many other countries – I recommend carrying a Lifestraw water bottle and filter and refilling regularly.
You need a visa
You will need a visa to visit Egypt. For example, if you’re traveling from the UK you’ll need a valid passport and an Egypt visa for British citizens. You can make your visa applications online or at the airport when you arrive. I recommend you do it online, as this will save you the hassle of having to queue at the airport to get your visa. The online process will take you a few minutes, and if you have everything in order your Egyptian e-visa will be sent to you via email in a day or two.
Driving is crazy
I have been to a great deal of countries where driving is insane, but honestly nothing compares to Egypt when it comes to driving. The combination of high amounts of cars on the streets, no speed limits, no traffic lights and everyone on their horns means that it just is crazy. There is no time of day or night when traffic stops, and the only place you can escape cars in Cairo is the Citadel.
Keep in mind that there are no zebra lines or crossing lanes either. If you want to cross the street, your best bet will be to follow a group of locals and hope for the best.
Travel insurance is essential
Travel insurance is something I recommend getting for any trip – including a trip to Egypt. Get yours here.
Check out my post “Why You Need A Good Travel Insurance.”
Dressing modestly is recommended
Egypt is a conservative country. Unless you are visiting a hipster bar in Zamalek, Cairo most up and coming neighborhood, you really are better off covering your arms, legs, chest and shoulder. It’s a sign of respect, and a safety measure as well.
Conclusions On Egyptian Food
Enjoying the local cuisine of the countries you travel to should always be a part of your to-do-list. Don’t just visit the top attractions and go back home without having a single bite of your destinations food like some travelers do. In my opinion, sampling the food will make your trip more memorable. If you don’t know where to start, you may even take a guided food tour to check out what’s on offer. You can book your food tour here.
So, when you travel to Egypt be sure to try as muchEgyptian food as you can. You can begin by tasting the dishes mentioned on my list. Once you leave Egypt you may be hard-pressed to find restaurants in your country or other parts of the world offering authentic Egyptian cuisine. So, it will be nice to say you have had Egyptian food once in your life if you never travel to the country again.
For more travel tips about Cairo, make sure to read The Crowded Planet’s post 13 Unique Things To Do In Cairo In 3 Days.
Is food a big part of your travels? Make sure to read my other posts on food:
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- The Most Delicious Cuban Food: 35 Mouthwatering Cuban Dishes
- 21 Mouthwatering Guyanese Food And Drinks You Need To Try
- All The Sardinian Food You Should Try
- The Most Delicious Food In Mexico: All The Dishes You Should Try
- All The Food In Rome You Should Eat: 25 Delicious Dishes
- A Complete Guide To Israeli Food
- Tel Aviv Vegan Food Guide – The Best Vegan Restaurants In Tel Aviv
- 33 Countries With The Best Food
- Food In Sri Lanka: 25 Delicious Dishes You Should Try
- All The Nicaraguan Food You Should Try
Legal Disclaimer: This post was written in cooperation with Egypt Visa. Needless to say, the views expressed are my own.