Thursday, July 21, 2011

Egyptian Food Guide by HT Couple

We wanted a getaway.  We wanted to eat something different.  HT wife wanted to go to a continent that she hasn't stepped on to.  We wanted to dive in tropical water.  And now, we are in Egypt.

Inspite of the political chaos and mini-protests are still present once in a while, we bravely flew to this super hot and sunny country to suffice our wants.

Bordered by several countries, Egypt's table has been influenced by its neighboring fellas.  And as tourism is one of the countries main sources of income, international fare is not uncommon.  From pizza, burgers to curries, name it, and they'll have it.

For almost 2 weeks of expedition in this side of the world, HT couple has been stuffing themselves with the Egyptian staples.

The main staple is the flat Egyptian bread ( a softer lebanese bread).  Whether your meal goes with rice, expect to get a basket of bread.  The locals used it to scoop dips, mezze and tagins.  Carbo loading as it may sound, you'll be needing it exploring this 40 degrees Celsius land especially in the month of July.

We've been eating like pigs and here's a list of our tummies' faves:

Koshari - a bowl of pasta look-alike topped with bountiful fried onions which may look simple but the first scoop really made me want to eat it over and over again.  Different carbs mixed all together in tomato sauce, chili sauce and the special ingredient which gives the bowl its wonderful flavor is the garlicky vinegar.  Give the bowl numerous drops and you're up for a delicious treat.

And what made this apart from pasta is the combination of macaroni pasta, spaghetti, noodles, rice and chick peas.  It's not koshary if you decided to skip one of these main ingredients :).
A famous koshary shop in Cairo is Abou Tarek.  But beware when walking into the street going to this shop as you might end up in another koshary shop claiming that they're another branch  and treat yourself with a few good hours in the toilet :D.  The shop has its English name on it so if you only see Arabic name, walk further.  (80 euro cents for a decent serving)
Molokhiyya soup - is made of green leafy veggies that is slimy in texture.  I was curious.  It was considered as the most popular dish of the country.  I dipped my bread in the soup and had my first taste.  It reminded me of saluyot a Filipino veggie that we also make into a vegetable dish and has the same texture but ours is more salty and we eat it always with rice.  This was prepared in the house of a Bedouin family, an ethnic group living in the desert.

Ta'amiyya or Felafel - deep fried and shaped into balls which is made of mashed beans with some spices giving its taste.  It's addictive even if there's no meat in it.  You would see this typically on breakfast tables of the locals.  This is also available as mezze.

Fuul - mashed beans slow-cooked in garlic, cumin and other spices sprinkled with lemon.  Also a staple for breakfast, locals eat in bowls more than this in the picture (i just took a spoon to taste it :D).  Unfortunately, this didn't suit HT wife's palate but HT hubbie made this his breakfast must-have. :) This is considered their national dish. (Lonely Planet)

Just like Greeks, Egyptians take their mezze seriously.  Here's plate-like table with a number of appetizers.  This was ordered by an Egyptian friend of mine living in Cairo.  And after polishing all the plates, there's no more room for main courses.  Here are the must-haves (dishes from the pic are represented as time clock):

Mahsi (greens at 10:00) - stuffed vine leaves usually with rice and herbs but some places you can get it with  meat...Baked and served hot.  (similar to Greeks' dolmades)
Tahini (6:00)- made of sesame.  Used as a bread dip and seems to be the locals favorites among their wide variety of dips.
Felafel/Ta'amiyya (3:00) - a big version
Stuffed sausages (10:00 - beside Mahsi) - intestines cleaned and stuffed with rice and herbs
Chicken liver Alexandrian style (middle) - cooked in cumin, garlic lime and coriander.  It's cooked in wok style but with herby taste.

Baba Ghanoug - mashed eggplant paste with garlic.  I'm not sure if this originated from Egypt or Greece, but nevertheless, it's always available in the Egyptian menu.  I love the one prepared in the dive boat, the eggplant has a smoky flavor and still has good chunks in it.  They spiced it up which burnt the tongue of the other divers, mostly British but HT couple indulged it with full pleasure :).

Hummus -  mashed chick peas and this version we had was thick and creamy making it a very good dip for the bread. (As Sahaby Lane Restaurant in Luxor -  1 euro)

After the vegetarian varieties, it's time to replenish ourselves with meat proteins. :)
Hamam - pigeons stuffed with rice and frik,  green wheat as well as herbs wherein coriander was dominant.  I always love pigeons served in chinese lauriat during parties and it was already difficult to eat but Egyptians made it more complicated and messy by stuffing it.  I'm not complaining as it was super delicious!

Abou El Sid was recommended by lonely planet and several travel forums that i've read.  And this place didn't fail us.  It served Egyptian food just like how it's being served in Egyptian home.  A friend of mine who's a local in Cairo loves this place.  Most diners are Cairenes than tourists.  We went their twice for dinner and the place was packed.  They have a few branches around Cairo.  The mezze and hamam are both from this restaurant.  Highly recommended by HT Couple. Mezze ( about 1-3 euro per serving) and Main course (5-7 euro)

Egypt is also known for their Tagins just like Morocco.  Tagins are earthware where the dishes are cooked long and keeping all the taste and flavor intact.  It's the old version of pressure cooker but the conventional way has always its own charm.
Camel Meat Tagin - HT hubbie was curious how a camel taste like so he got this in one of our dinners in Luxor.  It was less succulent than beef but still tender enough.  Stronger taste than beef but lesser taste than mutton.  We liked the meat very much but just the thought of the cute face of a camel...we wouldn't order it again.

Isn't he cute?  Now, tell me, would you eat his meat? :D

Tagin Bamya Bil Mozza - Stewed lamb shanks with okra, tomatoes, onions, garlic and cumin was such a delight and heavenly.  It was a bit on the oily side but it was full of flavor and goes well with rice and bread.  The meat was so tender that it just melted in our mouth.  Okras are typical ingredients in tagin dishes in Egypt. 

Mixed Kebabs -  just like the Turkish, Egyptians like grilled items too.  The most famous is Kofta, minced lamb and shaped into sausage and grilled.  Herby and smoky taste combined can never go wrong.

 Get this delicious bowl and kebab plate in Sofra Restaurant in Luxor (about 4 euro and 5.50 respectively).

For the sweet tooth, Egypt is the place to be.  All their desserts are very sweet.  This one was recommended by a local friend.

Fetir - egyptian pancake which is made of layers of filo topped with nuts, tasting similar to Greek Baklava.  This is usually eaten with honey (the normal honey or the famous black honey in Arab countries) and creamWe were recommended to mix the black honey with the tahini (see dip from above), to give the pancakes its sweet and sour taste.  I love the softness of the layers and how well it absorbed the natural taste of honey.  I prefer just the honey instead of the mix.

Other famous desserts are Ruz Bi Laban - sticky rice in milk cream aka rice pudding - I had it in the dive boat but forgot to take pictures :D and my favorite Omm Ali - layers of pastry soaked in cream and milk sometimes with nuts and baked in the oven.  A friend of mine when she was still living in Belgium, would use croissants to make this dessert, it's not exactly the same but similar.  I would try making it too. :)

Drinking tea (shai)  is a past time here in Egypt just like in Turkey.  Hot tea with mint is popular but you can washed down your throat with Karkadai, hibiscus tea which is served either hot or cold.  With the weather here, a cold glass is a must.

You want to dine like locals?  Smoke seesha after a meal (well, they do it even before breakfast :D).  Apple flavor is the best seller but HT couple decided to just eat like locals and then look for a shop that sells beer. :D

Most restaurants add 10% sales tax and baksheesh,  a tip of few egyptian pounds wouldn't hurt.

Credits to Lonely Planet and Wikitravel for helping HT couple for this extensive food expedition. :D


  1. wow! lots and lots of good FOOD! (^^,)

  2. Some of the dishes resemble that of Indian cuisine! So wonderful to be able to visit such an exotic country! So did you dive there? Hehe

  3. Love your food posts, Raine! Looking forward to see more :) - Diobs

  4. @Memey -> yes, buchog me.
    @Charlene -> We did, check out the Egypt Part 1
    @Diobs -> Thanks! Kita kits soon! i'll PM you in facebook.

  5. agree about Abou el Sid, we live din Maadi for two years and went there often. Kushari near the Souk was great, my driver made sure we had a clean place but I had my own bottle of water just to make sure. El Pacha boat restaurant is great for atmosphere but food no better than elsewhere really, and every visit to Cairo has to include drinking Egyptian Cosmopolitans, 1/3 vodka, 1/3 Karkadai hibiscus juice, 1/3 Cointreau, drunk on the 40th ? floor, Hyatt's revolving restaurant bar....dizzy heights...or maybe it was the cocktail which kicks like a mule! overall preferred to eat where locals eat, basement cafe in Maadi Grand Mall for example, dead cheap washed down with minted lemon drinks.