Food has always been a significant part of every culture. Travelers may show great interest in the landmarks of a country, but trying on brand new food is an experience everyone longs for. Italian, Asian, and French cuisines happen to be taking the world by storm. They can be found in every country. However, some delicious cuisines never receive the same hype despite their unique dishes.
Egyptian cuisine is one of the Middle Eastern ones that doesn’t get the publicity that other Mediterranean dishes get. In fact, Egypt’s traditional food offers rich flavors. They may bear a great resemblance to other dishes in the Arab countries. Yet, they have their own twists and flavors that you will delightfully enjoy.
Egyptian cuisine is quite popular for its diversity, being influenced by other Middle Eastern neighbors. Moreover, many dishes are impacted by history and other cultures’ influences. Most of the traditional dishes are rich in vegetables, legumes, and carbs. Rice is also a staple element in traditional Egyptian dishes.
Here’s a succulent list of traditional food that you must try while exploring the shores of the Nile and the Egyptian streets. Let your taste buds embark on an appetizing journey inside Egyptian cuisine while learning about the history of these fine dishes.
1. Ful and Falafel
If you have ever been to Egypt, you definitely have seen what kind of breakfast most Egyptians have. Ful and Falafel is a staple breakfast in every Egyptian house; it’s been this way for many generations back. Moreover, they are quite nutritious and keep you full until your next meal which aids in leading an active day.
Ful is a primary dish in Egyptian cuisine that may not be as popular around the world as Falafel. It consists of fava beans that can be cooked in a myriad of ways, yet oil and lemon juice remain constant. The diversity of cooking this food made it quite favorable for almost everyone. You can prepare it with anything varying from butter, olive oil, pepper, eggs, pastrami, and more.
Falafel is another common street food that is common to have for breakfast or dinner. It is also commonly known as Ta’meya, depending on the city or region you are visiting. This fried patty is made of ground chickpeas that is usually paired with tahini sauce or hummus. Some have it served with ful, and others can have them in wraps mixed with salad.
Koshari is one of the most popular dishes in Egyptian cuisine. This carb-loaded dish offers a mix that may seem strange to many cultures that are unfamiliar with it. Koshari doesn’t have lots of recipes. It’s a dish where you put macaroni, rice, lentils, spaghetti, hummus, fried hummus, tomato sauce together.
It’s also referred to as carbs on carbs, for rice, lentils, spaghetti, or round macaroni, are the consistent ingredients. You get to add or remove the other additives as long as the main ingredients remain intact. Koshari seems to be some kind of art in the culinary world, given the colorful plate that results from such a heavenly mix.
As odd as this may sound, Koshari may be a traditional food in Egyptian cuisine, but Egypt isn’t where this dish originated. The origins of this delicious national dish were traced back to India. Even the word Koshari is not of an Arab origin but is rather derived from the Hindu word “kichri,” which happens to be a dish of rice and lentils.
Koshari first made an appearance in Egypt in the late 1800s upon the arrival of the British forces. It’s said that the British were the ones to bring this dish all the way from India to Egypt. Ever since, it has become an affordable dish that is quite filling and flavorful.
3. Mahshi (Stuffed Vegetables)
We don’t exaggerate when we say that Mahshi is the hit start of Egyptian cuisine. It’s a traditional food that leaves your taste buds screaming in joy and your tummy quite full and satisfied. The best part is that it’s quite suitable for all types of eaters, even vegetarians.
Mahshi is an Arabic word that literally translates into “stuffed.” The reason behind this naming is that this dish is basically made out of vegetables that get stuffed with, mainly, rice and other additions. These vegetables could be anything that has the capacity to be drilled and stuffed, including grapevine leaves, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage leaves, and bell peppers.
The stuffing aids in making the cooked vegetables quite nutritious and filling. It’s paired with tomato sauce and a fixed range of herbs, including cilantro, parsley, and dill. Some meat lovers like to add minced meat to the fillings but this is optional.
The origins of this delicious dish are another debatable matter. Many believe that this dish goes back to the traditional Greek dish, Dolma, which is rice-stuffed grapevine leaves. Others think that it originated in Turkey and made it to the Egyptian cuisine during the ruling of the Ottoman Empire. Either way, you can still enjoy the Egyptian recipe of this delicious meal without the need to look back on its roots.
4. Alexandrian Liver and Sausages Sandwiches
Another street food that you have to try from the deliciousness of the Egyptian cuisine is a sandwich filled with liver and sausages. They are deemed the most affordable kind of meat, gaining great popularity around the country, especially in Alexandria. This beautiful city was the birthplace of this yummy sandwich. That’s why Egyptians always refer to it as Alexandrian.
This fine sandwich consists of chopped pieces of liver and sausages, blended with other flavorful ingredients. These ingredients include bell peppers, onion, and garlic all mixed together and pan-fried. The Alexandrian version always consists of chili sauce, adding an extra appetizing edge to the sandwich.
There have never been debates over the original nationality of this meal. People have always associated it with Egyptian cuisine. While it may be quite known as street food around other countries, it’s still a staple in the traditional food in Egypt.
5. Molokhiya (Jew’s Mallow)
If you are looking for a nutritious traditional meal straight out of Egyptian cuisine, look no further than Molokhiya. This seemingly green soup is made up of a leafy vegetable that gets chopped into tiny pieces and cooked in a stew. Whether you choose to boil or fry it, it turns into a liquid texture, and it gets served with white rice or a side of bread, sometimes both.
Molokhiya is known to be paired with chicken or rabbit, but some people prefer pairing it with beef, yet it’s not a common practice. Coastal cities have the tendency to pair this meal with rather a seafood, either shrimp or white fish. Different regions around Egypt have their own way of cooking Molokhiya as well as their own preference for the side portion of protein.
Being packed with several essential vitamins, Molokhiya is a great option for boosting your overall health. Its name comes from its plant that’s commonly known as Jute Mallow. Some people also refer to it as Jew’s mallow, believing that the Jews were the first to introduce this food into Egyptian cuisine.
It’s said that Molokhiya is one of the many national foods in Egypt that can be traced back to ancient times. Interestingly, this dish was forbidden in the 9th century during the reign of Caliph Al Hakim Bi Amr Allah. He believed that the green gloop has an aphrodisiac effect, so he punished those who attempt to eat Molokhiya. Quite funny yet strange, isn’t it?
6. Kebab & Kofta
For all the meat lovers out there, this one is definitely for you! The Egyptian Cuisine introduces us to that heavenly pairing of Kebab and Kofta that results in a hearty meal that leaves your tummy full. Both types of meat are prepared on the grill, which makes it a quite healthy dish despite its monstrous calorie count.
Kebab is usually a lamb or veal meal that is chopped into pieces and cooked on a grill. On the other hand, Kofta is rather minced meat put together into a cylindrical shape before being put on fire. They are usually served together along with a mix of salads and tahini or baba ghanoush dipping sauces. Large loaves of Egyptian bread save the day by complementing this meal for an energy boost.
Kebab and Kofta are known in different areas around the world, and not only in the Arab region. It has made its way to Europe and the States as well. While it’s a main national dish in Egyptian cuisine, it’s said that they have their own origin in Turkey as well. Yet, the Turkish version may be prepared differently, but they remain the Kebab and Kofta meats that we know.
7. Feseekh (Mullet Fish)
Feseekh is a national dish that is not for the faint-hearted. If you managed to make it through its strong odor, you may like it, but, we’re telling you, it’s not for everyone. Just so you know, Feseekh is a fermented mullet fish that needs preparation a month ahead. Its preparation is all about drying the fish in the sun and leaving it soaked in salty water for a month or so.
This dish makes it among the traditional food in Egyptian cuisine, yet it is more common to be eaten occasionally. Spring happens to be the season where Feseekh is the main dish. It’s also essential for the Easter Celebrations known in Egypt as Sham El Nessim. Well, Feseekh is sufficient to have on its own, yet it can be paired with some salads and bread for a balanced meal.
Feseekh is a traditional food that can be traced back to the Pharaonic era. Legends have it that the ancient Egyptians were the first to introduce the mullet fish as a main dish during Spring. That being said, it was common for the Nile to recede during that time of the year. Rotten fish left on the shores were the results of the receding process. Thus, it became an Egyptian tradition ever since.
8. Egyptian Moussaka
It’s quite apparent that eggplant seems to be an essential ingredient in many traditional dishes in Egyptian cuisine. This time, we are shedding the spotlight on the delicious dish of Moussaka. It’s an eggplant-based dish that many Egyptians hold a special place for it in their hearts.
This dish is basically fried eggplant covered in delicious béchamel sauce and often includes minced beef. Once the ingredients are complete, the whole dish gets baked for a few minutes before it’s ready to be served.
Moussaka gained popularity around the Arab region, given its nutritious ingredients and healthful fillings. Thus, its preparation can differ from one country to another. Nowadays, it became the main dish in Greek cuisine with some different twists and flavors. The Levant also happens to serve this delicious dish in their unique cuisine but, unlike Greece and Egypt, they serve it cold.
Moussaka has been a national dish since the ruling of the Ottoman Empire during the 16th and 17th centuries. Thus, many people believe it originated in Turkey and made its way to Egypt during that era. Well, there are many dishes from the Mediterranean region that are hard to specify their original birthplace. But, generally, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and the Levant share similar cuisines.
Carbohydrates are usually the main ingredients of many Egyptian dishes. Even they mix them with protein and vegetables, they still have no problem adding more than one carb source within the same plate. We have seen this in the yummy colorful plate of Kushari, and we will do it in the hot served plates of Fattah.
Fattah is a staple dish in Egyptian cuisine that offers a bizarre blend of more than a few ingredients. This dish consists of a layer of cooked rice with veal broth, over which a layer of tomato sauce tops it, covered with a layer of fried pieces of bread dipped in garlic vinegar sauce. It may sound like a lot, but we assure you it’s as filling as it sounds and is equally appetizing.
This dish doesn’t have special occasions in which it makes an appearance. It can be cooked all year long; however, some religious feasts in both Muslim and Christian communities love serving it during their celebrations.
Fattah is an Arabic word that means “crushes or crumbs.” The name often refers to the crushed pieces of toasted flatbread that tops the layers of the dish. Moreover, it’s another national dish that is popular in Egyptian cuisine. However, it is famous among different Arab communities, especially those of the Levants region.
Besides the carb-loaded dishes in Egyptian cuisine, Egyptians seem to adore protein-filled meals as well. Such a mixture between protein and carbohydrates leaves you deeply satisfied for many hours ahead.
Hawawshi stands on top of the famous national dishes in the Egyptian cuisine that you must try while exploring the bustling streets of Egypt. The ingredients of this meal are quite simple yet fulling. It consists of minced meat, deeply drenched in chili spices, gently embraced by a large loaf of soft bread, and left to bake in a wood oven. Pickled vegetables can be served as a side as well.
Today’s hawawshi sandwiches have undergone some twists that add an unconventional edge to this national dish. New ingredients have been added to the basic sandwich, ranging between sausages, cheese, and pastrami.
Hawashi could actually be the only national dish on this list that isn’t shared among other cuisines than Egyptian cuisine. People believe that it is traced back to only the 70s and carries the name of the butcher who invented it by experimenting with minced beef. The butcher’s name is quite arguable, debating whether it was Mohamed El-Hawashi or Ahmad El-Hawawsh.
Either way, we need to pay this guy a tribute for his exceptional experiment that turned out to be a real winner.
Fava beans are Egyptian favored ingredients that are used and served in a myriad of ways, resulting in different dishes. Another fava bean-based dish that Egyptian cuisine introduced to the world is the Bessara.
This dish consists of affordable ingredients that are commonly used in several traditional meals of Egyptian cuisine. It’s mainly a plate of crushed fava beans into a thick paste paired with garlic and onions for a flavorful taste along with some fresh herbs like cilantro, pepper, and parsley, according to the region. Just like many other meals, the way Bessara is prepared can differ from one city to another.
It’s one more national dish that the Ancient Egyptians served during their era. We can also reveal this origin by looking at the etymology of the word. Bessara is derived from the Hieroglyphic word (Ancient Egyptian language) “Bees-oro.” The first part of the word means cooked while the other one means beans, which means “cooked beans” in the Hieroglyphic language.
Eggah, as the name may reveal, is a dish made up of eggs, yet its Arabic pronunciation may not be that obvious. It’s mainly a plate of omelet, yet eggs are not the main ingredients here, and you will know about this shortly. The difference is having an Egyptian touch that makes it stand out among other dishes of Egyptian cuisine.
Eggah is just a much heavier version of the basic omelet known to the world. This dish consists of a nice portion of protein, either chicken or lambs, that is mixed with several forms of vegetables. These vegetables include spinach, leek, aubergines, and courgettes that eggs are used with to hold all of the ingredients together. A soft addition of fresh herbs can be added according to one’s preferences.
This meal is quite a popular part of Egyptian cuisine. However, it seems to have other equivalent versions in other Mediterranean countries like Italy. In fact, it’s may as well be the Egyptian version of the well-known Italian dish, Frittata. The latter is an Italian egg-based dish that’s mixed with vegetables and meats, much resembling the Egyptian Eggah.
13. Macaroni Béchamel
We have previously said that and we’ll say it again, carbs play a vital role in Egyptian cuisine. Despite being a not-so-preferred in the modern trending diets, we can’t deny its ability to provide an appetizing meal. Our winner dish this time is the tummy-filling one, Macaroni béchamel.
Basically, this dish consists of several layers of either penne or macaroni, intertwined with layers of béchamel sauce and spiced pieces of minced meat. Other ingredients that are used in this dish are eggs, cheese, and tomato sauce. It’s baked for a reasonable amount of time before being served as the hot and tasty dish that it is. Recipes don’t change much around different regions, yet the ingredients used could be substituted or removed accordingly.
In fact, béchamel sauce seems to have its magical way of creating drooling dishes. It’s originally a French invented sauce (We can clearly anticipate this fact from the accent on the name), but they have no contribution to this Egyptian national dish. While being a staple in Egyptian cuisine, it’s said to be similar to the pasta-based Greek dish, pastitsio.
14. Shorbet Adas (Lentil Soup)
You thought that the lentil’s role ended at complementing the delicious creation of Kushari? Well, that’s far from being true. Egyptian cuisine seemingly depends on affordable ingredients that are filling at the same time. Luckily, lentil holds these characteristics. While lentil is not used in many of the national dishes, it’s still a favored ingredient in Egyptian cuisine.
Shorbet Adas is the literal translation of lentil soup. This dish is fairly quick to cook and doesn’t consume lots of other ingredients. It needs no more than lentils and basic vegetables, like onion, carrot, and tomato. To perfect the taste, some seasoning herbs are added, including black pepper, salt, and cumin.
It’s a popular type of comfort food that many Egyptians retreat to during the harsh cold days of winter. Not only is it perfect for providing warmth, but it’s also quite as nutritiously delicious. Besides, it is a famous dish in most Middle Eastern countries, believing that lentils were the very first legumes ever cultivated in the region.
15. Hammam Mahshi (Stuffed Pigeon/Squab)
Pigeons are widely eaten across different areas around the globe. It’s the main ingredient of different gourmet dishes in many cuisines. However, according to Egyptian cuisine, it’s rather a traditional dish enjoyed by all people from different walks of life. But, the version that you will taste in the Egyptian cuisine is a specialty and not your average pigeon meal.
Egyptians have an eccentric talent for rice-stuffing any stuffable food, and pigeons are no exception. It’s rather known as Hammam Mahshi, meaning stuffed pigeon, and it’s deliciously in many local restaurants around the country.
All it takes is to stuff the little squab with some rice and soak bulgur in water for half an hour before adding the tasteful ingredients. Those ingredients include lemon juice, butter, chicken broth, onions, parsley, salt, pepper, and bulgur. After getting this combination done, the little pigeon will be ready for cooking. Then, perfectly served.
16. Sayadeya Rice
Can you count how many dishes on the list actually lacked sources of carbohydrates, especially rice? Yes, a very few ones, if not at all. It’s an Egyptian tradition to add rice to as many national dishes as possible. This time is rice is added to a seafood recipe known as Sayadeya Rice.
Sayadeya Rice is a popular national meal in Egyptian cuisine, though it doesn’t get the same hype that other dishes get. It’s a fish-based dish that is commonly eaten in cities along the coast, including Alexandria, Suez, and Port-said.
The dish consists of white fish, either bluefish or sea bass, that is cooked with yellow rice. They are both added to a casserole paired with onions, tomato sauce, and spices according to preferences. This savory meal is enjoyed widely across different Egyptian cities.
Although this dish is a staple in Egyptian cuisine, its roots can be traced to the Levant region, especially Lebanon and Syria. It’s said that this gourmet meal was a rather common meal among fishermen on the Syrian and Lebanese coasts. Yet, it managed to travel its way through the Middle East and become a traditional dish in Egypt.
There are many national dishes that you can try to experience the real flavors of Egyptian cuisine. Yet, we have gathered for you the unmissable ones that you try during your trip across the Egyptian streets. Share with us how many of those dishes have you tried and which have you like the most and would recommend to your family and friends.