Ramadan is upon us again, and it is time to stretch those culinary muscles and bring out those delicious and famous meals Egyptian Iftar tables are famous for. Traditionally, Ramadan in Egypt witnesses a lot of gatherings, family reunions, and friends’ Iftar gatherings. Even those who have kind of lost touch with each other all year long, Ramadan has been known to bring them back together and gather everyone at the same table for the main meal of the day during Ramadan: Iftar.
Over the years, Egyptian cuisine has evolved drastically. However, during Ramadan, especially the first couple of days, certain traditional dishes commonly make a strong appearance on most Egyptian Iftar tables. Today, we’ll take you through the culinary adventure that takes place in Egyptian homes every year during the awaited holy month of Ramadan.
Iftar Meal Courses
Ramadan Iftar is quite different than most meals served in Egyptian houses. Traditionally, people don’t directly start their meal at Iftar time, Instead, most people break their fast with a light starter, usually a Ramadan drink or dates.
After breaking the fast, everyone gathers around the Iftar table where the rest of the meal courses are placed. A Ramadan Iftar table traditionally always has at least one type of soup and carbs; pasta, rice, etc. Then, there’s also usually more than one of Egypt’s famous casseroles. As for the main dish, it customarily varies between chicken dishes, beef-based dishes, and fish.
So let’s dig in -so to speak- and get to know deeper the popular dishes and plates that are usually found on the oh-so-appealing Egyptian Iftar table…
Customarily, people break their fast with something light, and sometimes, sweet. In Egypt particularly, there are a variety of starter drinks and foods that are only served during Ramadan.
Dates are the most traditional and popular way to break the day’s fast worldwide, not just in Egypt. This goes back to religious reasons, specifically following the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and his holy Sunnah. Other than the religious reason for it, breaking a day-long fast with dates is extremely healthy as dates are one of the most power and energy-fueling foods which makes them great for dehydrated and tired bodies after a long day of fasting. They also make for the perfect appetizer to prepare the dormant stomach for the feast it is about to meet.
Khushaf is the Egyptian twist on plain dates. Although its main ingredient is dates, this Eygpt-originated drink also contains a varied collection of dried fruits such as raisins, figs, apricots, prune, and a rich mix of nuts such as hazelnut, peanuts, almonds, cashews, and coconut drenched in either water or milk. Of course, depending on the personal preference and customs of each household, the nature and look of this healthy and nutritious drink differ. So expect to be served a different plate or cup of Khushaf every time you are invited to Iftar at an Egyptian house during Ramadan. Yes, it is served in both a plate and cup, it is truly quite the culinary adventure.
- Qamar Al Din
One of the famous Ramadan drinks all over the Arab world not just in Egypt is the Qamar Al-Din. Qamar Al-Din is made of squeezed and dried apricot that is kept and sold in plastic packages that get drenched in warm water then chilled and served cold. Qamar Al-Din is usually made quite sweet so it is highly favored by sweet tooths. An interesting fact about Qamar Al-Din is that -as with a lot of the Ramadan-themed drinks-some people drink it as a pre-Iftar drink and some drink it after Iftar, so it depends on your personal preference.
This ancient Egyptian drink is made from coconut, milk, and sugar or honey. It is sometimes made at home but also popularly sold at street drink carts during Ramadan. Sobia is also a fairly sweet drink with a very concentrated coconut taste, so if you are generally a coconut lover, the odds are you are definitely going to love it.
- Liquorice Juice
An interesting fact about Liquorice juice is that it dates back to ancient Egypt when Egyptians used to drink it to treat stomach diseases which is why it was popularly called the Royal Drink.
Originally, Liquorice juice comes from a plant found in Egypt, Syria, and Europe. However, it is mostly famous in Egypt as a Ramadan drink and is mainly served by street vendors and walking sellers.
Originating in India, this drink is made by soaking the Tamarind pulp in water and mixing it with hibiscus. It is usually served cold and is commonly had during or before Iftar in Ramadan because it is great at countering thirst.
Popular Dishes Found on the Egyptian Iftar Table in Ramadan
One can say that Egypt has a fairly foody culture and its people truly appreciate good food as well as know how to make it. Ramadan in particular usually witnesses some of the most impressive culinary feasts.
Since Ramadan is considered to be the month of gatherings, Iftar meals commonly turn into Iftar parties where relatives or friends gather around the same Iftar table on which some of the most delicious meals in all shapes and forms are served beautifully to commemorate this Ramadan gathering and tradition. So let’s take a look at some of the most commonly seen meals and dishes on Egyptian Iftar tables in Ramadan.
Although it is not a steady item all year long on all Egyptian Iftar tables, soups make quite the appearance in Ramadan, especially in gatherings. Some consider it a light appetizer or starter to ease the stomach into the meal and others consider it to be a part of the main course. It fairly depends on the type of soup served and the personal preference and habit of those drinking/eating it. The most common soups seen during Ramadan on Egyptian Iftar tables are:
- Orzo soup
Locally known as ‘Shorbat Lissan Asfour’ which translates to Birds Tongue Soup, Orzo soup is probably the most popular and traditional soup in Egypt. The basic version of this soup is usually made from orzo pasta, chicken or beef broth or stock, and the seasonings of your choice. Some just make it with salt and pepper, while others try to get creative with a variety of seasonings and flavors, such as lemon zest, thyme, oregano, chopped onion or onion powder, tomato paste, parsley, and more. It eventually comes down to how you cook your chicken or beef and how you generally link your soup.
- Vermicelli noodle soup
Another popular soup in Egypt is the Vermicelli noodle soup which is locally known as Shorbot Shareya. Vermicelli noodle soup is popularly made in the same way the Orzo soup is made by basing the whole dish on two main ingredients: the noodles and the chicken or beef broth or stock. Also just like Orzo soup, Vermicelli noodle soup is made differently all over Egypt when it comes to additional items or seasonings. Among the most popular additions to this dish is, of course, salt and pepper, tomato, onion, parsley, paprika, and lemon juice.
- Mix vegetable soup
If you are leaning towards a more healthy option, then you can’t go wrong with a bowl of mixed vegetable soup. Just like mixed veg soup is made all around the world, the Egyptian version isn’t so different. It is made by taking all the veggies you have in your fridge or cupboard, chopping them up, then dumping them in a pot of boiling water or broth. The most popular vegetables used in an Egyptian mix ve soup are zucchinis, carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, parsley, and of course tomatoes for colour. Of course, just like any dish, some households get a bit creative with this particular soup since you can add anything to it, so however it was made, it will most definitely taste absolutely delicious at the end and will make for quite the tasty and healthy addition to the Iftar table.
- Lentil soup
One of winter’s most popular dishes, lentil soup is a pillar in the Egyptian soup book, and the reasons vary. Light, nutritious, flavourful, warming, filling, and oh so delicious. The main ingredients of the Egyptian Lentil soup are red or yellow lentil seeds, tomato, onion, carrot, garlic, salt, pepper, and of course, water. Because lentil soup is somewhat of a blank canvas, you can add a bunch of additional ingredients to enrichen the flavor, such as potatoes for a thicker consistency, cumin, and coriander for the flavor, chicken or beef bouillon for a richer taste, and some even add a bit of lemon zest or lemon juice to give it a bit of sourness.
The First Course (Carbs)
Although all is usually served at once, Iftar can be considered a multi-course meal if we look at the type of dishes served on a Ramadan Iftar table. The main part of almost all Egyptian Iftar tables -which can be considered as the first course- is the carb-based dish.
Egypt has some of the most unique and delicious dishes placed in that certain category, so let’s take a look at some of them…
- Rozz Me’ammar
This filling and delicious dish is rice-based. However, it is made differently than most common rice dishes. Made from white rice, butter, milk, cream, and chicken or beef broth, this dish is prepared by baking all the ingredients in the oven till the rice is done and has a crisp golden brown layer on top. Some people tend to fancy this plate up a bit by adding pieces of chopped up beef or chicken to the rice mix.
- Mahshi (Stuffed Veggies)
One of the most globally famous authentic Egyptian dishes is, of course, stuffed veggies, locally known as Mahshi. This delicious and filling dish could be considered the cornerstone of almost any and every Iftar gathering or just regular family reunions and banquets. Made by stuffing vegetables with rice and vegetarian mix or sometimes rice and ground beef, based on the preference and taste. The most traditionally popular vegetables to be stuffed are eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, grape leaves, and sometimes, tomatoes and onions. In Egypt, Mahshi is made by cooking stuffed vegetables in broth or tomato and herbs sauce. It is commonly served hot or warm, however, some like to eat it cold or at room temperature, especially the vegetarian version of it.
- Macarona Bechamel (Eygptian Baked Pasta)
This particular dish is favored by all and is also almost always seen at gatherings and family reunions. This pasta-based dish is usually made from penne pasta, spiced ground beef mix, and a creamy bechamel sauce. Similar to Lasagna, this baked pasta dish is made by layering the ingredients on top of each other than topping it all with a rich layer of creamy bechamel sauce, then baking in the oven until golden brown and bubbly. Not only is this dish a delicious delicacy, it is also a complete meal when you think about it as it contains carbs (pasta), protein (ground beef), and calcium (the delicious creamy bechamel sauce).
- Fried Red Pasta (Macarona Mehamra)
One of the simpler yet equally delicious dishes found on some Iftar tables is the fried red pasta or as locally known, Macarona Mehamra. The way this pasta dish is made is quite easy, all you need to do is stir your pasta in butter or oil till golden, then add an appropriate amount of broth to cover the pasta, then season with salt and pepper to taste and cover till the pasta is cooked to your liking. So it is a perfect dish to make for those who are not exactly experienced in the culinary arts.
Main Course Dishes
Although some of the dishes we already mentioned could hold an Iftar table all on its own, Egyptian Iftar tables are usually rich in even more delicacies some of which are so mouth-watering you wouldn’t be able to even look at them while fasting. So let’s get to know some of them!
- Stuffed Pigeon (Hamaam Mahshi)
This traditional dish is famous all over Egypt and is often seen at banquets, dinner parties, and special gatherings because it is almost guaranteed that to whomever this dish is served, they will definitely like it. It is made is by stuffing pigeons with seasoned rice or bulgur wheat (freek), then grilling the pigeon or baking it in the oven. It is usually decorated with some fresh parsley and leafy greens and can be served next to almost everything.
- Grilled Kebab and Kofta
This beef delicacy is highly popular all across Egypt. Kebab is basically chunks of lamb that are flame-grilled. As for Kofta, it is made from spiced minced beef that is shaped in the form of fingers and put on a skewer, and grilled either on flame or in the oven. These two items are usually paired together and served on the side of Tahini sauce, green salad, and bread. This two-item meat delicacy is a very popular dish in Egyptian barbeques.
- Beef Stew (Kabab Halla)
Beef stew traditionally known as Kabab Halla is a constant in every Egyptian home. This protein-rich dish is another chance for the creativity of Egyptian culinary experts aka Egyptian mothers and wives, to appear. Kabab Halla is cooked in various ways in most Egyptian households, however, most people make it with two main ingredients: beef cubes and onion, in addition, of course, to salt and pepper to taste. Some, on the other hand, get a bit creative with it. Some of the additional ingredients commonly added to the dish include potatoes cubes, sliced carrots, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, nutmeg, and more.
- Alexandrian Liver & Sausages
Commonly considered street food, liver and sausage is a fairly spice-full meal. The liver is usually prepared with hot pepper, garlic, and onion. The sausage, on the other hand, is usually cooked with rich tomato sauce and hot pepper. Both items could be prepared differently depending on the taste and preference, but the authentic taste of Egyptian liver and sausage is usually quite spicy. This dish is usually served with pickles on the side of bread or made into sandwiches.
- Roasted Chicken or Duck
If there is a family gathering or a group Iftar, it is very common to see a golden roasted chicken or duck right at the center of the table, sometimes even both. The way Egyptians usually prepare this dish is by boiling the chicken or duck in boiling water with herbs, spices, and cut-up onions, tomatoes, and carrots. After boiling the bird, it is then put in the oven to roast till golden brown. Some go the extra mile and paste the bird with a tomato-based paste to give the roasted bird some additional flavor. Some also try to fancy up this dish by stuffing the chicken or duck with seasoned rice which sort of turns this dish into a complete meal.
- Sayadiyah Fish
This dish casserole is one of the most popular Egyptian seafood dishes. Mostly popular in coastal areas, Sayadiyah fish is usually made of white fish such as sea bass or bluefish that is cooked with onions, a mix of spices, and tomato sauce, then popped in the oven or cooked on the stovetop. It is usually served with yellow rice or white rice and is commonly seen on seafood Iftar tables.
Salads & Side Items
An Egyptian Iftar table is usually just as rich in the salad and sides section as it is rich in every other angle. So let’s take a look at some of the most popular salads and side dishes found on a traditional Iftar table in Egypt…
Probably the single most popular dish in Egyptian cuisine, Mulukyiah is a heavenly green dish with a soup/stew-like consistency made from a green leafy vegetable named ‘Mulukhiyah’ chopped and cooked with garlic in broth. The most common protein eaten with this dish is Rabbit, however, it can be served with chicken, beef, or even seafood. Mulukhiyah is usually served with either rice or bread. Thanks to its extremely wild popularity, Mulukhiyah always makes a strong appearance on most Iftar tables.
Another green and creamy side dish with stew-like consistency that is made from parsley, dill, leek, grinned fave beans, and green pepper with fried onions on top. This minimalistic dish is usually served with green onions and eaten with Egyptian bread.
- Samosa (Sambosak)
Samosa, locally known as Sambosak, is a highly popular appetizer on Egyptian Iftar tables. The way it is usually made is by filling a ready-made Samosa dough with various stuffing, shaping it like triangles, then deep-frying it in hot oil. The most popular types of samosa in Egypt are minced beef-stuffed samosa and cheese-filled samosa.
- Green Salad
Classic green salad or as some call it Tomato Salad is a constant on almost all Egyptian Iftar or lunch tables. Among the rich and somewhat fatty culinary options, Egyptians make sure to serve a plate of rich green salad that contains a variety of vegetables and greens to balance things out. The main ingredients of a classic Egyptian green salad are cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, green pepper, onions, lettuce, carrots, and arugula. Green salad is usually seasoned with salt, pepper, white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, and a bit of olive oil or vegetable oil, depending on the personal preference.
Whether you are eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, or Iftar, pickles usually make an appearance among whatever dishes are being served. Egyptians highly regard their pickled vegetables, some even make it at home. The most popular types of pickles in Egypt are cucumbers, turnips, lemons, olives, onions, and tomatoes.
Although they might not always have it on the menu all year long, Egyptians rarely ever miss a dessert in Ramadan. There are even some types of desserts that are only sold in stores and restaurants during Ramadan, so whether you are a sweet tooth or not, you will want to indulge yourself in some of the Ramadan-themed treats and sweets. Let’s take a look at some of them…
Qatayf or Katayef is an Arab dessert that is specially made and served during the holy month of Ramadan. Made of dough that is similar to pancake dough, some would say that Qatayef is a sort of sweet dumpling. Qatayef in Egypt are usually filled with cream or nuts, folded, then deep-fried, and dumped in a sugar-based syrup to cool down.
Kunafa is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert. Although it can be found at dessert shops and supermarkets all year round, it makes a special appearance during the month of Ramadan. Made with shredded pastry layers with cream, cheese, or nuts fillings, Kunafa is one of the most buttery and crunchy desserts that you can enjoy during Ramadan.
- Mehalabya (Milk Pudding)
This certain dessert is fairly popular all over the Middle East in different versions and names. The Egyptian version which is called Mehalabya is made with rice, sugar, milk, and starch or rice flour. The toppings of Mehalabya include mixed nuts, cinnamon, rose syrup, shredded coconut, and more.
- Umm Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)
This traditional ancient Egyptian dish is one of the most popular desserts in Egypt all year round not just during the month of Ramadan. Umm Ali or Egyptian Bread Pudding is typically made from bread or puff pastry, sugar, milk or cream, raisins, coconut flakes, and pistachios or mixed nuts. It is usually baked in the oven and can be served both hot and cold.
- Roz Be Laban (Egyptian Rice Pudding)
This cold milky dessert is quite famous and loved all over the Middle East and Egypt. The traditional Egyptian version of the Rice Pudding is quite simple to make but extremely delicious and nutritious. Made from white rice, milk, and sugar, almost anyone can make Roz Be Laban at home easily with little to no effort or cost. After making the rice pudding base, you can top it off with the topping of your choice, popular toppings include raisins, shredded coconut, mixed nuts, heavy cream, and more.
Although our list could be extensive, it can never fully cover the extremely wide variety of delicious dishes and delicacies that Egyptian Iftar tables usually feature during the holy month of Ramadan.