While Egyptians take great pride in their history and powerful civilization, their traditional food is no exception. If there would be an equivalent to comfort food, the immediate answer would be Egyptian food. The blend of flavours will surely explode in your mouth, making every bite memorable. While touring the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, make sure you try out these top 10 popular Egyptian dishes!
1- Ful Medames (fava beans)
Ful Medames, or mashed fava beans, is one of the most popular Egyptian dishes. Egyptians mostly eat it as a breakfast meal. It is made up of fava beans, olive oil, garlic, salt, ground cumin, and lemon juice, all mashed up together. It is usually eaten with pita bread.
Every region in Egypt makes its own unique ful medames dish. In Alexandria, for example, fava beans are mashed up with minced tomatoes and onions. Some drizzle some tahini sauce on their ful medames. And some add chilli flakes for that kick.
2- Tamiya (falafel)
Tamiya, also known as Egyptian falafel, is also a breakfast staple for Egyptians. Falafel is usually made from chickpeas, but the Egyptian version replaces it with dried fava beans. Tamiya is a green mixture of dried and crushed fava beans, parsley, coriander, cilantro, dill, celery, leek, garlic, and onions, fried in vegetable oil. Tamiya is usually eaten alongside ful medames, spicy eggplants, tahini, and tomatoes.
One of the national dishes, if not the national, is Koshari. Koshari is a well-loved meal for all Egyptians. It is cheap and there are many dedicated Koshari restaurants so it can easily be found. It is a high-carb meal that is going to fuel you up for the rest of the day.
A typical Koshari plate is made up of rice, black lentils, macaroni, spaghetti, fried onions, tomato sauce, a dash of vinegar and garlic mixture, and chilli sauce. You can adjust the dish to your preference, but its base has to be made up of rice, black lentils, macaroni and spaghetti.
4- Mahshi (stuffed vegetables)
At every family gathering or feast, Mahshi has to be on the table. It is undoubtedly one of the nation’s favourite platters. It is a nutritious dish that contains both carbs and vegetables.
Mahshi is basically stuffed vegetables. Grapevine leaves, zucchini, eggplants, bell peppers, cabbage leaves, and tomatoes can all be stuffed with an oozing mixture of flavours. The stuffing consists of rice, tomato paste, diced onions, parsley, cilantro, dill, and a mixture of spices. After rolling up Mahshi, it gets soaked with chicken or meat broth and is simmered until fully cooked. Mahshi is usually served alongside chicken and Mulukhiyah.
The hallmark of Egyptian cuisine is, without a doubt, Mulukhiyah. Some might not like it because of its slimy-like texture, but once you try you will never stop dreaming of it. Kids especially like it with white rice and shredded chicken.
Mulukhiyah is made from minced jute mallow leaves, chicken or rabbit broth, a lot of minced, fried garlic, and dried, ground coriander. Every Egyptian mother has her own unique way of making Mulukhiyah so more ingredients can be added. Some make it with tomato sauce, and some make shrimp Mulukhiyah; the options are infinite! Mulukhiyah is often served with white rice and chicken or meat. Some people prefer to eat it with pita bread instead of rice, and some eat it alongside Mahshi.
Another comfort food for Egyptians is Hawawshi. The mouth-watering pita pockets with pickled veggies on the side are guaranteed to make your heart warm and happy. It is no wonder that it is one of the most popular street foods in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria!
The first Hawawshi is said to be made by a butcher named Ahmed Al-Hawash back in the early 1970s and it has travelled throughout the Middle East. The basic idea of Hawawshi is much like burgers, but it has many special spices.
Hawawshi is made from stuffing pita bread, or bread dough, with a mixture of ground meat, minced garlic, onions, hot peppers for that kick (can be replaced with bell peppers), and a unique mixture of spices that include dried coriander, allspice, paprika, cardamom, cloves, cumin, and cinnamon. After the dough, or pita bread, is stuffed with this mixture, it gets placed into the oven and cooked the meat is thoroughly cooked and the dough is crispy. The taste of a single bite of Hawawshi is surely unforgettable.
7- Stuffed Pigeon/Squab (Hamam Mahshi)
Stuffed pigeons/squabs are considered a delicacy in Egypt. Not many can eat it many times because it is somewhat expensive. But on special occasions and feasts, Hamam Mahshi is unquestionably the star of the show. The intertwined flavours of the fried squab and the seasoned freekeh make every bite worth your money.
A squab is a small pigeon that is kept and raised in the pigeon towers that are built on top of old houses in the countryside. The squabs are bred and fed for consumption in these towers until they reach six weeks old. After they reach this age, they are picked and cleaned thoroughly and are ready for consumption.
The stuffing that is used is made from a mixture of freekeh (toasted, young green wheat) or bulgur wheat with the squab’s giblets and a combination of spices, onions, and garlic. The squab gets stuffed and boiled in a rich broth. It then gets deep fried for the skin to become crispy, which is probably everyone’s favorite part of the meal!
We can’t talk about Egyptian cuisine without mentioning Egyptian desserts! The diversity of these toothsome desserts will satisfy all your sugar cravings. Here are three mouth-watering Egyptian desserts that we recommend trying out!
The most well-known Middle Eastern dessert is undoubtedly Knafeh. No one knows precisely where it originated from, but it is made differently depending on every region in the Middle East. One thing for sure is that it will be satisfying for those who have a sweet tooth.
Knafeh has many versions. But the base has to have the spun pastry called Kataifi, shredded and toasted, then is soaked with a sugar-based syrup called Attar. The Palestinian version originated from the city of Nablus and is typically layered with cheese. The shredded pastry is flavoured with orange blossom water and rose water, and then topped with crushed nuts or pistachios specifically.
In Egypt, they have multiple versions of Knafeh. In one version, Knafeh is stuffed with a type of cream called Qeshta (clotted cream). Some Egyptians prefer their Knafeh stuffed with a variety of different, crushed nuts. Some prefer it with a sweet milk pudding called Mahalabia, layered between two layers of Knafeh. Whichever version may sound more appealing to you, make sure you try every Knafeh version!
9- Umm Ali
The next dessert can be considered the national dessert of Egypt. It’s Umm Ali. Literally translating to “Ali’s mother” in Arabic, Umm Ali is a well-loved, cheap dessert that the rich and the poor enjoy alike. Though having a somewhat dark history of being the dessert that was made to celebrate the death of the prominent woman figure called Shajar Al-Durr, it is still one of the top Egyptian desserts that gets made in all the Egyptian regions. But try not to overthink this story when eating!
Umm Ali is basically the Egyptian equivalent of England’s bread pudding, with only a few changes. The basic Egyptian version is made up of puff pastry or phyllo dough, milk, butter, nuts, coconut flakes, and raisins. It is baked into the oven and best served hot and bubbling. Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream can be added as toppings. It is a dessert as old as time, but it never loses its deliciousness.
Probably the sweetest Egyptian dessert out there, Basbousa is the perfect treat for those who have a sweet tooth. It is a dessert that was created back in the Ottoman Empire in Egypt and Turkey and stayed as delicious as ever! It is thinner than a cake and has a sandy texture that is its signature. It can be served plain, topped with nuts, or topped with Qeshta.
The star of Basbousa is semolina flour. It is mixed with ghee, milk, grated coconut, almond flour, and of course, sugar. Lots of it. It is then baked in the oven and gets covered with a cold sugary syrup to stay soft and moist for a long time.
While there are many more delicious and mouth-watering Egyptian dishes, these presented here can be said to be everyone’s favourites. There are many twists to a dish in just one country and you will surely find your favourite.