As you parade through a mixture of modern Egypt and the ancient marvels it beholds, you’ll work up an appetite for the cultural-rich menu that the country has to offer. Tourists may come searching to uncover the secrets of the Sphinx, peer at the Pyramids of Giza, and hitch a ride with a camel, but their mouths will discover an underrated not-so-secret treasure of its own within Egypt’s food scene.
While Egypt will present a bit of a culture shock to unfamiliar travelers, it is best to sink into this uncharted territory mouth first, indulging in the always-open invitation that eateries add to a travel destination. Don’t shy away from eating outside of your comfort zone. Instead, make it a priority to sample the following must-try traditional dishes throughout the duration of your trip.
Kebabs are a famed dish throughout Middle Eastern and Mediterranean territories that have crossed over cultural boundaries and influenced the cuisine in a multitude of countries. So why try this dish in Egypt? Egypt’s take on this favorite food is a much more traditional one, bearing the name of kofta kebabs. This dish is comprised of spiced lamb or beef that is rolled onto a skewer and grilled over coals, meshing the flavors together to result in a handheld delectable meant to be savored. You’ll find that many locals choose to pair this charcoal-broiled meat with a side of fresh salad, vegetables, or flatbread.
If you desire to dig deep into the local living of modern-day Egyptians, then look no further than one of their favorite dishes: koshary. Comprised of rice, macaroni, lentils, chickpeas, onion, and a tomato-vinegar sauce, this national dish is a restaurant specialty, street food phenomenon, and a hot ticket to fitting in with the locals. The dish essentially mixes together staple ingredients that would be found in any individual’s pantry, resulting in a tasty masterpiece that fits anyone’s budget. The inventive mixture of these otherwise-scrapped ingredients to create this beloved dish might first remind one of an episode of Chopped, where seemingly contradictory elements can be reworked into a palatable result. However, the Egyptians yet again prove that they were experts at these kitchen fundamentals far before the rest of the world caught on.
You might hear some differing opinions as to where the best koshary can be found. As with all destinations, the locals know best. Strike up a conversation with a local, whether through speaking a common language or making use of a translator tool, in order to seek out their best recommendations. Oftentimes, they’ll point you in the direction of a restaurant specializing in this dish, where you’ll be sure to find one of the best renditions of the recipe.
Middle Eastern cuisine includes heavy use of chickpeas, a high-protein legume that can be soaked and simmered, roasted, or thrown in a pressure cooker. Eaten alongside meals or developed into a creamy consistency as a hummus, chickpeas have grown a stellar reputation for their multi-use capabilities. One such recipe that uses chickpeas as its base is falafel, fried street food popular throughout the Middle East. Egypt, however, has its own spin on this recipe, known as none other than ta’ameya.
Ta’ameya is Egypt’s take on falafel. While some still experiment with the chickpea base, ta’ameya differentiates itself by being made from crushed fava beans. Mixing this bean paste together with flavorful ingredients and coating each ball in sesame seeds, these snacks are then emerged in hot oil and fried to a crispy finish. Many Egyptians enjoy this as a breakfast dish, but you can find them being made fresh along many streets, paired often with tahini sauce.
If the previously-mentioned countrywide dishes haven’t challenged your comfort zone yet, then this meaty main dish will likely do the job. Hamam mahshi is a traditional dish with its roots stemming back ages in Egypt. The central aspect of this recipe is a stuffed pigeon, recognized as a delicacy throughout the country and served as a main dish at important events such as wedding ceremonies. In preparing this dish, the cooks stuff the small pigeon with freekeh, a type of green wheat bearing a nutty flavor, and grill the squab over a wood fire until it reaches a golden brown color.
Indulge in a ritzy meal with cultural significance by ordering mahshi while dining in Egypt. This unique flavor will likely rival all the other meals and savory nourishments you sample your way throughout the country, giving you an authentic taste of the culture that cannot be found elsewhere in the world. Egyptian cuisine, while not nearly as saluted in the mainstream travel industry as it should be, is a complex blend of comfort foods mixed with fresh flavors. Despite its lack of representation in the larger food scene, all who have sampled these dishes have come to develop an eager hunger for this genre of cooking, one that is often difficult to satisfy unless returning to the country of these recipes’ origin.