I find that while traveling, people are always scared of 2 things. Security/ safety….and the next thing is.... food! Everyone frets over what they will eat in a foreign country and it tends to be especially difficult for many Americans who go to countries that have less strict food guidelines than we do in the states. People tend to freak out instead of trusting their own judgement on what to consume (yes I realize there is always an exception but that happens in the States as well)!
Oh Egyptian food! YUM. My love for Mediterranean inspired was already never ending and then I went to Egypt and my heart was fully content! Anything that contained meat, I was super careful to check prior to consuming and would look at overall sanitation of where I was eating but you can never be 100% sure. Just don’t let your fears have you miss out on trying some extremely fresh Mediterranean food. You should NOT find yourself in Egypt eating Pizza Hut (no offense to the franchise) next to the Great Pyramids (because yeah…. that’s a thing…).
In fact, when Cairo and visiting the Great Pyramids, there is a pretty good restaurant that I do recommend that is directly across from the Sphinx and offers great views of the Giza complex (especially if you get a seat upstairs). It is the Pyramids Restaurant. Overall the food was pretty good, offered a wide variety of items on the menu and had a bathroom that I could use before heading over to the pyramids. *Please note that the downside of the bathrooms here is that they often have large parties of people and there is only 1 bathroom for men and only 1 for women. They are also only located up a narrow flight of stairs and if the line is backed up then there is really nowhere to stand and you are in the way of the servers station.
My MUST TRY restaurant in Cairo is not located right near the pyramids but it IS worth a visit while in the city. Everything I ate at Felfela in Cairo was amazingly good, but it doesn't stop there! This restaurant is built out like a little hidden rain forest cove in the heart of the city. You feel like you are sitting in a little hut among the trees while listening to the chirping of live birds in cages and running water fountains. The ceiling has beautiful stained glass tiles to shade offer light but shade the restaurant from the Egyptian sun during the hot summer months. You can't go wrong with making a stop here for lunch or dinner!
One tip I will definitely give for anyone visiting Egypt is to make sure you visit a spice market! Even if you are not seeking to purchase them, they are really neat to stop by and take in the colors, variety and aromas! Annnnddddd...... you will probably end up buying something regardless but just make sure you understand the amount in which you are buying! The last thing you want to bring home is a giant bag of cinnamon or paprika!
So what specifics should you make sure you try while in Egypt? See my TOP recommendations below:
Main Dishes/ Savory Options
Falafel (Ta’meya)- I stated this one first because I feel like most people have at least heard of it AND it’s easy to kind of ease your way into their food pallet. Typically falafels are made with chickpeas but Egyptians traditionally use fava beans. Whether it is made with chickpeas or fava beans, falafels can be made with a mixture of spices like cumin, onion, parsley, garlic, pepper, paprika, etc to season to desired taste prior to cooking. You roll into a ball and then fry it. Tastes great with hummus or tzatziki sauce on its own or like a gyro.
Hummus- Remember, it’s Mediterranean and not Greek! Hummus is quite popular in most Middle Eastern countries as it is an easy snack with pita bread or can be used to simply enhance a meal. The fun with hummus begins when you can find the infused variations!
Shawarma- You have probably also tried this somewhere before whether in the States or on your travels. It is also popular with a lot of worldly street foods. Egyptians put their own flair on it with their own spices and rubs. Shawarma is typically comprised of chicken or beef and cooks all day on a spit with the fat melting on top.
Mahshi- Perfect for vegetarian friends and veggie loving travelers! To sum it up Mahshi is basically marinated rice stuffed vegetables to the likes of zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, grape leaves, cabbage, etc, etc. The filling consists of rice, herbs, seasoning, tomato sauce and sometimes a hint of cinnamon for a sweet spice to balance the meal.
Kushari- Yum. This rounds out my top 5 of main dishes to try because many people look at this dish and skip over it and you really shouldn’t. It’s a complete carb overload of cheap, filling deliciousness! Kushari is typically a layering of macaroni (or a similar small pasta), rice, chickpeas, and lentils topped off with caramelized onions, red tomato sauce and a homemade garlic, vinegar and chili sauce. This combo may sound a bit odd but I promise it is one of the must try things while in Egypt.
Desserts/ Sweet Tooth:
Om Ali- Egypt’s version of bread pudding if you will. Served best while hot, om ali is comprised of puff pastry, milk, sugar and topped with nuts, raisins, and coconut shavings. I started with this one because it is BEYOND delicious! In fact... now I'm craving one ::sigh::
Roz Bel Laban- This is pretty much Egypt’s variation of rice pudding so if you are typically a fan then you should like this twist on the popular dessert. I like this dessert because it’s a simple treat after an Egyptian feast. Roz Bel Laban is rice cooked in sugar milk or cream and they typically top it off with pistachio or nut shavings with a dash of cinnamon spice on top.
Sweet Goulash- Well known as baklava to many around the world, sweet goulash in Egypt is typically stuffed with sweet cream and soaked in syrup. A lot of the times it is top with shaved nuts and raisins. The tricky part is that the standard form of baklava is also widely found around Egypt, making it difficult not to fill your plate with these delicious delicacies.
Hibiscus Juice- I cannot say this strongly enough! If you have not tried fresh hibiscus juice before, please do it while here! I am STILL craving the subtle sweetness of this hot or cold beverage made from dried hibiscus flower.
Sugarcane Juice- Egyptians use this as a natural energy drink for them. Sugarcane is found all throughout the south of Egypt where temperatures and soil compositions blend perfectly for sugarcane to flourish.
Watermelon and Cantelope Juice- Widely available when melons are in season, these juices are a refreshing way to battle the Egyptian heat.
Sahlab-Can’t sleep? Well this is Egypt’s twist on the notion of warm milk at night. They even sell this in the instant variety! Sahlab is warm milk mixed with organic orchid root powder and is topped with the standard Egyptian go-to’s of cinnamon, shaved nuts and shredded coconut. It’s a bit sweet so beware of how much you have, but this Egyptian treat is so simple; yet very satisfying and flavorful! NOT available at Starbucks haha but most likely a majority of the other local coffee and tea shops : )
Egyptian Mud Coffee/ AKA Turkish Coffee- I am a coffee lover. I don’t typically do crazy fancy and sweet drinks and typically stick to a nice drip coffee. In fact, just as I like to try different beers around the world, I always love to try different coffees. However, this coffee is the STRONGEST coffee by TASTE that I have ever experienced. Since Turkish coffee is brewed in an unfiltered capacity, the sediments settle thickly at the bottom of the serving. Turkish coffee is meant to be an experience and slowly enjoyed. Due to the brewing process, the coffee never fully dissolves into the water so you are to continue to re-stir your coffee as you consume it. If you do not re-stir, then it will weaken your coffee profile as everything will sink to the bottom. . I can absolutely get by the bold taste of the top of the coffee but I draw the line at drinking the “mud” at the bottom…which some people do! Either way, this coffee is worth a sample while in the country. Just beware, the coffee is made one at a time so it can take awhile to get your order!