Food Culture in Egypt: 9 Traditional Dishes You Must Try

Spices are a huge part of food culture in Egyptian. The stand shows a number of labelled spices.
An Egyptian food market via Pixabay.
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When you picture Egypt, what comes to mind? Very likely, it is the pyramids, archaeological history, or perhaps the River Nile. Many tourists do not expect the diverse food culture in Egypt at all.

Egypt offers a fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Due to its coastal locale, the country also benefitted from prolific trading throughout history – which its culinary influences reflect. The River Nile is another aspect of Egypt’s culinary success. The River meant plenty of fertilized lands that were perfect for agricultural and farming uses.

So, we have established that visiting Egypt is good for your taste buds. However, you may wonder what dishes you should try. To help you choose, here is our comprehensive guide to food culture in Egypt.

Ful Medames

A mixture of beans and a slice of lime in a white pot.
A bowl of beans via Pexels.

Ful medames is a popular breakfast dish and one of the most popular dishes in Egyptian food culture. In fact, many consider it as Egypt’s national dish.

Predominantly consisting of soaked Egyptian fava beans, ful medames is a high-protein and well-flavored dish. Typically, parsley, cumin, lemon juice, and garlic are added to the bean mixture. Chefs then season the mix with salt, chili, and pepper before drizzling it with olive oil.

Ful medames is a versatile dish that you can eat throughout the day. Usually, it comes with warm pita bread and is eaten amongst large groups as a sociable dish to be passed around. If you want to try ful medames for yourself, it shouldn’t be difficult. You will find the dish at most food venues types, whether it is a sit-down restaurant and a nearby street food stall.

Alexandrian Liver Sandwich

A man holds a halved meat sandwich in a paper wrapper.
A meat sandwich via Pexels.

This sandwich gets its namesake from the port city of Alexandria, which sits on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. However, the sandwich has spread with its popularity and is now eaten across Egypt.

The liver meat is typically beef or lamb and comes sliced in the sandwich. Beforehand though, there is a strict marination process. The meat gets its flavorsome taste marinated in white vinegar, cumin, chili, and garlic. Then, the meat is sauteed with sliced onion and green chili – strengthening the taste again. Finally, the liver is placed inside a bread bap and drizzled heavily in tahini sauce.

Like the ful medames, the Alexandrian liver sandwich is a versatile dish, and you can eat it throughout the day. However, it is most popular as a lunchtime dish, and you will likely find it sold by city street vendors around midday.

Shawarma

A shawarma cooking on a upright spit as a chef slices meat off of the stack.
Shawarma meat via Pexels.

A classic Middle Eastern addition to food culture in Egypt, the shawarma is credited as of Lebanese origin. However, similarly to its neighboring countries, shawarmas have been adopted as a main dish in Egypt.

Shawarma meat is usually marinated beef, lamb, or chicken. Famously, the meat of choice is cooked vertically on a large, rotating spit. The meat is sliced and stacked on the spit, meaning the meat roasts on mass over a long period. When someone orders shawarma, the chef cuts the meat straight off of the spit. Usually, the shawarma comes in a bread bun with lots of tahini sauce.

Shawarmas have accrued a reputation as a street food dish. Because of this, you can eat shawarmas throughout the day. However, shawarmas are mostly eaten as a lunchtime or evening dish.

Kebab

Kebabs are a major part of street food and food culture in Egypt. This image shows a row of skewered kebabs over flames.
Kebabs via Pexels.

Another street food favorite, the kebab is mainly credited to Turkish origins. However, like the shawarma, the kebab is the main dish in Egyptian food culture.

Firstly, the kebab meat is marinated with spices such as turmeric, cardamom, and mustard. Yogurt is mixed with the spices of choice to create a thick marinating sauce – perfect for sticking to the meat and retaining flavor. The meat is pushed onto a skewer in chunks, often alternating pieces of meat with onions and tomatoes.

A kebab is served on the same skewer it cooks on, making it a quick dish to serve. Typically, the final stage is garnishing with parsley and lemon juice.

While the kebab is a street food favorite, it is also available in restaurants across Egypt. It shouldn’t be challenging to facilitate sampling an Egyptian take on the classic kebab dish.

Egyptian Fattah

A bowl of meat chunks with brown seasoning.
Meat via Pexels.

A top-tier dish within food culture in Egypt, Egyptian fattah is often seen as a celebration food and is a favorite at Eid.

The meal consists of meat, rice, and a tomato sauce, often served with pita bread. The meat is usually beef or lamb, which is cut into rough chunks then boiled. The tomato sauce is prepared with garlic, cumin, and seasoning. Finally, the meat and sauce are mixed in a frying pan to saute for flavor lightly.

Egyptian fattah is served in a large dish, with crispy, traditional pita bread to share. If you wish to try fattah in Egypt, you can expect to find the dish mostly in restaurants. As a staple dish within Egypt, Egyptian fattah won’t be too hard to find.

Mahshi  

Mahsi is a major part of food culture in Egypt. This image shows two stuffed red capsicum and three small tomatoes.
Stuffed capsicum via Pexels.

Mashi is a classic stuffed vegetable dish. While any vegetables work for this recipe, zucchini, eggplant, and capsicums are the most commonly used.

First, chefs core the vegetables of choice to create space for the filling. The filling can consist of rice, which is excellent for vegans and vegetarians, or ground beef. The mixture is then cooked in a tomato and cumin sauce, baked as one in an oven.

Many consider mahshi as originally being a Greek or Turkish dish, although it’s suggested that it was adopted into Egyptian cuisine around the 14th century. Again, mahshi is known for its versatility. You can eat mahshi as street food, side dish, snack, or even main course. When looking to experience food culture in Egypt, you should note down mahshi as a dish to try.

Molokhia

A green soup with white sauce splashes in a white soup cup.
Green soup via Pexels.

Molokhia is known for being a low-calorie, healthy dish within the food culture in Egypt. A plant-based soup, molokhia is eaten across Egypt and is a popular light meal.

The soup is named directly after the molokhia plant, which is casually known as the Egyptian spinach. The soup is primarily minced molokhia leaves mixed with beef or chicken broth. The soup is typically poured over rice or served in a bowl with pitta bread to dip.

Nutritionally, molokhia is the perfect Egyptian meal. It is very high in vitamin c, vitamin a, calcium, and phosphorous. Vegetarians and vegans can also enjoy this dish when a vegetable stock replaces beef and chicken.

If you are looking for a healthy meal or quick snack in Egypt, we’d recommend looking for a bowl (or plate) of molokhia.

Om Ali

Om ali is a popular dessert within food culture in Egypt. This breaded dessert has raisins and sits on a white plate.
Breaded dessert via Pexels.

Om ali is a classic Egyptian dessert whose name translates in English as the “Mother of Ali”. The dish is known as the dessert of Egypt – giving it a firm spot on our list of dishes to try when visiting. Legend has it that the dessert was created by the Sultan’s wife in the 13th century when she created an ultimate celebratory dish from scratch.

If you are struggling to picture om ali, think of an Egyptian-styled twist on bread pudding. The cream is a mix made using condensed milk. This cream is then flavored with cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla to give it a sweet, spiced taste. Either bread or pastry is then soaked with the cream as it is poured over the base.

To finish, a selection of nuts, such as pistachios and almonds, are sprinkled over the dessert. Other toppings like raisins and seeds are sometimes also used. Nowadays, some people also choose to use croissants for the bread base, as it creates a more solid, crisp texture.

If you want to try om ali, you should find the dessert relatively easily when visiting Egypt.

Tamiya

Tamiya are a major part of food culture in Egypt. This image shows a selection of rounded falafel-like balls in a round dish.
Tamiya via Pexels.

Tamiya is a twist on the falafel we all know and love. Vegetarian and vegan friendly, it is a great dish for any time of the day or any purpose. Tamiya can be eaten as a side, snack or a main course. You will also find tamiya at both street food stalls and restaurants – an ode to its prominence within food culture in Egypt.

In Egypt, the falafel mixture consists of fava beans and a select number of herbs. The main distinction between standard falafel and Egyptian falafel is the use of fava beans, not chickpeas. Fava beans are hugely popular and are grown abundantly across Egypt. Fava beans create a lighter, moister texture to alternative recipes – perhaps explaining the popularity of tamiya across Egypt. Tamiya is also much more green on the inside than a standard falafel interior, which is a tan color. Parsley and coriander are commonly used in tamiya, creating a strong flavor and green color.

Tamiya is served as little balls, typically from street vendors and kiosks. If you wish to try some in Egypt, it should not be difficult to track them down.

What is the traditional food in Egypt?

While Egypt has many foods that are considered traditional, we suggest om ali as the pinnacle of traditional Egyptian food.

Om ali is a highly traditional Egyptian dessert. It is also quintessentially Egyptian since it was created in Egypt by the Sultan’s wife. The dish’s combination of history and popularity highlights it as a main traditional food in food culture in Egypt.

What is a typical breakfast in Egypt?

Ful medames is a typical breakfast meal in Egypt. However, bread, cheese, eggs, and olives, are all popular individual foods to consume at breakfast.

What makes food in Egypt unique?

Food in Egypt is unique because of its geographical and trading influences. Aspects such as its history as a trading country and the fertile lands around the River Nile have created a unique food culture in Egypt.

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Eibhlis Gale – Coleman is a freelance writer from the UK who is driven by a fierce love of adventure, unique cultural experiences, native animals, and good coffee. She is a passionate traveller and has explored Europe, Southeast Asia, North Africa, and Australia.