Charlotte Winter discovers traditional food from Egypt on a deep dive into the restaurants and street food spots that make this a true gournamd’s destination

The Middle East is well-known for its food scene, with Lebanese food typically taking centre stage. However, there is much to be said about traditional food from Egypt, a cuisine with rich roots, which is often overlooked.

Cairo is arguably one of the best places in Egypt for sampling the country’s incredible signature dishes, with a multitude of vibrant restaurants, bustling cafes and food stalls serving up fabulous flavours. A couple of our favourite restaurants in Cairo include Abou El Sid, a stylish restaurant fusing traditional Egyptian cuisine with a modern boutique style, and Nagulb Mahfouz Café in Khan El Khalili, an atmospheric spot named after Egypt’s most famous novelist. Traditional Egyptian dishes that can be enjoyed here include tasty mezze (baba ghanoush, hummus and duqqa), eish baladi (delicious, fluffy pita breads) and stuffed pigeon.

 

Traditional food from Egypt,

 

Elsewhere in Egypt, Al Marsam in Luxor is well-worth a visit after a busy morning of exploring the West Bank. There is no fixed menu; instead, guests are served a variety of delicious dishes, all of which are made using locally sourced produce or fruit and vegetables from the hotel garden. Make sure to grab a table in the lower part of the terrace, which boasts views across the grounds where the resident camels roam. Sofra Restaurant and Café is also a great choice if you’re in Luxor’s East Bank, particularly for dinner as the restaurant has a moody, sensory vibe.

Spending time in Aswan? We recommend a visit to Makka, a local culinary gem that offers a taste of traditional Egyptian cuisine, or for a more refined experience, we can arrange dinner at The Old Cataract Hotel’s 1902 restaurant. Set in an elegant dining room, it boasts a fabulous menu of Egyptian classics with a contemporary twist.

 

Makka Aswan a restaurant to try traditional food from Egypt

 

Restaurants aside, a personal highlight from a recent visit to Egypt was a street food tour in Downtown Cairo, hosted by a passionate local foodie. We spent three exciting hours meandering the streets in search of some of the city’s best and most-loved dishes; a lot of the places she led us to were stalls or restaurants that, without a guide, I certainly wouldn’t have considered visiting. It was only through exploring Cairo with a true local that I was able to escape the tourist traps and witness city life as it really is.

 

Cairo food

 

Our first stop was a noodle shop where we perched at a table on the side of the road to try koshari, Egypt’s national dish. A comforting blend of macaroni, spaghetti, vermicelli, lentils, rice, whole hummus and fried hummus, this sensational mixture is then topped off with tomato sauce and a special garlic-vinegar dressing called da’ah. This was accompanied by sougok, an Egyptian beef sausage, and muyyet salata (also called ‘whiskey’), which is served in street food eateries as a palate cleanser.

 

Try Koshari, a traditional dish from Egypt

 

Other stops included a hole-in-the-wall where we tried delicious, freshly cooked taamiya, or Egyptian falafel, which is made using fava beans rather than chickpeas, and a local roastery serving Arabic coffee, which is very lightly roasted and ground with cardamom. Special mention must go to a fabulous dessert shop, selling all sorts of Middle Eastern sweet treats, including kunafa, basbousa and zalabya. Staples of Egyptian cuisine for hundreds of years (and increasingly popular during celebrations and Ramadan), these are almost always drenched in sugar syrup and are wonderfully sticky and moreish.

Our final stop of the Cairo food tour was Carlton Roof Gardens, a slick rooftop bar where we enjoyed a cold class of Egyptian Stella (not to be confused with Stella Artois), perfect for a hot and sultry evening overlooking the bright lights and noise of the bustling city below.

 

Egyptian Stella beer at Cairo's Carlton Roof Garden

 

Given the history, quality and downright deliciousness of Egyptian cuisine, it’s surprising that it has yet to receive international attention it deserves – particularly when compared to its legendary Lebanese cousin. However, for those looking to try something different and step out of their comfort zone, Egypt is a foodie’s paradise.

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Melissa Kirby
Karen Chapman
Charlotte Winter

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