If it’s your first time in Egypt, then you’re probably already feeling a little overwhelmed, and we feel ya — it’s a lot to take in and get acclimated to. But fear not — Egyptian food is not something else that will stress you out. Au contraire, most of our local Egyptian favorites are a) extremely tasty and not frightening, b) cheap, c) nutritious and d) vegetarian and vegan friendly. Who would’ve thought?
Now because the foods below are our local favorites, you can find at least one provider literally on every block in every main Egyptian city, whether in the form of a little hole in the wall, a street cart or a more established stop-and-eat kind of joint.
Local Egyptian Foods You Need To Try
Koshary is a dish comprised of rice, lentils and macaroni, topped with chickpeas and crispy fried onions, all covered in a spiced tomato sauce. It’s always served with garlic vinegar sauce and hot sauce on the side, because each Egyptian has their own preferred garlic-vinegar-spicy ratio.
It’s extremely filling, and very high in protein and fiber due to the lentils and chickpeas.
Fuul is essentially fava beans stewed for hours over a low flame, and the most ubiquitous type of fuul (the plain cheese pizza of fuul) is mixed with some olive oil, lemon and cumin. It can be served either in a sandwich (don’t forget to try our fresh ‘baladi’ bread; a whole wheat pita bread), or in a dish where you scoop up each bite of fuul with a piece of that same baladi bread.
And just like there are dozens of different toppings you can add to your pizza, the same goes for fuul: onions, garlic, tomatoes, chili pepper, tahini, vinegar, parsley, a ton of spices, you name it. Fuul is obviously extremely nutritious due to its protein and fiber, and will fill you up for hours on end.
This dish is hard to describe because you really have to see it to understand it. It’s essentially a vegetable soup or stew eaten over rice, made out of the leaves of a plant called Jew’s Mallow or jute. The leaves are chopped finely with garlic and coriander and then cooked until it’s a soupy consistency.
It always smells amazing but what some people, non-Egyptians especially, have an issue with is the consistency. When cooked, the leaves develop almost a slimy quality to them that some people don’t like.
Molokheya is always eaten over rice, and lots of people like to add chicken, meat or some other animal protein to the mix (rabbit is actually pretty popular over here). Obviously if you want to keep it vegan, just order your molokheya sans animal protein.
5. Om Ali
Om Ali literally translates to ‘Ali’s mother’. We’re not exactly sure who the Ali in question and his mother are, but some stories say Ali’s mother was the first wife of a 13th century sultan. All righty then.
Either way, the Om Ali of modern day is essentially a bread pudding of sorts made with puff pastry, milk, cream, sugar, coconut flakes, nuts and raisins. It’s baked in the oven until the pastry soaks up the sweetened milk and the top gets crispy and brown, which is our personal favorite part. The nuts are usually a mix of hazelnuts and pistachios, and the raisins are the sweet white kind. If you see Om Ali on a dessert menu at a restaurant, we strongly urge you to try it.
A food that needs little introduction. Grilling meat on a vertical spit and slicing off pieces while it cooks first started in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, and evolved into modern-day doner kebab, shawerma, gyros and even tacos al pastor.
The Egyptian version of shawerma is either chicken or beef, which are marinated and spiced then grilled for hours.They’re sliced off the spit and served with thin grilled peppers, onions, tomatoes, parsley and either a garlic sauce (tomeya) or tahini in either a wrap or a bun (kaizer).
Most shawerma places are to-go joints on the street; you won’t find many sit-down restaurants. They’re also a very popular after-hours food in Cairo, so you’ll find a lot of the shawerma spots open until the early hours of the morning.