The cuisine in Egypt combines elements from across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Greece and France, reflecting the diverse influences that have shape her history. The influences vary across the country. Mediterranean influence is more apparent in Alexandria, while in Aswan the influence of Nubian culture and Sudan is more prominent.
There is a wide variety of offerings available ranging from the cheap food carts and street food that serve Egypt’s working class to fancy restaurants that cater solely to tourists and the upper class.
In the streets of any Egyptian street it is easy to find an assortment of small cafes and food carts that serve cheap meals for as little as a 2 or 3 LE. The staples of the Egyptian diet, fuul, taamiya, and bread (‘aish, which means both ‘bread’ and ‘life’ in Egyptian Arabic), are easy to find. Cafes and small restaurants make several other type of typical Egyptian fare easy to find at affordable prices.
Bread is eaten with all meals and comes as two types of flat bread: ‘aish baladi, prepared from coarse whole wheat flour, and ‘aish shamsi, cooked with finer white flour.
Fuul is slow cooked, mashed fava bean, often eaten as a satisfying first meal in the form of sandwiches made with flat bread, tomatoes, onions, spices, and chopped, hard-boiled eggs.
Taamiya is the Egyptian word for falafel, the fried patties of spices and chickpeas that are popular throughout the Middle East. It is usually served in sandwiches with tomatoes, pickles, and tahina (sauce made from sesame paste).
Koshary is another traditional Egyptian staple that is available in simple restaurants identifiable by the large vats of pasta and rice seen in the windows. It consists of pasta, rice, chickpeas, lentils, and fried onions topped with a tomato-garlic sauce. Even a large portion only costs about 6 LE.
Fiteer is something like a cross between a pizza and pancakes. The soft-layered pastry is prepared with a wide variety of toppings ranging from cheese and vegetables to sugar or honey. Ranging from 1 LE up to around 30 LE, depending on the size and toppings.
Shawarma is chopped chicken or lamb that is usually cooked on brazers visible from the street. Served on several types of bread, this is a delicious (and superior) version of the doner kebabs that are widely available in most European cities. Prices between 5 and 20 LE depending on size.
For small snacks, there are also nut and sweet shops (ma’la) available on most major streets. They offer a variety of seeds and nuts, as well as candies, chocolate, and drinks. Fruit is also excellent in Egypt. You will see the fruit of the season on sale on the side of the roads. It is generally very cheap, except for apple, which are imported.
Food is small restaurants is generally safe to eat. Food carts can be more suspect and we recommend never eating any food that is not hot or prepared for your order.
Beyond the basic Egyptian staples, a wide variety of food is available in more expensive restaurants that cater to the middle class and tourists.
Classic Egyptian offering in restaurants includes kofta or kebab with an assortment of salads and dips (hummus, tahina, babaganoug, etc...) or grilled chicken. Stuffed pigeon is also a popular dish. The small birds are stuff with spiced rice or wheat. Mahshee, vegetables or vine leaves stuffed with rice, is also a popular appetizer along with other mezze (plates of olives or potatoes and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways). A meal can be expected to cost between 30 and 60 LE a person.
In Cairo’s wealthier neighborhoods, there are also a variety of upscale restaurants that serve different cuisines from around the world. These restaurants tend to be more expensive and the prices can reach over 100 LE a person.
Fish and seafood restaurants are also popular, especially in Alexandria, Aswan, and on the coast, where there is more ready access to the sea or Lake Nasser. Nile perch, snapper, sea bass, squid or shrimp will usually be sold fresh out of an icebox by the kilo and then grilled or fried.
Tea (shai) is the national drink of Egypt. Invitations to sit and drink tea together are an important part of the culture. Egyptians generally drink tea sweetened with large amount of sugar.
Turkish style coffee (ahwa) is also very popular. Tea and coffee are usually offered together at the countless small cafes that are scattered along any Egyptian street, called ahwa. These cafes also serve shisha, which is popular throughout Egypt. Traditionally, these places were reserved for men, but this custom has loosened in recent decades and it is not uncommon to see women in these cafes now.
Fresh juice shops are a delightful staple of every Egyptian city. Egypt produces a large amount of fruit and the people have quite a taste for fresh juice. These shops are found all over the place, marked by the displays of in-season fruit hanging in front of them. The juice is a refreshing treat at any time, but especially during the heat of the summer. Depending on the season, the juices available may include orange (bortu’an), banana (moz), mango (manga), strawberry (farawla) and several others. The juice from crushed sugar cane (‘asab) is also very popular, catering to the Egyptian sweet tooth.
Alcohol is not widely consumed openly given the predominance of Islam in Egypt, but it is not difficult to find. Beer is the most popular beverage and it can easily be purchased in stores scattered around the cities. Stella is the most popular brand, a light lager that sells for 6.50 LE in stores and between 10 and 40 LE at bars, depending on how nice they are. There are also Egyptian wines available, produced at a winery near Alexandria. Egyptian spirits are also available, but they are generally to be avoided. Buy duty free on the way into the country. There is a 3 bottle liquor allowance upon arrival.
In smaller towns, it may be more difficult to find a shop selling beer and other alcoholic drinks, especially in more conservative places like the oases of the Western Desert. Drinking in public and public drunkenness are not socially acceptable and should be avoided.