Like any crossroads culture, Egyptian cuisine has picked and chosen those ingredients and food that grow best as well as best meet the flavor and nutritional needs of their people. Bridging Africa and Asia as it does, Egypt has a lot from which to choose.
Hotels we have selected will offer meals well prepared of various styles . To eat “real,” you have to eat “street.” And Egypt is a culinary adventure. “Eating street” as we define it, doesn’t confine itself to standup meals from cart vendors — it’s more the everyday cuisine of the everyday person in the street. These everyday Egyptians eat well. Meats are largely grilled or roasted, whole or minced, with lamb and chicken predominating and sometimes pidgeon. You see a lot of cows but they seem to serve more as farm equipment than beef.
The shish kabob style is extremely popular and is served either with or without the skewers but always with traditional accompaniments: greens and tomato salad, tahini sauce and pita bread. So you can stuff your own sandwich if you want. Bread is always whole wheat pita, coated with coarse ground wheat, round, fragrant and sheer heaven when hot from the oven. Often pita plus a dipping sauce, tahini, hummus or babaganoush, makes a fast food meal and a healthy, delicious one at that.
Egyptians have embraced the tomato and we never had one that wasn’t bursting with color and flavor. The traditional and ubiquitous salad is chopped tomato, coriander, mint, little hot green peppers (not jalapenos but close) and onions, coated with garlic oil. It’s great for digestion but death on the breath. Bring mints. Other veggies that grow well and show up all the time include beans, mostly chick pea and fava, which are eaten stewed for breakfast, hearty stewed for lunch and dinner and ground and pasted for tahini and hummus with great amounts of garlic.
Eggplant, mashed as the main ingredient in babaganoush, is also used in Egyptian moussaka with a mild white cheese. Okra, cabbage, cauliflower and potatoes show up frequently, stewed with tomatoes and garlic. Rice is a universal constant and was consistently wonderful, even for breakfast! The grains mix short basmati-like rice with longer brown, nutty tasting rice and we wish we could have found it to bring back.
Grilled pigeon is the acclaimed delicacy and like any small game bird is long on flavor but short on ease of eating. Fish of various sorts is common.
Egyptian bazaars display staggering amounts, sculptured into colorful spice pyramids, from yellows of saffron and ochres of curries to deep blues of powdered indigo dye. Food is usually spices but not spicy. Cumin and salt are found on restaurant tables.
Middle Eastern desserts are nice but modest in variety; they do bake but, to the Western taste, figs, date and nut fillings in largely unsweetened dough isn’t a dessert! Better to eat the fresh figs, dates (of which there must be 200 different types and grades), oranges and pomegranates without baked modifications. Speaking of fruit, juice bars abound in the streets and fresh squeezed oranges sweetened with cut sugar cane is heaven in a hot climate.
Beverages? Alcohol is available on the Nile Cruises and in hotels but not in the street or at most restaurats. There is though a local beer or two and recently we came across Egyptian wine – called of course “Obilisk”!