The pyramids and pharaohs may grab all the headlines, but Egypt’s food deserves some time in the spotlight.
Whether you are cruising gently down the Nile, or walking around the bazaars on a tailor-made trip to Cairo or Luxor, Egyptian food is a treat not to be missed. Here are five must-try dishes.
Falafel, or ta’meya
You probably know falafel as that tasty chickpea dish, but the Egyptian version uses fava beans.
This is a labour-intensive recipe – the fava beans have to be shucked from their pods and then have the grey shell removed. These are soaked overnight and then popped in a processor with coriander, parsley, onion, leek and garlic. It’s a fabulously green treat!
Spices are added – paprika, cayenne, cumin – and chickpea flour, before the mixture is rolled into balls and fried. They are utterly delicious, and traditionally served at breakfast.
It may be the land of the pharaohs but, in Egypt, kushari is king. And, if you like your meal to be carbohydrate-heavy, you too will worship at the altar of this carb dream.
Step off your luxury Nile river cruise and you’ll find kushari on street carts as well as in restaurants and, the first time you try it, you may well struggle to believe the carb count.
Take rice, macaroni, spaghetti and vermicelli and add fried onions, black lentils and hummus, then top the lot off with a thick sauce made of tomatoes, garlic, vinegar and chilli. It sounds bizarre, but it tastes divine.
Ful, pronounced ‘fool’, is a breakfast staple in Egypt. Again, it uses fava beans, soaked overnight and cooked for hours in an ‘idra’ to remove the casing (or, if that is way too much effort, liberated from a can).
There are lots of ways of preparing ful but expect it to be made with oil, lemon juice and salt. Garlic and onion are also popular additions, and it can be eaten with countless tasty accompaniments – olive oil, pastrami, butter, eggs and chilli oil, to name just a few.
Another carbohydrate hit, this time a distant cousin of bread pudding.
Umm Ali dates back to the 13th century, and translates as ‘Ali’s mother’. It is said to have originally been made for a victory celebration for the subjects of Sultan Ezz El Din Aybak, by his wife.
It features puff pastry, milk and sugar, with a topping of nuts, raisins and coconut. Served hot as a dessert, it’s worth leaving a little room in your belly for, because it’s a hearty treat.
This is another sweet treat, and a great way to warm you up if the evenings get a little cool.
It’s a thick drink, made from hot milk and orchid root powder, flavoured with delights such as cinnamon, sugar and vanilla.
Top it off with shredded coconut, a few raisins, and maybe some pistachio, or be brave and add your own favourite fruit as a topping.
You can buy sachets that you simply add to hot milk if you fancy taking this Egyptian happiness back to your luxury Nile cruise ship.
Be warned, a dull old cappuccino or a lacklustre strawberry milkshake will never, ever be acceptable again after you’ve indulged in sahlab. That’s the power of Egyptian food!