Egyptian cuisine

Egyptian cuisine
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Egyptian cuisine consists of the local culinary traditions of Egypt. Egyptian cuisine makes heavy use of legumes and vegetables, as Egypt's rich Nile Valley and Delta produce large quantities of high-quality crops.


History and characteristics

Ful Medames, one of Egypt's national dishes, served with sliced eggs and vegetables.
Location of Egypt

Egyptian cuisine's history goes back to Ancient Egypt. Archaeological excavations have found that workers on the Great Pyramids of Giza were paid in bread, beer, and onions, apparently their customary diet as peasants in the Egyptian countryside. Dental analysis of occasional desiccated loaves found in tombs confirm this, in addition to indicating that ancient Egyptian bread was made with flour from emmer wheat. Though beer disappeared as a mainstay of Egyptian life following the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the year 654,[citation needed][dubious ] onions remain the primary vegetable for flavoring and nutrition in Egyptian food. Beans were also a primary source of protein for the mass of the Egyptian populace, as they remain today.

Egyptian cuisine is notably conducive to vegetarian diets, as it relies heavily on vegetable dishes. Though food in Alexandria and the coasts of Egypt tends to use a great deal of fish and other seafood, for the most part Egyptian cuisine is based on foods that grow out of the ground. Meat has been very expensive for most Egyptians throughout history, and a great deal of vegetarian dishes have developed to work around this economic reality.


Bread forms the backbone of Egyptian cuisine. Bread is consumed at almost all Egyptian meals; a working-class or rural Egyptian meal might consist of little more than bread and beans. The local bread is a form of hearty, thick, glutenous pita bread called Eish Masri or Eish Balad (Egyptian Arabic: عيش [ʕeːʃ]; Modern Standard Arabic: ʿayš) rather than the Arabic خبز ḫubz. The word "[ʕeːʃ]" comes from the Semitic root ع-ي-ش ʕ-I-Š with the meaning "to live, be alive."[1] The word ʿayš itself has the meaning of "life, way of living...; livelihood, subsistence" in Modern Standard and Classical Arabic; folklore holds that this synonymity indicates the centrality of bread to Egyptian life.[1] In modern Egypt, the government subsidizes bread, dating back to a Nasser-era policy. In 2008, a major food crisis caused ever-longer bread lines at government-subsidized bakeries where there would normally be none; occasional fights broke out over bread, leading to fear of rioting.[2] Egyptian dissidents and outside observers of the former National Democratic Party regime frequently criticized the bread subsidy as an attempt to buy off the Egyptian urban working classes in order to encourage acceptance of the authoritarian system; nevertheless, the subsidy has continued after the 2011 Revolution.

On a culinary level, bread is most commonly used as an edible utensil besides providing the carbohydrate and much of the protein in the Egyptian diet. Egyptians use bread to scoop up food, sauces, and dips and to wrap kebabs, falafel, and the like in the manner of sandwiches. Most pita breads are baked at high temperatures (450°F or 232°C), causing the flattened rounds of dough to puff up dramatically. When removed from the oven, the layers of baked dough remain separated inside the deflated pita, which allows the bread to be opened into pockets, creating a space for use in various dishes.

Aish Merahrah [ʕeːʃ meˈɾɑħrɑħ] is an Egyptian flat bread made with 5-10% ground fenugreek seeds and maize. It is part of the traditional diet of the Egyptian countryside, prepared locally in village homes. The loaves are flat and wide, and usually about 50 cm in diameter. The bread is made of maize flour that has been made into a soft dough that is fermented overnight with a sourdough starter, shaped into round loaves that are then allowed to rise or "proof" for 30 minutes before being flattened into round disks, which are then baked. They can be kept for days in an airtight container. The addition of fenugreek seeds increases the protein content, storage length and digestibility of the bread; on the other hand, it causes the eater to exude a distinctive odor in his or her sweat, which is occasionally mocked by more urban Egyptians.


Egyptian cuisine is characterized by dishes such as Ful Medames, Koshari, rice-stuffed pigeon, 'Molokheyya, and Fetir Meshaltet. Egyptian cuisine also shares similarities with food of the Eastern Mediterranean region, such as rice-stuffed vegetables, grape leaves, Shawerma, Kebab, Falafel (طعمية, [tˤɑʕˈmejːɑ]), Baba Ghannoug (بابا غنوج, [ˈbɑːbɑ ɣænˈnuːɡ]), and baklava (Egyptian Arabic: [bæʔˈlæːwæ]).

Some Egyptians consider Koshari - a mixture of rice, lentils, and macaroni - to be the national dish. In addition, Ful Medames (mashed fava beans) is one of the most popular dishes. Fava bean is also used in making falafel (also known as "ta`meyya"), which originated in Egypt and spread to other parts of the Middle East.

Kushari served at an Egyptian restaurant in Cairo.
Fried falafel (ta`meyya)

Ancient Egyptians are known to have used a lot of garlic and onion in their everyday dishes. Fresh mashed garlic with other herbs is used in spicy tomato salad and is also stuffed in boiled or baked aubergines (eggplant). Garlic fried with coriander is added to Mulukhiyya (IPA: [moloˈxejːæ]), a popular green soup made from finely chopped jute leaves, sometimes with chicken or rabbit. Fried onions can be also added to Koshari.

Dish Definition
Baba Ghannoug A condiment made with eggplants, chickpeas, lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley, cumin and oil.
Du'aah A dry mixture of chopped nuts, seeds, Middle Eastern spices, and flavors.
Kabab (IPA: [kæˈbæːb]) Usually of lamb meat, chops and minced meat on skewers grilled on charcoal.
Kebda (IPA: [ˈkebdæ]) Fried liver, with seasonings. It is seen as something of an Alexandrine specialty, where it is known as Kibda Iskindiraniyya.
Keshk (IPA: [keʃk]) A milk or yogurt savory pudding, made with flour, sometimes seasoned with fried onions, chicken broth, and/or boiled chicken.
Maḥshi (IPA: [ˈmæħʃi]) A stuffing of rice, seasoned with herbs and spices, into vegetables like green peppers, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, or cabbage leaves. The stuffed vegetable is then placed in a pot and topped with tomato sauce and lemon or lime.
Maḥshi ḥamām (IPA: [ˈmæħʃi ħæˈmæːm]) Pigeon stuffed with rice or wheat and herbs, then roasted or grilled.
Maḥshi waraa enab (IPA: [ˈmæħʃi ˈwæɾæʔ ˈʕenæb]) Grape leaves stuffed with a rice mixture that can be made either with sauteed ground beef or vegetarian style. The rice is seasoned with crushed red tomatoes, onion, parsley, dill, salt, pepper and Egyptian spices. This mixture is then stuffed and rolled into an individual grape leaf, placed in a pot and topped with tomato sauce and lemon or lime.
Mesa'a`ah (IPA: [mesæʔˈʔæʕæ]) Sliced eggplants that are lightly grilled and placed in a flat pan with sliced onions, green peppers, and jalapeños. It is then covered with a red sauce made of tomato paste and Egyptian spices. This pan is cooked in the oven for 30–40 minutes at 350 degrees.
Molokheyyah (IPA: [moloˈxejːæ]) Green soup prepared in various styles, wherein the mallow[disambiguation needed ] leaves are very finely chopped, with ingredients such as garlic and coriander added to give it a characteristic aromatic taste.
Roz Meaammar (IPA: [ɾozze m(e)ˈʕɑmːɑɾ]) A rice dish made by adding milk (and frequently butter or cream) and chicken stock or broth to cooked rice and subsequently baking it in an oven. Frequently substituted for plain white rice at festive occasions and large family meals.
Shawerma (IPA: [ʃæˈweɾmæ]) A popular sandwich of shredded beef, lamb or chicken meat, usually rolled in pita bread with Tahina sauce. It is a relatively recent import from Levantine cuisine, possibly brought by Lebanese immigrants, but it has been incorporated into the Egyptian kitchen.
Tehina IPA: [tˤeˈħiːnɑ]) sesame paste dip or spread made of sesame tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Typically served with pita bread.
Tehina salad (IPA: [ˈsˤɑlɑtˤet tˤeˈħiːnet]) a condiment made with sesame butter, chickpeas, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsley, cumin and olive oil.
Bram rice Rice made with milk in a special kind of plate, usually stuffed with chicken liver
Kobeiba (IPA: [koˈbeːbæ]) Kofta with bulghur wheat and meat
Macaroni béchamel An Egyptian variant of the Greek pastitsio, typically incorporating Gebna Rūmī (Egyptian Sardo or Pecorino cheese)
Shakshouka (IPA: [ʃækˈʃuːkæ]) Eggs with tomato sauce and vegetables. An import from Moroccan cuisine, it has since become Egyptianized.
Samak mashwy (IPA: [ˈsæmæk ˈmæʃwi]) Grilled fish. Like most fish dishes, a specialty of Alexandria.
Samak makly (IPA: [ˈsæmæk ˈmæʔli]) Fried fish. Again, a specialty of Alexandria.
Torly A tray of baked squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, and tomato sauce
Calamari Squid, fried and served with tartar sauce, or grilled.
A slice of Egyptian Macaroni Béchamel
  • Macarona béchamel, also known as "pastitsio" in Greece, it consists of a mixture of penne macaroni and béchamel sauce, and usually one or two layers of cooked spiced meat with onions.
  • Beeftek (Egyptian Arabic: [bofˈteːk]; veal schnitzel; a French import)
  • Kersha (Egyptian Arabic: [ˈkeɾʃæ]; Sheep gelatin with vegetables).
  • Bird Tongue (Orzo) Noodle Soup.
  • Besara (بسارة, [beˈsɑːɾɑ]).
  • Duck.
  • Duqqa.
  • Eggs with basterma.
  • Falafel.
  • Ferakh panée (فراخ پانيه; [feˈɾæːx bæˈneː, -pæ, -pɑ]; “chiken schnitzel”)
  • Feseekh (فسيخ; [feˈsiːx]; salted or fermented mullet, generally eaten on the spring festival of Sham El Nessim, which falls on Eastern Easter Monday).
  • Fitīr: Pies made of thin dough with liberal quantities of samnah. Made with fillings both savory (e.g. cheese, suguq) and sweet (e.g. qishta, jam). Certain types of restaurants specialize in fitir, although since at least the early 2000s they also generally make pizza.
  • Ful medames (IPA: [fuːl meˈdæmːes]).
  • Goose.
  • Koshari (IPA: [ˈkoʃæɾi]).
  • Lentil Soup.
  • Chicken liver
  • Beef liver
  • Maḥshi (IPA: [ˈmæħʃi]; grape leaves dolma, cabbage, green pepper, eggplant, squash, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, onions).
  • Messaqa'a (IPA: [mesæʔˈʔæʕæ].
  • Molokheyya (IPA: [moloˈxejːæ]) (Egyptian style), with rabbits, chicken or other type of meat.
  • Pigeon (حمام, [ħæˈmæːm]) stuffed with rice.
  • Shish taouk (IPA: [ʃiːʃ tˤɑˈwuːʔ]); a relatively recent import from the Levant.
  • Sayyadeyah (IPA: [sˤɑjːɑˈdejːɑ]).
  • Ta'meyya (طعمية, [tˤɑʕˈmejːɑ]) (Falafel).
  • White (feta) cheese & tomato salad with olive oil and garlic.
  • Tagin - A typical food found all over North Africa. Lamb, beef, chickpeas, artichokes, okra, and broad beans were all popular Egyptian tagin items. [3]
  • Tehina (IPA: [tˤeħiːnɑ])
  • Octopus (akhtaboot IPA: [ɑxˤtɑˈbuːtˤ]) (grilled).
  • Mussels (fried and served with tartar sauce or stuffed with rice filling).
  • Shrimp (gambari IPA: [ɡæmˈbæɾi]) (salad, grilled or cooked with vegetables in güveç-casserole).
  • Fattah Masryah (IPA: [ˈfætːæ mɑsˤˈɾejːɑ]).
  • Bamyah,"beram bamyah" (IPA: [ˈbæmjæ]).
  • [kæˈwæːɾeʕ we memˈbɑːr, mom-].
  • Dukkah


Basbousa topped with walnut

Egyptian desserts are not so different from other Eastern Mediterranean desserts. Basbousa (IPA: [bæsˈbuːsæ]), sometimes called Harissa (in Morocco and Alexandria), is a spicy dish made from semolina and is soaked in a sugar syrup. It is usually topped with almonds and traditionally cut vertically into pieces so that each piece resembles a diamond shape. Baklava (Egyptian Arabic: [bæʔˈlæːwæ]) is a sweet dish made from many layers of phyllo pastry, an assortment of nuts, and soaked in a sweet syrup. Eish el-Saraya[4] Fatir are pancakes (filo dough) stuffed with everything from eggs to apricots or fruit of choice. Polvorón (Egyptian Arabic: غوريبة, IPA: [ɣoɾɑjˈjedbæ]) is a common dish in all of North Africa. It is a sweet dish similar to kahk (كحك, [kæħk]) but much thinner. It is like shortbread and is usually topped with roasted almonds.

Kahk is a traditional sweet dish served most commonly during Breakfast Feast (عيد الفطر, [ʕiːd el ˈfetˤɾ]) in Egypt. It is a shortbread biscuit covered with icing sugar, which may be stuffed with dates, walnuts, or agameya (عجمية, [ʕæɡæˈmejːæ]) (like Turkish-delight) or just served plain. Kunāfah (IPA: [koˈnæːfæ]) is a dish of batter "fingers" fried on a hot grill and stuffed with nuts (usually pistachios), meats, heavy whipped cream or sweets. Luqmat al-Qadi (IPA: [ˈloʔmet el ˈʔɑːdi]) literally translates to "The Judge's Bite". They are small, round donuts which are crunchy on the outside and soft and syrupy on the inside. They may be served with dusted cinnamon and powdered sugar. Qatayef (IPA: [ʔɑˈtˤɑːjef]) is a dessert reserved for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, a sort of sweet crepe filled with cheese or nuts. Roz be laban (IPA: [ˈɾozz‿eb ˈlæbæn], “rice pudding”) is made with short grain white rice, full-cream milk, sugar, and vanilla. It may be served dusted with cinnamon. Umm Ali (ام على, [omme ˈʕæli]), a national dish of Egypt, is a raisin cake soaked in milk and served hot.

Other desserts include:

  • Feteer meshaltet[5] (فطير مشلتت, [feˈtˤiːɾ meˈʃæltet], “meshaltet pie”)
  • Couscous Egyptian style.
  • Halawa (حلاوة, [ħæˈlæːwæ]).
  • Honey and coconut pie.
  • Ladida (لديدة, [læˈdiːdæ]).
  • Malban (ملبن, [ˈmælbæn], Turkish Delight)
  • Mehalabeyya (مهلبية, [mehælːæˈbejːæ, mæ-]).
  • Melabbes (ملبس, [meˈlæbːes]).


Traditional apple cakes are seasoned with various spices such as nutmeg or cinnamon, which provide additional flavour. Upon the addition of spices the batter can also be accompanied by crushed nuts, the most popular being walnuts and almonds. Sponge cake is a cake based on flour (usually wheat flour), sugar, and eggs, sometimes leavened with baking powder, that derives its structure from an egg foam into which the other ingredients are folded Vanilla slice (ميل فى, [mel feːj, mil-, -foːj] or [mil fœj], from French: Mille-feuille) is a pastry made of several layers of puff pastry alternating with a sweet filling, typically pastry cream, but sometimes whipped cream, or jam. It is usually glazed with icing or fondant in alternating white and brown (chocolate) strips, and combed.

Religious varieties

Although Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims in Egypt, it is usually when Egyptians pay a lot of attention to food in variety and richness, since breaking the fast is a family affair, often with entire extended families meeting at the table just after sunset. There are several special desserts almost exclusive to Ramadan such as Kunāfah and Qatayef (كنافة و قطايف, [koˈnæːfæ w(e).ʔɑˈtˤɑːjef]). In this month, many Egyptians will make a special table for the poor or passers-by, usually in a tent in the street, called Ma'edet Rahman (Arabic: مائدة رحمن‎, Egyptian Arabic: [mæˈʔedet ɾɑˈħmɑːn]) which translates literally as Table of (God) the Gracious (Merciful). These may be fairly simple or quite lavish, depending on the wealth and ostentation of the provider (dancer and actress Fifi Abdou's Ma'edah is famous for its unusual richness to the point where jokes about it are common).

Observant Copts (Egypt's Oriental Orthodox Christian population) observe fasting periods according to the Coptic Calendar that practically extend to more than two-thirds of the year. The Coptic diet for fasting is essentially vegan. During this fasting, Copts will usually eat vegetables and legumes fried in oil as they avoid meat, chicken, and dairy products including butter.


Tea (شاى, [ʃæːj]) is the national drink in Egypt, followed only distantly by Egyptian coffee. Egyptian tea is uniformly black and sweet, usually not served with milk, and generally in a glass. Tea packed and sold in Egypt is almost exclusively imported from Kenya and Sri Lanka. The Egyptian government considers tea a strategic crop[citation needed] and runs large tea plantations in Kenya. Egyptian tea comes in two varieties, Koshary and Saiidi.

Koshary tea (شاى كشرى, [ʃæːj ˈkoʃæɾi]), popular in Lower (Northern) Egypt, is prepared using the traditional method of steeping black tea in boiled water and letting it sit for a few minutes. It is almost always sweetened with cane sugar and is often flavored with fresh mint leaves. Adding milk is also common. Koshary tea is usually light, with less than a half teaspoonful of tea per cup considered to be near the high end.

Saiidi tea (شاى صعيدى, [ʃæːj seˈʕiːdi]) is common in Upper (Southern) Egypt. It is prepared by boiling black tea with water for as long as 5 minutes over a strong flame. Saiidi tea is extremely heavy, with 2 teaspoonfuls of tea per cup being the norm. It is sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar (a necessity since the formula and method yield a very bitter tea). Saiidi tea is often black even in liquid form.

Tea is a vital part of daily life and folk etiquette in Egypt. Tea typically accompanies breakfast in most households, and drinking tea after lunch is a common practice. Visiting another person's household, regardless of socioeconomic level or the purpose of the visit, entails a compulsory cup of tea; similar hospitality might be required for a business visit to the private office of someone wealthy enough to maintain one, depending on the nature of the business. A common nickname for tea in Egypt is "duty" (pronounced in Arabic as "wa-jeb" or "wa-geb"), as serving tea to a visitor is considered a duty, while anything beyond is a nicety.

Green tea is a recent arrival to Egypt (only in the late 1990s did green tea become affordable) and is highly unpopular. This contrasts with certain parts of the Maghreb and Sahara, where gunpowder tea has traditionally been used to make Touareg tea and the tea for the Moroccan tea ceremony.

Besides true tea, tisanes (herbal teas) are also often served at the Egyptian teahouses. Karkadeh (English: /ˈkɑrkədeɪ/; Egyptian Arabic: [kæɾkæˈdeː], كركديه‎), a tea of dried hibiscus sepals is particularly popular, as it is in other parts of North Africa. It is generally served extremely sweet and cold but may also be served hot. This drink is said to have been a preferred drink of the pharaohs. In Egypt and Sudan, wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea. On a typical street in downtown Cairo, one can find many vendors and open-air cafés selling the drink. In Egypt, karkadeh is used as a means to lower blood pressure when consumed in high amounts. Tisanes of mint, cinnamon, dried ginger, and anise are also commonly found, as is sahlab. Most of these tisanes are considered to have medicinal properties, as well; particularly common is a tisane of hot lemonade in which mint leaves have been steeped and sweetened with honey, used to combat mild sore throat.

Coffee (قهوة, Egyptian Arabic: [ˈʔæhwæ], Saidi Arabic: gahwah) is considered a part of the traditional welcome in Egypt. It is usually prepared in a small coffee pot, which is called dalla (دلة) or kanakah [ˈkænækæ] (كنكه) in Egypt. It is served in a small cup made for coffee called (فنجان, Egyptian Arabic: [fenˈɡæːn]; Sa'idi: fenjān).

In Egypt, sugar cane juice is called "aseer asab" and is an incredibly popular drink served by almost all fruit juice vendors, who can be found abundantly in most cities.

Licorice teas and carob juice drinks are traditionally drunk during the Islamic month of Ramadan, as is qamar ad-din, a thick drink made by reconstituting sheets of dried apricot with water. The sheets themselves are often consumed as candy.

A sour, chilled drink made from tamarind is popular during the summer.[which?]

See also


  1. ^ a b Wehr, Hans (1994) [1979]. J. Milton Cowan. ed. Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Urbana, Illinois: Spoken Language Services, Inc.. ISBN 0879500034. 
  2. ^ Slackman, Michael (14 April 2008). "A City Where You Can’t Hear Yourself Scream". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2008. 
  3. ^ Berriedale-Johnson, Michelle. Food Fit for Pharohs. An Ancient Egyptian Cookbook. British Museum Press; London, 2008. Pages 40-43.
  4. ^ Eish El-Saraya Recipe
  5. ^ Feteer Meshaltet Recipe


  • Balkwill, Richard. (1994). Food & feasts in ancient Egypt. New York: New Discovery.

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