Unfortunately, the majority of restaurants that we ate at in Egypt were “tourist restaurants,” even in the desert. It is very difficult to get off the beaten path unless you are traveling on your own and even then, you’ll probably discover the restaurants/cafes are serving the exact same menu. At least we thought it was “unfortunate” at the time but then discovered that we were being served traditional Egyptian cuisine in a clean environment. Let’s change “unfortunately” to fortunately especially since neither one of us ever became ill (more about that below). Egyptian cuisine has been influenced by its neighbors. Turkey, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Syria until food throughout this part of the world bears a strong resemblance to each other.
After thousands of years, rice, aish baladi (pita-like bread), vegetables and cooked ful (cooked fava beans) remain staples in the Egyptian diet. Add some kebabs, tahini and desert to this mixture and you have eaten traditional Egyptian food.
- Ful/foo (a fava bean paste) and Tahini (sesame paste) are served as appetizer/starters. Tear off a hunk of bread, dip and eat;
- Molokheya can be served as a thick green soup made from vegetables or also used to dip bread in. We were served, and ate Molokheya, in Bahariya Oasis by dipping bread in it;
- Kofta (spicy, minced lamb) and Kebabs (grilled lamp pieces) are usually served on a skewer as a brouchette;
- Om ali is a boiled milk and pastry dessert with nuts, coconut and raisins that reminded me of a traditional Jewish “noodle kugel”;
- Basbousa is a small cake made with semolina flour, sugar and honey;
- An Egyptian style of Baklava made with layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts, syrup or honey. Give me sweets and I’m a happy camper; and
- The always wonderful pita-style bread.
ex-Marine and I could have participated in a blindfolded taste test and said, “Oh, we’re in Greece…in Turkey…back home in America” with the only difference sometimes being the names of the foods. All good and we were quite happy with Egyptian food.
Health in Egypt. A recent survey showed that almost two-thirds of all visitors to Egypt suffer from health problems. Not necessarily the food, it could be dehydration or sunstroke. Drink lots of bottled water and don’t even think of letting one drop of tap water touch your lips unless you would like to mimic the “turpentine” enema given to mummies that dissolved internal organs. Watch the salads and anything uncooked.
The Egyptian tour agents are vigilant about protecting their client’s health and that is why we ate every meal in a “tourist restaurant.” Memphis tours absolutely refused to take us to any restaurant that didn’t have stringent rules for cleanliness and it worked for us. Rely on your guides and ask them before tucking into a food that may be questionable. Err on the side of caution and you’ll have a happy and healthy experience in Egypt. Bon Appetit!