I love to eat and I imagine that if I knew how I would love to cook. A large part of my love is exploring new things. Luckily for me, Egypt hasn’t let me down at all. There has been a ton of local food to try. Even better, I’ve enjoyed nearly everything I’ve tried during my stay.
Foul & Falafel are the first things to mention. If you just got to Egypt, they’re the first things any Egyptian will ask you if you’ve tried. Both are staples in Egypt, especially for breakfast. They’re healthy, hearty, and cheap. In Falafel (above), chickpeas or fava beans or both are ground up and shaped into balls or patties. Then they’re tossed in a bit thing of oil to fry until they’re just right. Falafel is served alone or in a pita like a sandwich or with vegetables. Foul (not pictured) can be served in the same ways. It’s a completely different dish, though. Mashed fava beans are combined with oil and spices to create something that looks and tastes a lot like an Egyptian version of refried beans.
This guy is preparing one of my favorite things in Egypt, Shawerma. Meat (chicken or beef) is cut up and placed on a big old skewer. Then it’s left next to the fire to cook. As the meat cooks, the cook shaves off the parts that are ready to be served. The meat is then often put in a sandwich with pickles, other vegetables, and sauce. Each restaurant makes theirs a little differently, offering a variety of options. There are also non-sandwich dishes, such as serving the meat on rice with fried bread.
Being right on the sea, Alexandria has some great fresh fish. There are simply too many ways to have fish for me to talk about them here. What I can say is that however you have it brought to you, the fish here is going to be darn tasty. My favorite that I’ve had here is called Boori. Watch out for bones and scales, however, because the process for taking those things out is less thorough than it is in the US. I found that one out when I took my first bite a little too enthusiastically.
Mesa’a’ah is a dish based on eggplant. The local version also includes tomato and other vegetables as well as spices. Mesa’a'ah doesn’t include meant, making it a great vegetarian option. There isn’t much to describe here, because it’s pretty simple. Remember to try it early on if you ever visit Egypt because you’ll probably want it many more times before you leave.
It took me a little courage to try my first bite of Koshari. It’s easy to smell how full it is of spices I’m not used to at home. Plus, its sheer weight for something not all that big was a bit intimidating. Two months later, it’s a common dish for me to get. And for good reason, there’s no better way in my mind to get a filling and delicious meal for so cheap. Tomato paste, onion, chickpeas, lentils, and rice are thrown on top of macaroni noodles resulting in pure deliciousity. Get it for lunch and dinner if you ever visit.
People are bound to ask me about the weirdest thing I’ve eaten during my time here. As it is now, that title easily belongs to stuffed pigeon. Nothing was done to prepare the pigeon other than plucking it. Then it was cooked and stuffed with rice. The result tasted pretty good. The weird part was the process of eating it. Never before have I felt so much like a carnivore. All the bones were still there and in place. That meant I had to rearrange them to get to what little meat there is on a bird that size. The skin was also a bit difficult to work with, as it was more rubbery than anything I’d dealt with before.
There are also a few interesting twists on familiar dishes. Egyptians thoroughly enjoy foreign food, especially American food. Where I live, I know of an easily accessible McDonalds’s, KFC, Hardee’s, and even Cinnabon. Those places stay pretty close to the original, even if there are a few details that are off. The surprises come about when local establishments make typically American foods their own. For example, pizza here emulates American pizza, but not perfectly. Hot dogs here are not the same and are a typical topping on pizza. Ingredients common to an American pizza sauce are also lacking, making for some new combinations. None of this means that the pizza here is worse by any means. It’s just that it is easy to be surprised if you’re looking for something familiar.
The moral of the story is to be on the lookout for new things. Food you didn’t even think existed is out there and it tastes great.