Cairo food guide blog of mine will help all those travellers and foodies visiting Egypt’s capital for the first time. Cairo has so much to offer in terms of food that feeling a little lost is inevitable.
As a traveller, you are going to want to eat the best Egyptian foods at the best spots when you visit the capital city. Egyptian cuisine is characterized by exotic spices, meat, legumes, vegetables, fruits, koftas, sugars, and much more.
This Cairo food guide will come in handy to gourmands wanting to explore all kinds of food – popular, queer, strange, fatty, healthy, vegetarian, or rare. So, read on and begin your journey into the world of Egyptian food.
Cairo Food Guide: An Overview
If you are visiting Cairo, you must try the authentic Egyptian food. If you are a foodie, you are definitely in for a treat. You and your palate will be amazed by the variety and flavours of food.
Before I go into the details of the must-try foods in Cairo, here is a quick overview of my Cairo food guide:
|Highlight of blog|
Food in Cairo
The currency used in Egypt is the Egyptian Pound. It is written as EGP or E£. The conversion rate in terms of EGP (Egyptian Pound) and USD (American Dollar) back when I visited Egypt was as follows:
1 USD = 16.57 EGP
|Characteristic of Egyptian food|
Fullness. Food in Egypt is generally rich in fats and carbs.
|Popular Egyptian dishes|
Koshari, ful and falafel, feteer, kofta, tarb, and the list goes on.
|Commonly used ingredients|
All sorts of meat
There are not as many options, but Egyptian cuisine makes use a lot of vegetables. So, it won’t be too difficult to find vegetarian food.
|Influences on food|
North Africa and the Middle East
|Cairo food prices|
Food in Cairo ranges from cheap to expensive. However, mostly, it’s really affordable.
Without any doubt, Cairo offers some of the best places to eat in Egypt.
In the current Cairo food guide blog, I will showcase a complete picture, as far as the cuisine and the food map is concerned. Also, the recommended food items will be discussed in detail.
Food offerings in Cairo are so vast, that I’ll be categorizing them in this blog. I’ll be starting off with the different cooking methods and dishes to try under each one of them, followed by Egyptian pizza, vegetarian food, street food, beverages, desserts, food tours, food etiquettes, etc.
Cairo Food Guide for Grilled Dishes
In Egypt, grilled food is found across popular restaurants, on the streets, and in the homes. This type of food is so aromatic that it will make you stop on the streets, and chase the wonderful aromas until you finally make it to where it’s coming from.
In my current Cairo food guide blog, I will mention a list of must-try grilled dishes. The order will be from the ones easier to digest to the fattier and heavier ones.
Let’s start with grilled chicken, quails and pigeons.
Although in olden times this dish was reserved for special occasions, it is now popularly found across restaurants in Egypt.
Hamam mahshi is basically a grilled bird stuffed with spiced rice or wheat. The filling is perfectly spiced with cinnamon, cumin, nuts, and pepper. Following this, the entire bird is grilled and the flavors come together wonderfully.
This is often served with Molokhia soup – a famous Egyptian herbal soup topped with sautéed garlic.
P.S: Molokhia (also spelt as mulukhiyah or molokheya) is a widely used leafy vegetable used in Egypt.
Mixed Meat Grill
In simple words, mixed meat grill is an assortment of various kinds and chops of grilled meat, served together. This forms an important part of Egyptian cuisine, and is loved by locals and travelers alike.
Generally grilled on charcoal, a mixed meat grill consists of –
|Kebab – Spiced grilled red meat with fats|
|Reyash – Grilled spiced ribs|
|Kofta – Spiced and fatty minced beef grilled in the form of fingers|
|Tarb – A type of kofta but wrapped in stomach fats|
|Sogok – The grilled Egyptian-spiced sausage|
For a delicious serving of mixed meet grill, my Cairo food guide would suggest you to visit Farahat, Auf, or Abou-Tarek.
Meat Cooked on Surface Grills
Last but not least on the list, is the meat grilled on surface grills. Head nowhere other than El Madina. It offers various meat products grilled along with sheep fat. This lets them gain an extraordinary, mouth-watering taste.
On the menu of El Madina, you can find, meat fillets, sausage, kofta balls, liver, sliced balls (yeah, as in testicles, they’re extremely famous in Egypt), and marrow.
Tip: Try to get like a quarter kilo of “Mix El-Madina.” It contains a taste of each thing and you can then decide what your favorite is.
Straight Out of Tajines – Egyptian Clay Pots
Like other North African countries like Morocco, Tajines are used for coking in Egypt. Tajine is the Arabic word for clay pot, and it is used to slow cook food at low temperatures. This infuses the food being cooked with a multitude of flavours and makes for a delicious, juicy meal.
For delicious tajine-cooked dishes, you must visit Bebo in Cairo.
Although Bebo has an exhaustive menu, its speciality is the tajin-cooked dishes. To be more precise, there are 2 signature dishes:
|Meat with Caramelized Onions|
This dish contains 3 medium-sized meat cubes submerged and cooked with lovely spices, pepper and caramelized onions. Once you get a taste of it, you won’t be able to keep your hands away.
This is a special one and contains 3 meat fillet rolls, stuffed with spiced special wheat.
The ultimate move would be to order both of them. Next, put the rolls in the caramelized onion pot and enjoy the beautiful mix of slow-cooked flavours.
These pots are usually eaten with local bread, tahini sauce, green salad, bechamel (white sauce) pasta and soup.
Cairo Food Guide: Best Fried Preparations to Try
I must admit, this section is a tad bit weird, but it can be rewarding for adventurous gourmands. Let’s start with the less ‘disgusting’ option.
Fried Livers and Brains
Yeah, this is the less disgusting option I was talking about.
As the name suggests, they’re cow brains and livers sliced, dipped in milk with garlic, covered in flour, and finally deeply fried and spiced. This meal is usually served with Tahini, yoghurt salad, liver salad and green salad.
|Restaurants that sell this delicacy usually also sell fried calamari and shrimps. These make for safe and reliable options for non-vegetarians that are sceptical to try livers and brains.|
The top restaurant recommendation in Cairo for this meal is Fathy.
This dish is essentially a mixture of cows’ parts that aren’t usually eaten globally. Yeah, errr, that includes the lungs, the pharynx, the tongue, the pancreas and rice-stuffed intestines.
This is definitely a brave food choice to make, but it is certainly very delicious. I get the inhibitions, but I would urge you to try everything once.
The meal is usually served with salads, pickles and cow legs’ soup with marrow.
The best place to try this dish according to my Cairo food guide is Habayeb El-Sayeda.
Feasting on Some Egyptian Pizzas – Feteer
Egyptians love pizza, but their rendition is a little different. They use ‘feteer’ dough – which is basically dough stuffed with minced meat or sausages.
|Eastern Pizza and Savory Feteer|
These 2 use Roumi (also spelt as roumy or rumi) cheese as the main ingredient instead of Italian Mozzarella. Both are stuffed with the additional meat, chicken or other varieties of meat, among the layers of the dough. They are quite savory.
The only difference among them is that the Savory Feteer has all of the ingredients stuffed inside, while the pizza has the rest of ingredients as toppings (like cheese, tomatoes, peppers and olives).
They’re usually served with spicy potatoes, pickles and extremely salty cheese – Mesh.
As for the last type, the ‘Sweet Feteer’, it comes in many forms. It can be served simply with powdered sugar on top, or with honey and cream.
Current times have brought to the front more varieties – Nutella with nuts, fruits with milk and custard, and much more.
Simply put, this category is similar to pizza but with greater flexibility and potentials.
Some of the greatest eating places in this category, according to my listing for Cairo’s food guide are: El-Mohandeseen, Hamza, Awlad El-Hussein.
Hawawshi in Cairo: The Popular Egyptian Bread
Bread is one of the staple foods in Egypt – it’s filling, it’s a great accompaniment, and is liked by most.
Hawawshi is a traditional Egyptian dish and extremely popular even in current times. It is made of local bread stuffed with spicy minced beef with sheep fat, onions, pepper or spicy sausages. Mostly, it’s made in Egyptian homes but you can savor it outside as well.
|When it comes to eating outdoors, there’s the one and only El-Refaa’y in the area of Abdeen, Downtown. This place isn’t very fancy, but you’ll find yourself in heaven the moment you dig in.|
Finding Sea Food in Cairo
Most of the fish and seafood available in Cairo isn’t unique to the region. They are popular and available in other regions of the world as well.
Therefore, this section of the Cairo Food Guide is an open one. Some of the best places in Cairo to munch on seafood are: Ibn Hamido, El-Horani, and the famous fish market.
If you stick to my Cairo food guide and would like to grab a seafood meal without moving outside Cairo, then these should certainly be your choice.
On The Lookout for Vegetarian Egyptian Food
Unfortunately, Egyptians at large aren’t quite familiar with the concept of ‘vegetarianism.’ Meat has a unique place in the hearts of Egyptians. Weirdly, it is the second most expensive raw food material in Egypt after fish and seafood.
On the contrary, Egypt is one of the cheapest countries in the world for buying fruits and vegetables. So, if you’re a vegetarian, you’ll find no problem in managing your life. However, when it comes to eating outside, the options might be limited.
Some Helpful Words for the Vegetarians
Since vegetarianism as a concept is not very popular in Egypt, it might help to know a few words in Arabic that will help you get by.
|Seyami, nabati – vegetable|
|Akl nabati faqat – only vegetable food|
|Samak – fish|
|Bidun lachma – meat|
|Bed – eggs|
Vegetables are usually eaten as a side dish, either with spiced tomato sauce or sautéed. But if I have to talk about preferred and sumptuous vegetarian meals, three dishes instantly come to mind.
This dish marks most blogs on eating out in Egypt. It is a popular delicacy, made of lentils, rice, fried onions, macaroni, spaghetti, vinegar, garlic sauce, hot sauce and tomato sauce.
Usually eaten with some sort of salted fried bread, this dish is finished with a delicious dessert – a bowl of sugary rice with milk and cream.
Koshari is really heavy on the tummy, and a cheap way to stay full for long hours. Recommended places to try out Koshari are Koshari El-Tahrir and About-Tarek.
Although found in a number of middle eastern countries, the Egyptian (and original) version of falafel is slightly different. For a great Egyptian breakfast, head to El-Kazaz or Neama for the best falafel in Cairo.
Basically, instead of the globally used hummus base, Egyptian falafel uses spiced boiled beans (ful) as its base. It is usually complemented with French fries, boiled eggs or omelette, and spicy fried eggplant.
This layered bread is made of butter, to the level of having your hands dripping with it. Traditionally, it is served with a type of extremely salty cheese ‘mesh’ or honey.
Wahet Omar in Cairo is THE place to enjoy a wide variety of delicacy.
The experience of eating feteer is always bedazzling, especially if you eat a bite with honey and a bite with salted cheese alternately. This adds up to a perfect blend of sweet and savoury.
Tip: Download the app ‘Happy Cow’ on your smartphones. This wonderful application gives you a list of vegan and vegetarian eateries in the city you search for.
Cairo Food Guide for Street Eats
Most of the dishes mentioned in this Cairo food guide can be found on the streets. However, there are some delicacies that you must stick to trying out from street vendors – sandwiches.
Now, these aren’t the sandwiches of the western world but are unique to Egypt, and parts of the middle east.
There’s a lot more worth mentioning in addition to the famous falafel sandwiches.
|Shawarma – Most of the globe thinks of Shawarma as Syrian food. In Egypt, however, one doesn’t use Syrian bread but French bread.|
Shawarma is made of compressed spiced chicken or meat slices that are grilled. They are then mixed with vinegar, tomatoes, parsley and onions. Finally put into bread with Tahini sauce, it’s one of the most delicious meals that you can enjoy.
A shawarma at a street stall should roughly cost about 20 EGP (1.4 USD)
|Grilled spiced liver – These are usually served on food carts and not in restaurants. They’re grilled spiced liver or sausage with onions, pepper and garlic. It comes stuffed in French bread with Tahini sauce, and is served with pickles. These are really cheap, and a sandwich shouldn’t cost more than 10 EGP (0.60 USD)|
|Sakalans – Sakalans is a sandwich comprising Halva (made with sesame flour and honey), cream and jam. Because of the usage of premium ingredients, this is slightly more expensive than the above mentioned sandwiches. It will set you back about 35-40 EGP (2.1-2.4 USD)|
A famous cart in Cairo serving these sandwiches is the cart beside “Baba Abdo.”
Cairo Food Guide for Lip- Smacking Desserts
Whether you have a sweet tooth or not, you simply have to try these desserts when in Cairo. You will surely put on some extra pounds, owing to all the butter and cream. But it’s okay to put on some holiday weight once in a while.
Most of the traditional sweets in Egypt lay under four main categories –
Eastern sweets are basically all kinds of sweets that are cooked in an oven or deep-fried. Common ingredients are butter and syrup (water with lemon and sugar, heated over the stove, for sweetening the dessert).
This category has Konafa, Gollash and Basbousa under the oven-cooked section, and Atayef, Balah El-sham, Zalabya and Sawabe’ Zeinab under the deeply-fried section.
You can enjoy most of them at any of the following mentioned patisseries – El-Domiaty, El-Helmeya, La Poire, Salé Sucré, and the list goes on.
This includes many dishes made from milk, sugar and cream. As you may have expected, the list is long but the must-try dishes are as follows:
Om Ali, rice with milk, oven-cooked rice with milk, mehallabeya, custard and lastly, Qonbola or the bomb if it’s translated.
|The Qonbola is a concoction of many sweet foods – Konafa, Basbousa, custard, banana slices, apple cubes, strawberry juice, mango juice and some extra-fatty cream. Remember that it’s not easy finishing it all by yourself, especially if you’re already full.|
Eateries serving great dairy products as per the Cairo food guide are – El-Karnak (it is only here that you can find authentic Qonbola), and El-Malki.
As the name suggests, these are nuts/seeds mixed with syrup, and then hardened to form crispy candies. Each of it is named after the nut it is made with – Fooleya (Peanuts), Fosdokeya (Pistachios), Kajooeya (Cashews), Bondokeya (Hazelnuts).
They’re seasonal sweets as it’s generally eaten on the Islamic anniversary for Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. However, for foodies like you, Wadi El-Nile Ahmed Attia patisserie makes them throughout the year.
As you must know by now, the Egyptians take their bread seriously. This category includes baked dough primarily containing butter, and sweetened in many different ways.
|Feteer of course can be categorized under this section but with it, lies a whole other world of Petit-Fort, Kahk, Ghorayeba, Oras Be Agwa, Baskoot and Shakallama. Each one of them has its own taste and they’re seasonal.|
El-Helmeya patisserie sells them throughout the year.
This is mostly everything about sweets in our Cairo food guide. Let’s move on to the beverages section now.
It’s Not All About Food – Egyptian Beverages to Try
Cairo is no less when it comes to its beverages. Here’s a list of traditional drinks you could try while you’re in the capital city.
Locally known as asab, sugarcane juice is a popular and refreshing drink enjoyed across Egypt. Egyptians believe that sugarcane has a wide range of health benefits, leading them to consume large quantities of it. Some of them also ferment the juice, giving rise to a completely new rendition of the drink.
Saad Afifi is the most popular sugarcane shop in Cairo.
|Sobia – This is a popular thirst quencher in Egypt, and is widely consumed during the holy month of Ramadan. You’ll find hundreds of street vendors selling this starchy, milky-white coconut drink on the streets.|
These cold beverages along with some other crazy cocktails can be found at Abou Hammam (this one has crazy names for its cocktails like mother monkey milk, lioness milk, etc), Farghali, City Drink and Abou Leila.
|Moghat – It’s unfortunate that this delicious drink isn’t offered in cafes and is only made in Egyptian homes. Usually prepared when a baby is born, moghat is made of powdered fenugreek seeds, nuts, raisins, sugar and butter.’|
|Helba – Helba is made with fenugreek seeds, and is widely enjoyed during the cold months of the year. It is also said to have a variety of medicinal properties.|
|Sahlab – This is a drink loved by travellers. Made with coconut powder, milk sugar, and topped with nuts, Sahlab makes for a rich, creamy and delicious treat.|
Coffee lovers, there’s much in store for you all too. Read on.
Coffee Lovers, Visit an Ahwa
Egypt has had a connection with coffee for years now. Good quality coffee from Ethiopia, Kenya, and other African countries pass through Egypt before reaching their destinations across various continents.
As a result, a number of cafes have sprung up across cities of Egypt. However, if you want to experience a traditional, old-school coffee-drinking setting in Egypt, make your way to an ahwa.
Ahwas are traditional coffee shops frequented by Egyptian men, and now, women too. A typical setting would include locals sipping on cups of cheap coffee, smoking shisha, and chatting away. You’ll also find people playing all sorts of games, or simply watching life go by.
Coffee here is cheap, service is great, and there’s also a crazy variety of food on offer. Ahwas can either have an indoor setting, or an outdoor one. Either way, they’re congested, happening, and ever-brimming with locals.
Cairo Food Guide: Egyptian Food Tour
I believe that by now, this blog has made it clear that eating out possibilities in Cairo are endless. So, if you have limited time but want to make the most of it, you could opt for one of the many food tours around Cairo.
|Cairo Food Tour |
As per my Cairo food guide, this tour will help you discover off-the-beaten-path spots for unique Egyptian food. You also get an expert guide to walk you through the intricacies of food.
|Cairo Nile Dinner Cruise|
This tour will treat you to an evening on the Nile, with delicious dinner and a belly dancing show. After all, your Egypt trip is incomplete without dining on the Nile.
|Traditional Foods in Egypt Tour|
This tour is designed to let you taste the best Egyptian foods in a traditional restaurant. Try the Egyptian delicious food like Falafel and Koushry while you experience the Egyptian way of living.
Most of these tours are not very expensive, and it is also a great way of making friends.
Know the Egyptians’ Culture
Although travellers aren’t taken too seriously when it comes to food etiquettes, it would be a good idea to be aware of it. It’s always nice to be aware of the culture of the country you’re visiting.
- Staring at another’s plate or food is considered to be rude.
- If someone offers to share their food with you, refuse once or twice.
- If you’re eating at someone’s house, do not fill your plate too much. It is okay to go for a second serving.
- Most people in Egypt eat with their right hand. Avoid eating with your left hand unless you really have to.
- Once your hosts serve ice water or any other cool drink, know that it’s almost time to leave.
- Do not begin with your meal until the eldest male has been served and has started eating.
- You’d generally be expected to pay a tip – about 10% of the bill. However, always check if it’s already been included in the bill.
Again, it isn’t going to matter much when you’re out eating on the streets of Cairo. However, it’s good to be aware nevertheless.
Taking Back Food Souvenirs
Food in Cairo is so delicious that you’re definitely going to want to take some back. So, what are the best foods or beverages to bring back?
It is almost impossible to walk down the main street in Cairo and not come across a shop selling dry fruits. Most of these stores are characterized with heaps and heaps of dried apricots, nuts, raisins, and dates. You can also spot vendors roaming around with carts of dry fruits.
This makes for a great item to take back because its non-perishable and lasts a while.
After having eaten all that delicious food, I’m sure there must be spices or certain tastes that really appeal to your palette. If you wish to incorporate them into your food back home, it would be a great idea to buy some spices. They’re cheap, easily available, and of great quality.
There’s a high possibility that you will fall in love with some of the beverages that you try out in Cairo. To relive its taste when you’re back home, pick up a few sachets of the drink. Not all beverages will be available in this form, but try your luck. For example, sahlab can be found as instant sachets in some grocery stores across Cairo. All you need to do is dissolve it in milk, and enjoy.
As mentioned previously, Egypt is a transit location for coffee trade. You can buy roasted coffee beans at a number of cafes and stores across Cairo. However, make sure you try the coffee before buying beans.
Cairo is currently one of the cheapest travel destinations when it comes to food. The most expensive meal of mix- grilled meat costs around 200 Egyptian pounds per person. Egyptian people have adopted the lifestyle of ‘living to eat’ and not the other way round.
So, whenever you come to Egypt, get your stomach ready for one of the harshest yet most rewarding tests of all. Fly to Egypt and keep this Cairo food guide around for every meal, and every craving of yours. When you go there, be sure to plan your meals along with your daily program. Don’t ever miss a chance. Ready?! Set! Dig!
Happy wayfaring 🙂