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Although conversation and behavior do not always cross linguistic and cultural barriers, food always does. I am finally home, but I already miss the many new food experiences I have had in Egypt. Since I am a food addict (I have to eat at least three times a day!), I have decided to compile all of my best meals in Cairo. These are my culinary adventures…
5) Street corn
A common and delicious Cairo street food is charcoaled corn. Vendors cook corn on charcoal and fire and then reheat it on charcoal when passerby ask for one. I’m only sad because I did not try one until my last few days in Cairo; otherwise, I would certainly have eaten it more often.
Price: 3-4 L.E.
4) Savory fitir
Savory fitir has very similar ingredients to U.S. pizza, except the cheese is cooked in between layers of bread. I like fitir better than pizza though because while I like pizza crust, fitir bread is more chewy and elastic.
Price: 30-50 L.E. (depending on location) without meat
3) Street sandwiches
All kinds of street sandwiches are ubiquitously available in Cairo. Since they are made to order, customers can ask for any combination of ingredients, such as ta’miya, ful, French fries, salad and cheese. I often ordered a spicy ta’miya sandwich (sometimes with a poached or fried egg), but later during my visit, fries with Roumy cheese became my go-to order.
Egyptian sandwiches are served in a pita pocket, but some individual vendors use store-bought bread instead. Syrian sandwiches were my favorite they were long, wrapped like a burrito and grilled like a panini; I enjoyed their fillings, which are cooked in very delicious sauces, very much.
Price: 2-7 L.E. (depending on store, location, and filling) without meat
Kushari, the “Egyptian national meal”, has become my absolute favorite street food during my time here. Kushari is sold in restaurants that are specialized for only this dish (though often desserts as well) because of its many ingredients. The chef very quickly tosses a pasta mix, lentils, rice, fried onions and chickpeas together and there is barely any wait time.
Since the meal can also be ordered to-go (with the sauces in little separate bags), I often brought some home for dinner. It is very easy to order, as well, because the only specification is size.
Price: 6-8 L.E. (small) to 10-12 L.E. (large)
*Kushari comes in small, medium and large, though sometimes also mini, extra-large and extra-extra large. I always found a small to be more than enough. It is a very filling vegetarian (and vegan) protein-packed dish.
1) Homecooked ful (by a good chef)
Kushari was my favorite dish in Egypt until my last day of class, when Madame Suhair, a lady hired at the school to do a little cooking and cleaning work, was kind enough to make me some ful. I did not dislike street ful (in sandwiches and as a dip) in my time here, but I did not find it spectacular; however, Madame Suhair’s ful is absolutely delicious.
Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of Madame’s delicious ful. This picture of store-bought moussaka (masa‘ah) and baba ganoush (baba ghanug), two types of eggplant dips, does not look like ful, but compensates by showing how the dip is served and eaten (with fingers using pita bread).
5) Fruit cocktail
Juice shops are on every street in Cairo, and they often have pre-made “cocktails” in the fridge. These are not “alcoholic cocktails” (most Muslims do not drink) but are rather fruit juice and yogurt layered with whole fruit.
Price: 10-15 L.E.
The most classic Egyptian drink is shai (tea). Egyptians like very sweetened tea (three spoonfuls for each cup), and although I usually drink my tea plain, I enjoyed piling sugar into my tea this past month.
Price: 2-3 L.E.
3) Fuz bil-laban
At juice shops, banana smoothies with milk are also popular It is the Egyptian version of the strawberry-banana smoothie widespread in the U.S. While both these fruits are widely available in both countries, it is interesting that flavor preference for such a simple drink is still very cultural.
Price: 10-12 L.E.
2) Mango juice
Fresh mango is my absolute favorite fruit, but I have yet to ever buy it in season in the U.S. Unfortunately, mango that is canned or not fresh tastes very different (canned mango is sometimes even flavorless). It was very exciting to always have fresh mango juice available on the street.
Price: 7-10 L.E.
1) Asab juice
Just as kushari was my favorite food until Madame’s ful, mango was my favorite juice until I tasted asab. Sugarcane is possibly the most popular Egyptian juice choice. I was not sure what my teacher meant when she described sugarcane as filling, but I no longer felt hungry after drinking my first sugarcane juice because it is both light and (magically) satisfying.
Price: 3-5 L.E.
5) Cadbury chocolate
Chocolate is fairly expensive in Egypt, but Cadbury is one of the less expensive brands. However, it is still very delicious and fills a chocolate craving very well.
Price: I forget, but it’s delicious and worthwhile!
This is a type of sweet street food. The wafer itself is sugary and delicious, but the syrup-coated nuts inside are even better. Surprisingly, this is not a crumbly snack (unlike Western-style wafers) and I appreciated (for once) not being a messy eater. (It was good enough that I was willing to post this one without the name.)
Price: ? (A friend bought me this.)
3) Um Ali
With pastry dough and milk inside, Um Ali is Egyptian bread pudding. It is creamy, delicious and widely available. Its name literally means “Ali’s mother”—she must have been a great family cook to be immortalized in a popular pudding’s name.
Price: 6-8 L.E.
2) Roz bil-labon
Egyptian rice pudding is cool and refreshing. I originally ordered it by mistake, thinking it was a type of beverage on a mislabeled menu. I was very glad I made this mistake because this became my to-go order whenever I had a sweet tooth.
Price: 4-6 L.E. (or more for toppings)
1) Sweet fitir
This is cream and honey fitir. I like the texture of fitir very much, and this is so far my favorite dessert. Hopefully, I can try it in chocolate and Nutella flavors in the future, as well!
Price: 40-60 L.E.
This is a non-exhaustive list of Egyptian food that is entirely based on my personal opinion. Thus, there are several types of food I regret not having tried or had more of before leaving.
One is Egyptian pizza—while Natalie and I did order one, I have a feeling that there is more to pizza than the one flavor we tried (especially given the variety of Egyptian cheese).
The second is more Egyptian cheese—I wish I had kept Roumy and Kiri (cream cheese) flavors in the fridge to try with different flavor combinations.
Finally are Syrian sweets; I tried a part of one, and it was very, very delicious. However, because Syrian sweets are on the expensive side, I did not want to buy any before verifying the quality, and because I was too nervous to use my language skills (to navigate the delicious but diverse selections), I never ended up purchasing any. I was quite disappointed about this since Syrian sweets are often packaged as well and can travel through U.S. customs to take home.
Though there were many things I did not do and food I did not try, all the better! These things are motivation to return to Egypt soon.
Thank you to everyone that has accompanied me on this journey—I had lots of fun, and it was certainly worthwhile (for both my language skills and opening my eyes)!