Egyptian Cuisine: What It Is And How It’s Evolved

There’s far more to Egypt, of course, than the pyramids, the Nile, and the historic temples. As with most ancient civilizations, there’s also a unique and fascinating range of foods to try that have been a vital part of the culture for a very long time. Your local Middle Eastern restaurants will likely include many Egyptian dishes on their menus, so it’s useful to know what makes them unique.

What is considered to be typical Egyptian food?

Egyptian cuisine is a blend of geographic, historic, and religious influences. You’ll find it to be similar to the foods of the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Vegetables have always been an important part of the Egyptian menu, being much less expensive than meat and readily available because of the rich farming soils in the Nile river region. Beef and lamb are sometimes used for grilling, but chicken, duck, pigeon, and rabbit are more popular meats. Seafood is consumed mostly along the coast. Cheese is thought to have been important to Egyptians as far back as 3000 B. C.
Egyptian bread is similar to pita, but it’s much lighter and more delicious. You won’t often find it available outside the country, so enjoy it whenever you can. Look for the distinctive golden brown spots. Its local name is eesh balady. For Egyptian Arabs, eesh means both “bread” and “life”.

Kushari is known as the country’s national dish. In Egypt, it’s one of the least expensive and most popular foods available. A spicy combination of rice, macaroni, lentils, and tomato sauce, it’s served with crispy fried onion and chickpeas. Kushari dates back to pre-Islamic Cairo and was influenced over the years by both Italian and Indian cuisines.

A delicious blend of molokheya leaves, chicken stock, and spices, molokheya is enjoyed with rice or as a dipping sauce for bread in most Egyptian households.

How does the Egyptian menu differ from those of other Middle Eastern cuisines?

When you sample Egyptian dishes at your favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, you’re getting not only a taste of history but a view of a unique North African culture. It may share portions of similar Mediterranean diets, such as hummus, kabob, stuffed grape leaves, and falafel, but the fact that a large potion of it is vegetarian reflects the long-standing Egyptian dependence upon ingredients from the ground such as legumes, vegetables, and grains.

The iconic ful medames has been around since the time of the Pharaohs. It features fava beans cooked with olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili pepper flakes and is always served with bread. Egyptians enjoy it for breakfast with hard-boiled eggs and often top it with fresh vegetable salad, scallions, tahini, or pickles.


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