Certain foods are associated with holidays, especially Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Muslims do not eat pork, so most Egyptian food does not include pork products. Most Egyptians have a light breakfast when they wake up, consisting of tea with bread and honey, hard-boiled eggs, and fruit. Like many other societies in the Mediterranean region, lunch is the main meal of the day, eaten at about two or three o’clock in the afternoon. Supper is eaten late, around nine or ten o’clock and consists of small mezza dishes, or food left over from lunch.
A complex meal starts off with mezza, similar to appetizers. Mezza may include hummus (ground chickpeas and sesame-seed paste), stuffed grape leaves, ta’miyya (fried patties made with fava beans and spices; if made with chick peas it is called felafel), beans, and other light items. The main course usually consists of a meat dish – chicken, beef or lamb, served with rice and bread in combination with an endless array of vegetables including, but not limited to eggplant, squash, okra, or moulkhiyya, a native Egyptian vegetable. One common dish is kushari, a mixture of rice, pasta, lentils, and spicy tomato sauce topped with a hot sauce and fried onions. Another common dish is fuul mudammas, or roasted fava beans that are served much like black beans or pinto beans are served with Mexican dishes, in a soup-like broth and eaten with bread.
Women shopping for fruit and vegetables in the local market.
Egyptian bread is a flatbread, called aysh, similar to pita bread. Most Egyptians eat with their hands, using small pieces of bread to scoop up their food. Egyptians always serve themselves with their right hands, as the left hand is considered unclean, and to use the left hand would pollute the communal dish. Sometimes, each person scoops a portion of the food from the communal dish onto his or her plate, other times, each person simply eats straight from the communal dish.
An ice cream truck making deliveries to the residents of the City of the Dead.
Egyptian desserts range from foods like baklava (walnuts and cinnamon between sheets of thin pastry dough) to louqm al-qadi (fried balls of dough in syrup), bassboosa (semolina cake with almonds) and umm ali (nuts and raisins or currants in warm custard topped with pastry dough). Ice cream is also quite popular in Egypt.
Egyptians are fond of tea and coffee. Both are served strong: the coffee is what is typically known as “Turkish coffee,” ground very fine and served thick. Tea is usually brewed dark and served hot with lots of sugar. Some Egyptians even place a sugar cube between their teeth when they drink it. There are several kinds of tea, one of which is brewed from dried hibiscus flowers, called karkaday.
Soft drinks are also popular in Egypt. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola are widely available, along with other familiar brands such as Sprite, 7-Up and Fanta Orange Soda. Soft drinks are generally not served in cans, but rather in glass bottles. It is usually the practice if buying a soft drink from a vendor that the drink must be finished on the spot, and the bottle returned to the vendor, rather than taking it away.
Many Egyptians shop in Western-style supermarkets like this one, where a variety of items can be purchased at once …
Islam forbids alcohol, although both beer and wine are made and sold in Egypt.
Food is often sold in small markets, or in stands on the street. There are supermakets in Egypt, and many Egyptians shop at the supermarket, but others prefer to buy their food from a small vendor. Usually, families shop at the same vendor, with whom they have a personal relationship, so they trust that vendor and the quality of the food that they will get from him.
Although many Egyptians prefer to buy from small vendors like this, because they have a personal relationship with him and can trust the quality of the food he sells. Egyptians also eat out in restaurants. There are many different kinds of restaurants in Cairo, just as there are anywhere else in the world. Many of the Western fast-food chains have restaurants in Egypt, including Arby’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Wimpy’s and other Western chain restaurants like Chili’s and TGIFriday’s. There are also restaurants that serve Chinese, Korean, Indian, and other cuisines from around the world.
The majority of restaurants serve Egyptian and Middle Eastern cuisine, and range from expensive restaurants that serve multi-course meals to vendors who serve prepared food on the street. Street foods include kebab, meat grilled on a skewer; shwarma, meat grilled on a spit and served wrapped in bread with hummus and vegetables; shish tawook, a chicken dish similar to shwarma; kushari; grilled corn and other vegetables; nuts; and fresh-squeezed juices like mango, orange, or guava juice
A street vendor selling Ta’miyya, a popular Egyptian fast food.
Traditional coffeehouses such as this one are very popular with Egyptians.