Eating your Way Around Cairo

June 25, 2014 Robyn James

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When it comes to food, Egyptians know their way around. Although falafels and kebabs have become recognizable Middle Eastern dishes available all around the world, nothing captures the essence of Egyptian cuisine quite like sampling it in Cairo itself.  The capital is known for having some of the best cuisine in the world, and traditional dishes can be found everywhere from street vendors to five-star restaurants.

On our first night in Cairo, we went to Sequoia, one of the top restaurants in Cairo. With wooden tables, draped canopies, soft lighting, and floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with planters, it felt laidback yet eclectic and chique. And the food did not disappoint. We shared a variety of off-menu traditional dishes like Egyptian mahshy (vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs); garlic-fried eggplant; fresh pita served with hummus, falafel, and baba ghanoush dips; and grilled shish taouk, a local dish made of chicken or fish that are marinated, then skewered and grilled.

Table filled with food

We shared a variety of off-menu traditional dishes.

As nice as it was to feast at a restaurant, the only true way to taste Cairo is through its bustling streets and markets. Whether you’re stuck in traffic or walking through one of Cairo’s famous bazaars, there’s no shortage of street vendors carrying Egyptian delicacies. Street-sellers carrying huge piles of pretzel-like bread rings are a common sight. The outside of the pretzel is crunchy but the inside is soft, delicious, and sweet to taste.

No visit to Cairo would be complete without visiting the Khan el-Khalili bazaar district, Egypt’s most famous and colourful market. Here, we tried some of Cairo’s most quintessential dishes, most notably kushari, a common Egyptian street food that’s a mixture of rice, macaroni, spaghetti, lentils, and chickpeas covered in a fiery tomato sauce and garnished with crispy fried onions.

Another common dish is feteer, better known as “Egyptian pancakes.” These slabs of flaky, layered dough come in both sweet and sour varieties (ie icing sugar, banana, and chocolate vs meat, chicken, and vegetable). With layer upon layer of dough and filling, these pancakes are incredibly satisfying when hunger strikes.

Feteer, or better known as “Egyptian pancakes.”

Feteer, or better known as “Egyptian pancakes.”

For the more daring, there’s hamam mahshi (stuffed pigeon), a popular dish in Egypt.  While in many Western cultures, pigeons are considered unappetizing or viewed as “rats with wings,“ pigeons are prized animals in North Africa and are considered a delicacy. In Cairo, pigeons are grilled to perfection and then served with a stuffing of rice, onion, chicken or pigeon liver, and a little cinnamon. Opinion in our group was split: some of us quite enjoyed it. Others? Not so much.

stuffed pigeon.

Hamam mahshi or stuffed pigeon.

We took our final meal in Cairo at an Arabian horse farm in the village of Sazarra, about an hour outside the capital. There, we enjoyed a home-cooked meal before and after a camel ride through the desert. We feasted on kofta (ground meat mixed with spices and onions), Egyptian meat pies, and a variety of traditional dips and cheeses.

a table full of plates and food

Home cooking at its finest.

After-dinner customs are a fundamental part of the experience in Egypt, and many locals often head over to one of the many cafés to enjoy a hot mint tea and shisha. Mint tea is often served with sugar.

No matter what your palette, no matter what your dining preference, there is something for everyone in Cairo. And you will not be disappointed.

a tray with tea pots and glasses of mint tea

An after-dinner custom of mint tea.

Getting There

Egypt’s landscape offers a unique travel experience. Go now to go back into the storied histories it has to offer. G Adventures runs a number of departures to Egypt encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. Check out our roster of small group trips to this mesmerizing land. Check out Egypt with us today!

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