About the Food of Egypt

Let’s all give Egypt a big hug. My sources tell me she could use one.

And why not? After all, she’s given us so much. Her people were the first known people to cultivate yeast to ferment beer and to make leavened bread. Talk about a “big idea!” I’d like to meet the person who dreamt that one up.

Amazing.

To this day I still give Egypt a nod of thanks whenever I chow down on a loaf of bread or slurp a cold beer. Just don’t tell the purists that, in the summer, I like my beer on ice.

What is the food of Egypt like today?

Whether you’re in the scorching desert, or the big city, you can probably get your hands on a bowl of Kushary (also, Kushari) [Recipe]. This unbelievable working-man’s-lunch is made up of more carbs than I know what to do with – macaroni, angel hair pasta, and rice, mixed with the token lentil and a happy splash of spicy tomato sauce. The affordable combination keeps hunger at bay, even during the busiest (and crankiest) of times.

Ful Medames [Recipe], or stewed, mashed fava beans doused with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley – are old. Traces of the bean have even been found in Twelfth Dynasty Tombs (up to 4,o00 years old).  No wonder it is one of the country’s national dishes, often enjoyed for breakfast. The most authentic versions are cooked over impossibly low heat for an entire day, in a sealed pot. So, get out your pita bread, let’s get dipping!

What about the sweets?

That’s Mr. Picky’s first question – what do they eat for dessert? He was happy to learn that Egyptians love their sweets. One of the better known desserts is Ali’s Mother (Umm Ali) [Recipe], a treat that lies somewhere between a bread pudding and a soupy, milky mixture of pastry, nuts, raisins, and coconut. The dessert was said to be invented during the Ottoman rule – thrown together by peasants to please the hungry sultan.

As for drinks – for those looking beyond the typical stout coffee, there’s the ever popular middle eastern White Coffee [Recipe]. This drink is actually caffeine free and, amazingly – despite the name – coffee free. In fact, it seems to be a lot more like tea, to me. Just boil a pot of water, then add rose water, orange blossom essence, or whole spices, such as cinnamon. Steep with tons of sugar. Or as much as you can handle. Which, for me, is about 1 lump. For Mr Picky? About 15.

Although my home is smothered in 12-18 inches of snow, you might like to bring summer into the kitchen with an Egyptian glass of lemonade. Simply blend entire lemons with water and sugar, not just the juice. Of course, their lemons are thin skinned (somewhat like our meyer lemons), so there is less pithe and the drink remains tart, not bitter.

Images: Styles66, Florian Prischl, kallerna, David Dennis
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Comments

  1. Funny – I just had foul mudammas for breakfast today! Instead of the traditional hard boiled egg, I made a soft boiled egg (add egg to boiling water and boil for exactly 6 min then put in a bowl of ice water for 1 minute).
    http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2011/01/egyptian-ful-mudammas/

    For a party, I brought dukkah crusted chicken bites and they were delicious, although a bit more work to make than I expected/
    http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2011/01/chicken-bites-with-dukkah/

    Taste of Beirut is a great resource for Mediterranean foods.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Sounds delicious! I wish I had some of both right now :) Unfortunately, thanks to copious amounts of snow, I won’t be going to the store any time soon. I’ll probably live on hot cocoa instead…

      • Hot Cocoa is always yummy! We have a bunch of ice and snow heading our way so I’m all stocked up and ready to be snowed in.

  2. My parents just returned from Egypt yesterday, and, despite the … shall we say exciting? … end of their trip escaping from the revolution, had a wonderful time. They absolutely loved the food, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of it, too!

    • Jessica Bennett says:

      Astrid. I’m glad they made it home safely. Were they able to give any details the media hasn’t covered?

      • They said they never felt unsafe, and it is really a people’s uprising – the army is with the people, but the police are not to be trusted and probably let prisoners out in order to keep people at home (obviously not working). They said it was a lovely country, with lovely people, and they wish them the best.. and stand by them!

        • Sasha Martin says:

          Glad everything went well… and that they got to try plenty of good food! I’m sure they’ll have plenty of stories to share with you as the weeks go by :)

  3. Jessica Bennett says:

    I love foul. I make my own but nothing beats the foul at a restaurant across the street from where I went to high school. I hope the restaurant is still there- they had other delicious things on the menu as well and the owners were so nice.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      It’s a bummer when favorite restaurants go out of business… especially ethnic ones because it is so much harder to find acceptable replacements…

  4. Eileen Roberts says:

    I was in Egypt last Oct./Nov and absolutely loved the people and the food! Both dishes you mentioned were delicious – hope you’ll be providing recipes for them! One other drink that was pervasive, particularly with the Bedouins, was sage tea. I’m having a cup right now! Love your site.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      How is the sage tea made? With fresh sage leaves? Sounds interesting! Might be a fun drink to have at Thanksgiving some year…

      • Eileen Roberts says:

        Tea bags! I found the same brand as they used in Egypt/Jordan on Amazon – Alvita. It’s caffeine free and doesn’t need any sweetening, though the Bedouins usually had it highly sweetened; stores that served it to their customers gave option of sweetened or unsweetened.

        • Jessica Bennett says:

          All the people I visited in Morocco also had highly sweetened tea (mint, not sage). Or at least I found it very sweet, but I usually drink unsweet, so perhaps people used to sweet tea wouldn’t have found it too sweet. It was tasty though.

          • Sasha Martin says:

            When it’s that sweet I have to choose – tea or dessert. Did they serve it in small cups, like espresso?

            • Eileen Roberts says:

              Both the Bedouins and the stores served the sage tea in these really pretty small glasses. Haven’t seen anything like them here. I bought one of the glasses at a store – they were rather taken aback that I wanted to buy one – and the package they came in was marked, of course, “Made in China”. It’s a clear glass with etched design on it; about 4 inches high with a handle, and was everywhere.

            • Jessica Bennett says:

              They were small. From what I remember they were about the size of espresso cups.

  5. Beautifully written intro….

  6. Couldn’t be better timing than now to take a trip to Egypt. Can’t wait to see what’s to come on your blog and for the future of the country…

  7. Eileen Roberts says:

    We ate at a Kushary restaurant in Cairo that that was the only dish served – absolutely heavenly! Umm Ali was offered at almost every place we ate – loved it. Looking forward to this week of blogs!

  8. Hi Sasha,

    Yes, solidarity and hugs for Egypt.
    We should all try one of your recipes or eat out in an Egyptian restaurant to show our support.

    I’ll check in today.
    Have a great day.

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