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Most people dream of visiting Cairo to tour the Pyramids in nearby Giza. Others fantasize about floating along the Nile, starting or ending in Cairo as part of a bucket list adventure. As for us, we want to visit Cairo to eat Egyptian food at the source.
We’ve always had an affinity toward Middle Eastern food and have eaten hummus and kebabs around Europe in cities like Budapest, Hamburg and Basel. As great as our meals have been, we’re confident that eating Middle Eastern cuisine in Cairo will blow our minds and make our taste buds sing.
We’ll want to plan ahead for this trip. First, we’ll do research to find the best airfare deals. Once we book our flights, we can focus on where and what to eat in Cairo.
Egyptian Food Favorites
Traveling to Cairo will be a different food travel experience for us compared to previous destinations. Not only will we travel back in time to explore a city with thousands of years of history, but we’ll also experience all the different foods that Cairo has to offer.
Unlike European food which often features meat and cheese, Egyptian food skews vegetarian. In Egypt, cooks derive flavors from fresh ingredients, exotic spices and slow cooking.
Beyond the food itself, we’ll experience a different culinary culture. We’ll shop at local markets, eat street food and dine with locals. If we’re lucky, we’ll taste Egyptian home cooking – something that we can’t do unless we fly to Cairo.
Our aforementioned taste buds are salivating at the prospects. Once we finalize timing and logistics, these are the Egyptian foods we want to try the most:
Affectionately known as Egypt’s national dish, Kushari is a unique concoction many travelers (including us) will eat on our first Cairo visit. Though popular in Egypt, Kushari does not share the same global fame as Middle Eastern dishes like Schwarma and Falafel (see both below).
This vegetarian-friendly dish combines disparate ingredients like noodles, rice, lentils, fried onions and tomato sauce. Adventurous diners can also ramp up Kushari with chili sauce.
Though rooted in the 19th century, modern Cairo restaurants also offer the classic dish. Regardless of the setting, Kushari is a cheap eats Cairo food staple that we don’t want to miss.
2. Ful Medames
Food travelers can enjoy Ful Medames throughout the Middle East and as far away as Ethiopia. However, Cairo’s relationship with Ful Medames dates back hundreds of years.
Typically eaten in the morning, Ful Medames is a savory fava bean stew with ingredients like parsley, lemon juice, cumin, garlic, onion and chili pepper. While local food stands and restaurants in the chaotic city offer vegetarian versions of Ful Medames every morning, carnivores can add proteins like eggs and chicken.
To prepare traditional Mahshi in Cairo, chefs typically stuff seasoned rice into grape leaves and then cook them in a savory tomato sauce. However, others stuff the rice mixture into vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, cabbage and eggplant before cooking the stuffed vegetables in meat broth to achieve a rich flavor.
Mahshi is a catch-all phrase for the Egyptian dish. Savvy food travelers can order specific variations like Bidingan (stuffed eggplant) and Korumb (stuffed cabbage).
Food travelers can find Falafel around the world, from Budapest to Philadelphia and everywhere in between. Without a doubt, these herbaceous balls of deep-fried chickpeas and fava beans are popular with both vegetarians and meat lovers alike.
Eating the classic Middle Eastern street food favorite in Cairo takes the Falafel experience to another level. Though its origin story is murky, Egyptians either invented the dish or were early adopters. Either way, the popular street food has been a Cairo staple for 1,000+ years.
In Egyptian culture, locals eat Ful Medames for breakfast most mornings and then eat often Falafel for lunch. Could there be a better lunch in Cairo than fresh pita bread stuffed with Falafel? We think not.
Turks invented the Doner Kebap while Greeks take credit for Souvlaki. People in Cairo claim Shawarma, the Egyptian version of marinated meat cooked slowly on a spit, as their own.
Schwarma is another Cairo lunch option often served in a pita. Vendors offer toppings like chopped tomatoes, pickles and tahini sauce. When we visit Cairo, we’ll be sure to load ours with these toppings and more to get the full Schwarma experience.
6. Egyptian Spices
Far from bland, Egyptian food derives many of its flavors from spices found in kitchens around the world. Cairo chefs utilize spices like cumin, bay leaves, coriander, chili and cinnamon to create the cuisine’s distinctive dishes.
Since spices will be on any food traveler’s souvenir list, visiting a Souk (Arab market) is a mandatory thing to do in Cairo. Tourists can shop for these spices and more in Cairo’s sprawling Souks including the epic Khan El-Khalili. Dating back to the 14th century, this frantic market sells a variety of spices as well as souvenirs and street food.
7. Mint Tea
Though we seek out specialty coffee when we travel, we’re excited to drink mint tea when we visit Cairo. Just like the Swedes embrace Fika, the Egyptians have a tea culture that permeates the country’s culture.
Locals meet in cafes to drink to share Shai (tea) and conversation in Cairo on a daily basis. We plan to join the crowd and order pots of Koshary, a sweet tea flavored with mint leaves and cane sugar. After all the spicy food we’ll be eating, the herbal tea will surely soothe our senses and gear us up for more touring and eating.
Plan Your Cairo Trip
Have we convinced you to plan a trip to Cairo so you can eat all the Egyptian food too? If so, the key is to start early and book your flight. Once you make your reservations, you can start dreaming about the wonderful food and amazing sites you’ll see during your trip.
Book Your Flight
Flights to Cairo will likely be your most expensive trip expense. We recommend traveling to Cairo during the shoulder seasons to take advantage of potentially smaller crowds and lower prices. If you’re traveling on a budget, you can score cheap flight tickets on Wego especially if you plan ahead.
Book Your Hotel
Saving money on your Cairo hotel will give you more money to spend during your vacation. We recommend that you research Cairo neighborhoods with a focus on safety and convenience. You should then book a hotel in a safe neighborhood that’s convenient to your itinerary.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.