Egyptian cuisine has many influences and directions, making Egyptian food recipes very versatile. When it comes to deciding what to eat in Egypt we have a wealth of dishes to choose from. Egyptians love their stomach, which is reflected in the wide variety of dishes they cook.
Learn how to cook authentic Egyptian recipes such as Ful Medames, Mahshi, Koushari, Knafeh, Taboola salad, rice pudding, and more.
Typical Egyptian Meals
For breakfast Egyptians typically eat fuul medammes or pureed fava beans, which has to be cooked slowly for 8 hours. Women soak the beans the day before and place them over a low ﬁre before going to bed at night.
In the morning they eat the beans with tomatoes, eggs, watercress, arugula, cucumbers, carrots, and sheep-milk cheeses. Before going to work, men stop by the local bakeries to purchase fresh aish baladi, which is a healthy, bran-rich bread typically consumed for breakfast. After breakfast, they drink warm black tea with mint or milk.
How to make Ful Medames (recipe) video
The family eats lunch at home often as late as 4 p.m., whereas during the day light snacks such as cheese sandwiches and fruit are consumed. Women stay at home and when everyone has left they start preparing the family lunch, which is the main meal of the day.
The main meal often consists of a soup made of a consommé, orzo, vegetables or lentils; the main course made of different rice-based dishes with beef, fish, lamb, or poultry; small salads placed around the table along with bread and pickles to complement the meal; and small dishes of a mixture of cumin, salt, and ground red pepper.
Family members would dip each piece of food in this mixture, for more seasoning. They never pass dishes around at the table, but everyone helps themselves to the food they desire.
Egyptian dinner is usually served late in the evening, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., with the exception of the month of Ramadan when it is served at dusk to break the fast.
People eat the same dishes as for lunch often outside the house. When they choose to spend their dinner at home, Egyptians prefer lighter meals, sandwiches, leftovers, or bread, cheeses, salads and pickles.
Lunch and dinner foods tend to be the same, and the time the family chooses to have lunch and the amount of food they consume often determines what they have for dinner.
Egyptian meals for special occasions
Mahshi and Koushari dishes
There exists specialty dishes such as mahshi, which is a combination of stuffed baby eggplant, peppers, zucchini, cabbage, and vine leaves served with chicken and roasted meat; koushari, which is made up of rice, elbow macaroni, chickpeas, lentils, spicy tomato sauce, and fried onions served by itself.
Macarona Béchamel dish for two days
Women often make meals that the family can eat for more than just one day, such as macarona béchamel, layers of pasta with minced beef and a thick, broth-and-egg-infused béchamel sauce, an Egyptian home staple similar to Greek pastitsou. It is often made a day in advance and baked the day of serving.
Quick Fava Falafel with Fruit
Not every day is for cooking sumptuous feasts, though. Sometimes women ask their husband to stop by the local falafel (t’amaya) stand and get some fava falafel batter that they can fry later at home. Fresh seasonal fruit is served for desserts, such as mangoes, guavas, oranges, bananas, strawberries, pears, grapes, coconuts, and pomegranates.
Sweets: K'nafeh, rice pudding, and Baklava
Sweets are for special occasions, such as the weekly congregational prayer day, Friday. These can be k’nafeh, a shredded phyllo pastry ﬁlled with nuts or cream pudding and topped with a simple syrup; rice pudding; or baklava.
Petits fours and Eid kahk fondant cookies
For the Eid al-Fitr, or Feast of the Fast Breaking, which is a 3-day long holiday signaling the end of Ramadan, butter cookies known as petits fours are made along with Eid kahk, a crunchy fondant cookie that dates back to Pharaonic times and used to be stuffed with gold coins and given away among the poor by the caliph during the Fatimid era.
How to make Kusa Mahshi (recipe) video
How to make Koushari (recipe) video
How to make Egyptian Knafeh (recipe) video
How to make traditional Chocolate Fondant for Eid (recipe) video
To Cook Or Not To Cook?
Cooking is much appreciated by the family and is seen as a token of their good health, happiness, and loving relationship with one another.
However, in recent days most young women do not learn to cook, because it is becoming a less important part of their cultural identity. Urban women need to put up with long work schedules and difﬁcult trafﬁc situations as well as a bit of a cultural stigma suggesting that thmart and upper-class women shouldn’t be bothered with cooking.
Maids are more frequently employed and food is often ordered out. Foreign food chains are becoming more and more popular and even if a women decides to cook, she is more likely to look for foreign types of recipes to try.
Egyptian émigrés, however, are still striving to preserve the cuisine that connects them to their homeland and culture. And tourists returning home from a trip in the Land of the Pharaos are said to crave “a taste of the Nile” ever after.
Egyptian Bread Bakers Help The Family Cook
Today's popular cooking techniques in Egypt - of which many were developed in antiquity - consist of grilling, baking, roasting, stewing, frying, and salt curing. In ancient Egypt, people started smoking, salt curing, and sun-drying foods to preserve them for longer periods of time. They created pestles, sieves, knives and mortars to assist with food preparation.
Even in the Old Kingdom (2700–2600 b.c.) bread was produced and distributed in large quantities. People cooked in clay pots called tajin. These clay baking dishes are still a traditional way of baking and serving foods today. Families use large ones to serve foods, while restaurants use smaller ones to serve individual portions.
Before air-conditioning and home ovens were known to most Egyptians, women would send their kids to take their stews to bread bakers to have them cooked in the same oven in which the bread baked. On their way back home from school, they then would stop at the bread shop to get their bread and stew for lunch.
Since in the country's hot climate, it would take a lot of air-conditioning to cool down the house after using the oven, in densely populated areas, you can still see small kids buzzing through the maze of various shops in the souk or marketplace carrying their tagins to the bread baker.
The Egyptian Diet Is A Mediterranean One
Like elsewhere in the Mediterranean, in Egypt the majority of the diet is made up of grains, bread, beans and other legumes, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and corn, olive, and other oils. People also consume lots of seafood, meat, poultry and fowl, and nuts, as well as fresh herbs and dried spices. Sweets are often phyllo-based pastries, cookies, puddings, and European-style cakes and ice creams.
Egyptian Grains: Wheat, Rice, Barley
Wheat is used to bake pita bread known as aish baladi, consisting of whole wheat and the bran layer, as well as kaiser rolls and European-style breads. Small hotdog bun–shaped fresh breads or aish ﬁno are made from refined white flour.
Sheets of phyllo dough for pastry and a delicious Egyptian specialty known as fateer are also made from white flour. Fateer is the name of a kind of homemade puff pastry made in shops similar to pizzerias. They can have different sweet or savory ﬁllings, or are served plain with black molasses and an Egyptian clotted cream called ishta and honey.
After boiling, whole wheat berries are used to make a cereal called bileela served with milk, raisins, sugar, and nuts. From bulgur, which is a kind of cracked whole wheat, they make kobeeba (cracked wheat croquettes and meat), taboola (a salad of herbs, cracked wheat, cucumber, and tomato), as well as other similar dishes.
Newly harvested wheat is also used to make hulled grain, which possesses a green tint and smoky ﬂavor. This is known as freekh and is used to stuff chickens, ducks, pigeons, and turkey, while the core of the wheat grain is often used to make pastries and cookies.
Egyptian rice is called Calrosa rice and it is a short-to medium-grain starchy rice used to stuff vegetables, made into pilaf-style dishes, and cooked with vermicelli and served to accompany roasts, stews, or kebabs. Rice pudding and rice ﬂour also exist. Rice flour is usually used as a thickener in other types of puddings.
Cereals, stews, and soups are often made from barley. Introduced in the 10th century in Europe, Egyptian rice is considered the grandfather of modern Spanish paella and Italian risotto rices.
How to make Tabouleh Salad (recipe) video
How to make Egyptian Rice Pudding (recipe) video
Egyptian Beans and Legumes
Egypt's national dish is called fuul medammes, which is a kind of fava bean that is said to be the world’s oldest agricultural crop. After a whole night of soaking in water, the beans are stewed for hours with coriander, cumin, oil, and different spices. They are consumed as breakfast along with eggs, tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, and tahini sauce. These same beans are also used skinned to make Egyptian falafel another breakfast food.
Red, brown, and black lentils (legumes) are used for stews, soups, and dishes during the Christian fasting period. In ancient times, Egypt was the main exporter of lentils in the world. Koushari is the most popular Egyptian lentil dish consisting of lentils, rice, pasta, chickpeas, fried onions, and spicy tomato sauce. It can be bought and consumed on the streets of Egyptian cities. Since it's cheap, delicious, and vegan, koushari is well-loved by both locals and tourists.
Hommus or chickpeas are often used in stews and soups, or as a puree, as well as roasted and spiced to be served as a snack like popcorn and nuts. White beans are used in stews, soups, and easy purees as well.
How to make Hummus Chickpeas (recipe) video
Egyptian fruits and vegetables
The first fruits grown in Egypt were dates dating back to 5,000 years in history. Other fruits that love the desert climate are pomegranates, ﬁgs, and grapes. Also popular are strawberries, bananas, tamarinds, kiwis, apricots, coconuts, peaches, oranges, lemons, limes, apples, pears, and blackberries.
Mangoes and guavas arrived from India in the 19th century. The Egyptian soil proved ideal for them and they became an integral part of the culinary landscape. Egyptians usually eat their fruit fresh in season as a snack or after dinner as dessert.
The fresh, seasonal fruits are on display at fruit juice stands in the streets where passers-by can enjoy their fresh fruit cocktails. After boiling, grape, tamarind, pomegranate, and strawberry juices are reduced into syrups and molasses and then used for drinks and to ﬂavor pastries.
Even in ancient times, Egyptians knew many types of vegetables such as leeks, cucumbers, lettuce, arugula, watercress, carrots, herbs, peas, okra, and green beans. Seasonal ones like eggplant, zucchini, peppers, artichokes, cauliﬂower, turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, spinach, cabbage, onions, and garlic are also important parts of Egyptian daily meals.
Cooking with fats
Egyptians use the traditional fat known as samna for cooking. It is a cultured, clariﬁed butter similar to Indian ghee. Samna is rich and ﬂavorful and it can be made with sheep, cow, or water buffalo milk.
There exist vegetable versions similar to shortening. In villages, women might still prepare samna at home, whereas in cities, many would simply use olive oil for a healthier diet or corn oil for its inexpensiveness. Butter is only used for pastries or for foreign recipes that require it.
How to make Ghee (Samna in Egypt) video recipe
Ancient Egypt depended largely on seafood. Festivals would be observed honoring the Nile god, Hapi. During these week-long festivals fishing in the Nile was prohibited. The people would give back to the river by placing ﬂowers, food offerings, and prayers into it thanking the god who made the Nile ﬂood twice a year and provide irrigation and sustenance.
Since that time, Egyptians have had a special appreciation for fish in the manner of other Mediterranean communities inﬂuenced by ancient Egypt. Fish from the Mediterranean, the Nile, and the Red Sea tends to be cheaper than meat. Shrimp, squid, sea bass, bream, red mullet, prawns, and Nile perch, known as bulti, are commonplace.
The country is famous for its seafood recipes such as kebabs, fried ﬁsh with cumin, and seafood soups and stews, as well as roasted ﬁsh. Saadilaya (ﬁsherman’s wife) is a rice and ﬁsh skillet cooked with spices like turmeric. The northern Mediterranean coastal towns are renowned for their seafood dishes, where ﬁsh is bought fresh from the boats coming in to shore.
Due to being relatively scarce, meat has a special spot on the Egyptian table. In antiquity, nomadic tribes that dwelt in the desert could only enjoy meat during festivals or to honor special guests. Beef, mutton, lamb, veal, and goat meat are all well-known to Egyptian, but they tend to be very pricey, so not many people can afford them. There are traditional meat recipes for stews, roasts, kebabs, ground meat stuffing for vegetables, and meatballs.
Meat can be obtained in various ways. Animals can be bought live to custom slaughter, or meat can be obtained from butcher shops on slaughter days. In addition, butcher-shop owners would often operate kebab shops as well. Halal (permissible) meat is available everywhere. It means that it comes from animal that have been treated kindly and didn't suffer much during slaughter. Also, according to Islamic tradition, all parts of these animal must be consumed.
Sheep and cattle milk is often made into dairy: milk, yogurt, and cheese. Egyptians are known to have made cheeses since 3200 BC. These Egyptian cheeses are often not dissimilar to Greek feta cheese and Spanish manchego cheese.
How to make Kebab (recipe) video
Poultry and Fowl: chickens, quails, pigeons, and ducks
In antiquity, pigeons and quails were served grilled and stuffed to brides and grooms at wedding ceremonies. Egyptian pigeons and quails are always raised in special environments for culinary purposes.
Egyptian chicken is served grilled, often as part of kebabs, stewed, roasted, and fried. Ducks are served roasted, grilled, and fried. Ducks from the El Fayyoum Oasis are widely known for their delicious taste and there exist special recipes just for them. Eggs are a popular breakfast dish in Egypt.
Spicy Lentils and Chicken recipe video
Egyptian herbs and spices
Cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, basil, thyme, chamomile, caraway, and oregano are the most important Mediterranean herbs used for Egyptian foods. The most common Egyptian spices are cinnamon, cumin, cloves, crushed red pepper, cardamom, paprika, black pepper, coriander, anise, turmeric, and nigella seeds.
One of the things that is available at spice shops across the country are Nubian Hibiscus petals. They can be boiled and sweetened to make a delicious and nutritious cocktail served both hot and cold. This drink is called karkade and it is the most widely used Egyptian traditional medicinal.
Nowadays, rosemary, curry powder, allspice, and others are becoming ever more popular in Egyptian cooking. People drink herbal tisanes made from mint, anise, cinnamon, chamomile, and caraway both for their health properties and good taste.
How to make Kardake or Egyprian Hibiscus Punch (recipe) video
Egyptian Coffee and Tea
In Egypt, people mostly drink Turkish coffee with cardamom that they prepare in stove-top ﬁlterless pots or kanaka. Coffee shops are known as ahwa.
Coffee has been popular since the 16th century, when thousands of coffee houses were established well before Europeans ever tasted coffee. Nescafé and European espressos are also becoming very popular today.
Egyptians drink tons of tea. It is most often black tea served with mint. People usually sweeten their coffee or tea in the making, with 1 to 3 tsps of sugar per person.
Egyptians consume a good variety of nuts during the late nights of Ramadan, while visiting family and friends, or watching a movie in the cinema or at home. Peanuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts are the most popular. Watermelon and sunﬂower seeds, popcorn, and spiced roasted chickpeas are available at street-side stalls all across Egypt.
Eating Out In Egypt
Dining options in Egypt range from street-side shops to cafeteria-style restaurants. Shop in the streets offer fresh fruit juices, falafel, koushari (lentils, rice, pasta with spicy tomato sauce), fateer (puff pastry with sweet or savory ﬁllings pizza-style), kebabs and shwarma (rotisserie-style shaved lamb on a sandwich), pastries, and so on. Restaurants are like American diners offering varied menu options, both local dishes and burgers and fries.
In Cairo and other big cities, foreign fast-food, mid-range, and upscale restaurants are aplenty, offering French, Italian, Chinese, Turkish, Lebanese, and Japanese cuisine. Hotels' restaurants also offer buffets of international cuisine. Moreover, traditional restaurants, ranging in style, location, and price from inexpensive to 5 star, offer grilled foods and traditional Egyptian cuisine.
Mix beans, dill, cilantro, parsley, onion, and garlic in food processor until smooth paste forms. Mix in ½ cup water to make thin paste. Add cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in baking powder, then mix to incorporate.
Let stand at room temperature for an hour. Pour 3 inches of corn oil into a frying pan over medium heat. When hot enough to fry, drop a piece of bread in it to turn golden and ﬂoat to the top.
Gather a heaping teaspoonful of the paste in one spoon and push it off with another, forming a round patty in the oil. Repeat process until pan is full with a ½-inch space between the falafel.
While cooking, sprinkle sesame seeds on the uncooked sides. Fry until dark golden brown, about 5 minutes; turn over, and fry other sides until same color. Line a platter with paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, lift falafel out of oil and drain on paper towels.
Traditional Egyptian Recipes
T’amaya (Egyptian Fava Falafel) recipe:
Serves 4, 3 falafel per person
First popular after the 4th century A.D., with Egyptian Christians (Copts) fasting for 55 days during Lent.
Since the Coptic fasting does not allow meat, dairy, and seafood, vegan diets are required.
As a meat-loving culture, the Egyptian Christians had their own ingenious ways of using beans and legumes to create hearty dishes rivaling typical meaty meals.
1 c peeled dried fava beans (broad beans), soaked overnight in water and drained
¼ c fresh dill leaves
¼ c fresh cilantro leaves
¼ c fresh parsley leaves
1 small yellow onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp baking powder
Expeller-pressed corn oil, for frying
¼ c white sesame seeds
4 white pita breads
2 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
¼ lb feta cheese, crumbled
How to make simple Egyptian Falafel (recipe) video
Bring chicken stock to a boil in saucepan. Add frozen maloukhiya and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 5.
In saucepan over medium heat, melt clariﬁed butter. Add garlic and coriander. Cook uncovered, until garlic begins to turn color.
Add garlic mixture to maloukhiya soup. Serve hot.
Shorbat Maloukhiya (Egyptian Mallow Soup)
This soup's main ingredient is the bitter herb used on the Egyptian Jewish Seder plate. The Egyptian mallow, or maloukhiya, is a healthy green herb growing in heaps in ancient Egypt.
In the 9th century, Caliph Al Muizz li Din Allah (Fatimid ruler, founder of Cairo) arrived in Egypt from Tunisia and got was very sick. He was instantly cured when the locals served him a bowl of this soup. He officially called the soup a “royal broth.”
Even though maloukhiya is inexpensive, it is well-loved by Egyptians everywhere.
4 c homemade or good-quality chicken stock
1 (14-oz) package frozen maloukhiya
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp clariﬁed butter (ghee)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground coriander
How to make Egyptian Maloukhiya Soup (recipe) video
Rushd Faruq Shamoun on March 22, 2013:
I remained so excited on I came across your own website. Egyptian food is actually scrumptious! Your centre made me so hungry with regard to falafel and also humus.when i live U.S.A i take Seafood,really super food. I get lots of information from this page . You can visit the page ....
anonymos on August 30, 2012:
i am egyption but there is like more and more things to eat there too many ways to cook meat and in seconed eid there is something called fata search for it cause idk how to quick it i am 12 years kid
Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on April 23, 2012:
This is such an informative hub with beautiful photos. I look forward to trying your fava falafel recipe. We have fava beans coming out of our ears here in Peru, so I'm always looking for new ways to use them. Thank you!
Haunty (author) from Hungary on January 09, 2012:
Thanks for stopping in and reading, Ardie and Zainnisar :)
Zainnisar from Little Island, Heart. on January 09, 2012:
OH you made me hungry, now I have to visit Air Egypt and get my ticket, Middle-eastern food is fabulous but it have so many variations that even in two neighboring countries they have entirely different food and Ardie its not only a Great Hub its Yummy as well, LoL.
Sondra from Neverland on January 08, 2012:
I've never had Egyptian food and I never thought I'd be interested but WOW this is a VERY well thought out and detailed article! I am very impressed - because now I want Egyptian food :) Great hub Haunty
Haunty (author) from Hungary on January 08, 2012:
Wow, I didn't know that Sunshine! Middle-eastern food is fabulous, one of my faves and luckily for me there is an Egyptian restaurant not so far from home. Thanks for stopping in. Your americanized recipes must be heavenly. :)
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on January 08, 2012:
Egyptian food is delicious! Your hub made me very hungry for falafel and humus. My parents were middle-eastern and I grew up eating all these foods. My mom was an amazing cook. I picked up some tricks of the trade but americanized them:) Awesome hub Haunty!!