Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Egypt is well-known for a lot of things: the Sphinx, the Pyramids of Giza, happy camels, pharaohs, hieroglyphics and
the walk like an Egyptian dance. Just kidding – Egyptians don’t dance like that. Despite the fact that the average person is extremely familiar with all of the above, most people who haven’t visited Egypt don’t know much about Egypt’s food. I rarely encounter Egyptian restaurants abroad, so I’m not entirely surprised. The thing is, Egyptian cuisine can be a bit of a mystery to a traveler, so I’m here to shed some light on the situation. Behold my Egyptian food guide: the 20 traditional Egyptian foods you must eat when visiting Cairo – and where to find them!
Table of Contents
Must-Eat Traditional Egyptian Foods + the Best Restaurants in Cairo, Egypt to Eat Them
If I had to choose a single dish that answers the question, “what do Egyptians eat?” it would be koshary, Egypt’s most popular food and its national dish. Koshary is a dish made of rice, macaroni, and lentils and topped with chickpeas, onion, and a special tomato-vinegar sauce. It sounds heavy, and it is – it is known as a “poor man’s dish” as the ingredients are staple items that could be found in any pantry. Koshary is now a cultural phenomenon, with entire shops dedicated entirely to serving this delicious yet inexpensive meal. Everyone has a strong opinion as to where the you can find the best version (myself included. My favorite Cairo restaurant for koshary is Koshary Abou Tarek, but you can get a good version at any of the restaurants listed below. Koshary is the first and last thing I eat every time I visit, and it’s the most popular Egyptian food amongst tourists – my fellow travelers on my Egypt Intrepid tour confirmed this!
Where to Eat Koshary in Cairo:
View this post on Instagram
If you’re eager to try Egyptian street food, then look no further than the king of street food, ful mudamas. Known as ful for short, these are simply fava beans and are a staple breakfast dish. The dish can be cooked with virtually any spices. The most basic include salt and pepper, cumin, and olive oil, but it is almost always garnished with additional ingredients. Ful is usually served with loaves of pita or French bread, but can also be eaten in sandwich form for those on the go. It can be found at virtually any food establishment and is actually a popular street food, but I recommend trying it at Gad. If you think hummus is great, wait until you try ful. It will have you thinking “hummus, who?”
Where to Eat Ful in Cairo:
Fattah is popular throughout the Middle East, but each country makes it a little bit differently. In the Levant, it’s made with yogurt and garbanzo beans, but in Egypt, fattah has neither of these ingredients. Fattah is a rice dish made with fried pieces of bread, a garlic and tomato sauce, and lamb or beef. Newer, trendier restaurants get a little fancy and make fusion options such as chicken shawerma fattah, but for the good old traditional version, head to Abou el Sid. The dish sounds a bit strange, but it tastes amazing!
Where to Eat Fattah in Cairo:
View this post on Instagram
Back in the day, I don’t think I would ever have tried hamam had I known that it was pigeon. Luckily, my palate has expanded since then, and I now consider hamam a must-try amongst the multitude of Egyptian dishes. Despite its American reputation as a rat with wings, pigeon, or hamam, is considered a North African delicacy. Grilled to perfection and stuffed with cracked wheat, hamam mahshi is a favorite amongst the locals. The best place to try it is Farahat.
Where to Eat Hammam in Cairo:
Mahshi (Warak Enab)Mahshi translates directly to “stuffed”, but most commonly refers to stuffed grape vine leaves (called warak enab in Arabic). This popular dish is prevalent in most Mediterranean countries, but I’m biased, so I say the Egyptian version is the best. Small bites of spiced rice are wrapped tightly in grape leaves, then cooked in a tomato-based sauce and served with lemon. Mahshi is delicious – why else do you think a bunch of countries have adopted it as its own? Other popular stuffed dishes are stuffed cabbage (korumb), eggplant (bidingan), and zucchini (kossa). You can find these bites and more at Cairo Kitchen.
Where to Eat Mahshi in Cairo:
Also known as Egyptian pizza, fiteer is buttery and full of artery-clogging goodness. (Egypt is famous for heavy food, in case you haven’t realized). Fiteer is made of layers upon layers of filo dough and cooked in a giant brick oven. The original is served plain, but it can also be ordered sweet (with honey, syrup, and/or powdered sugar), or savory (with meat, vegetables, and/or cheese). Fatatri El Hussein (aka Egyptian Pancake House) is the pick of choice here. Be warned: this is a hole in the wall place with a small seating area, so don’t expect anything fancy. Despite the casual ambiance, the fiteer here is some of the best I’ve ever had!
Where to Eat Fiteer in Cairo:
Looking for a foodie experience in Cairo? Check out the below tours!
ShawarmaSo you’ve been in Egypt for a few days, your stomach is finally adjusting to the food, and you’re feeling ballsy enough to try some street food. Right? Awesome. Shawarma has become a global street food phenomenon – meat or chicken cooked on a spit and sliced into a sandwich with veggies and sauce. But that does not mean you should eat it off a random cart. Instead, head over to Abou Heidar for the best shawarma in Cairo. Your stomach will thank you.
Where to Eat Shawarma in Cairo:
Macaroni bil Bechamel
Most fondly known as "Egyptian lasagna," this dish consist of oven-baked macaroni with béchamel sauce, ground beef, and spices. Most people eat it at home and frankly, many restaurants make a version that's too heavy for my liking. However, Macarona Reda has some of the best I’ve ever tried (besides my mom’s, of course), with a perfect ratio of sauce to al dente pasta. Plus, they serve the dishes with a shot of “salad water” – a tangy vinegar shot with lettuce – to wet your appetite. Yum!
Where to Eat Macaroni bil Bechamel in Cairo:
FseekhFseekh is fermented mullet fish and it's very much a traditional Egyptian dish. Not everyone loves the salty flavor and frankly, I have no idea if they serve it in restaurants at all. I've only ever eaten it at someone's house. The fish is dried then brined in saltwater and it's most typically eaten during the Sham el Neseem festival (celebrating Spring / Easter).
Falafel, aka tameya, is another well-known staple that has found its fame abroad: the deep-fried mixture of herbs and beans is a fan favorite, especially among vegetarians. Want some traditional falafel? Felfela is your best bet. Feeling particularly trendy and worldly? Try Zööba, well known for its take on modern Egyptian food (they also make a mean koshary!).
Where to Eat Ta'ameya in Cairo:
Kabab and Kofta
Kofta is minced beef or lamb with spices, rolled onto a skewer and barbecued over coals. Think spiced meatballs shaped like sausage. Kabab is even better – juicy chunks of seasoned beef cooked over coals on a skewer. Order the mixed plate from Shaker, and prepare for a food coma of epic proportions – if all the meat doesn’t fill you up, the sides of rice, bread, dips and veggies surely will!
Where to Eat Kebab and Kofta in Cairo:
Kebda (Liver) Sandwiches
I've never met a culture that loves liver as much as Egyptians do. Seriously, there are tons of street carts dedicated solely to serving kebda sandwiches. I'm not a picky eater but I strongly dislike kebda and refuse to eat it. That said, the best places to eat it (according to my local friends) are listed below.
Where to Eat Kebda in Cairo:
To date, I’ve never been able to appetizingly describe molokhia to someone who hasn’t tasted it, so bear with me. It’s a leafy green vegetable, but it’s never eaten raw. It’s finely chopped and cooked with a bunch of aromatic spices, and by the time it’s ready for consumption, it looks like a thick, green stew. Some people say it’s slimy, and it is ever so slightly so, but when cooked well, the taste overpowers the consistency. It’s often served with chicken or beef, but you can sometimes find it with rabbit as well (a delicacy I have not yet tried). It’s often served over rice. I’m not sure how successful I was in making it sound appetizing, but let me tell you this – all the Arab children I’ve ever encountered love it. And if it’s good enough for picky children, then it’s worth a try at least, hence its classification as a must-try Egyptian dish.
Where to Eat Molokhia in Cairo:
Hawawshi is so utterly simple that it’s hard to believe it’s a must-try dish. One can consider it a minced beef sandwich, but it’s so much more than that. The skilled makers of hawashi roast the sandwich in a wood oven that crisps the bread so well, you would swear it was deep-fried. It’s most commonly served with pickled vegetables (torshi). Where do you eat it in Cairo? At Hawashi el Refaey, an excellent recommendation courtesy of my Cairo food tour.
Where to Eat Hawawshi in Cairo:
While technically not a dish on its own, torshi (pickled veggies) deserves its own mention as a staple of Egypt's cuisine. Why? Because it is served with almost everything. In Egypt, pickles are more than just cucumbers. Almost any kind of vegetable can be turned into torshi: cauliflower, carrots, peppers – the list goes on and on. I’d be surprised if you ate at restaurants in Egypt and didn't encounter torshi, and if you’re feeling skeptical of all the colors in the pickle bag (did I mention it’s often served in a bag?), don’t be! It adds even more zest to the flavorful cuisine.
Where to Eat Torshi in Cairo:
Anywhere and everywhere. It's usually served as a side dish with most meals.
Who would I be if I made an Egyptian food guide that didn’t mention the famous Egyptian desserts? Desserts could honestly warrant their own post, but for the sake of this food guide, I'll discuss my favorite four, starting with baklava. Most people have heard of this deliciously sweet dessert consisting of crushed nuts baked between layers of filo dough and topped with sharbat (a sweet syrup). If you haven't, prepare yourself for your new favorite dessert. Baklava isn't strictly Egyptian - many countries make variations of this dessert - but the Egyptian version is one of the best, especially from one of the traditional bakeries.
Where to Eat Baklava in Cairo:
At first glance, kunafa looks like hay, but it’s actually really thin and fluffy filo dough – also stuffed with nuts (or cream) and topped with sharbat. In fact, it's similarly flavored to baklava, but the texture differentiation is really what makes it unique. Like baklava, kunafa can be found at many of Cairo's traditional bakeries.
Where to Eat Kunafa in Cairo:
The direct translation of this dish is “mother of Ali,” and this seems to be the popular story behind the name. In a nutshell, it’s Egyptian bread pudding made with filo dough or puff pastry, nuts, and milk. It’s lighter and milkier than the European / American version, but just as delicious. My mom makes the best one I've ever had (#biased) but the best version in Cairo can be found at El Malky.
Where to Eat Om Ali in Cairo:
BasboosaThis light and crumbly cake baked and topped with sharbat is a crowd favorite, especially amongst those that have a sweet tooth. Made with semolina, basboosa is best consumed with some mint tea or Turkish coffee.
Where to Eat Basboosa in Cairo:
I learned during my Greek food tour that what is today known as Turkish coffee was actually taken from the Arabs back in the day. In a twist of irony, present-day Arabic coffee is completely different than Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is quite popular in Egypt. Think of it as an espresso with a thick layer of grounds at the bottom and a foam layer on top. It's strong but delicious - just don't drink it in the evening. It will keep you up all night!
Where to Drink Turkish Coffee in Cairo:
- El Fishawi
- Any traditional Ahwa (coffee shop)
Of course, I can go on about how fabulous all the food in Egypt (especially in Cairo) is. And I can probably come up with a lot more dishes that you must try in Egypt, but these are my favorites. Besides, if you’re anything like me, your stomach will need some adjustment to the food anyway, so these are plenty of options to consume between, ahem, stomach “rest days.”
More Egypt ResourcesPlanning a trip to Egypt soon? Check out ALL my posts on Egypt below:
- 30+ Awesome Things to Do in Cairo, Egypt: The Ultimate Cairo Travel Guide
- Egypt Travel Guide
- What to Pack for Egypt: The Ultimate Egypt Packing List
- Pharaohs and Feluccas: Exploring Egypt with Intrepid Travel
- Camping in the White Desert, Egypt: A First Timer’s Guide
- Traditional Egyptian Food Guide: 20 Must Eat Foods in Cairo, Egypt
- Egypt Travel Tips for the First Time Visitor: Expectations vs Reality
- Bellies En-Route Downtown Cairo Food Tour: The Best Thing to Do in Cairo for Foodies
- Visiting the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt: Everything to Know Before You Go
- Where to Stay in Cairo, Egypt: The Best Hotels in Cairo for Every Budget
Did I miss anything worth trying on this Egyptian food guide? What’s your favorite Egyptian dish? Let me know in the comments below!
Like this post? Pin it and save it for later!