Explore the staples and food traditions of Egyptian cuisine, along with quintessential dishes to try at home.

By Lauren Helmer
April 16, 2021
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With roots that date back as far as 2500 BC, Egyptian cuisine not only gives you a taste of ancient history but also offers glimpses into this unique North African culture. While Egyptian cuisine shares characteristics with the mainstays of beloved Mediterranean cuisine — hummus, falafel, shawarma, kabob, stuffed grape leaves — the Egyptian diet is rooted in its sense of place, the rich Nile River Valley and Delta. This fertile ground was the nexus of the ancient Egyptian civilization, which we know about largely from illustrated depictions of daily life on tomb walls. While the drawings capture livestock, the bulk of the images demonstrate farmers harvesting ingredients from the ground, a practice that lives on in Egypt's food traditions.

Legumes, vegetables, and grains like wheat, barley, and rice anchor the Egyptian diet. The beautifully simple, pita-like bread is an everyday staple, which is also used as a utensil to scoop up mashed Fava Beans in Tahini Sauce and similar dips, light salads, and stews — or to encompass sandwich-like fillings like Ta'ameya (Egyptian Falafel) or the classic Kofta.

Ta'ameya (Egyptian Falafel)
Ta'ameya (Egyptian Falafel)
| Credit: Christina

So vital to the food culture is Egyptian bread that its name, aish baladi, roughly translates to "to live" or "way of living." To this day, a commonplace Egyptian meal could be as elegantly simple (and healthy) as bread and beans, perhaps paired with vegetable sides like Egyptian Okra (or Bamya), Egyptian Green Beans with Carrots, Egyptian-Style Fried Cauliflower, or Egyptian Lentil Soup.

Fried Cauliflower (Egyptian Style)
Fried Cauliflower (Egyptian Style)
| Credit: maryam

For the large population of Coptic Christians in Egypt, these accompanying dishes are vegan like this Couscous with Olives and Sun-Dried Tomato. Pair your lunch with a sweet, iced Karkadeh (Egyptian Hibiscus Iced Tea) for full authentic effect.

Karkadeh (Egyptian Hibiscus Iced Tea)
Karkadeh (Egyptian Hibiscus Iced Tea)
| Credit: Allrecipes

And you cannot call a dish Egyptian without the region's signature spices. With easy access to the legendary Silk Road's ports of entry, Egypt has long had the benefit of a plethora of savory, spicy, nutty earthy, and herbal spices—among them cumin, coriander, bay leaf, cardamom, aniseed, ginger, cinnamon, mint, cloves, rose leaves, saffron, and more. And Egypt's gorgeous Dukkah — a dry blend of chopped nuts, seeds, and spices — is experiencing its own day in the sun as it is currently trending in Western cultures. Sprinkle dukkah over bread dipped in olive oil, crudite, soups, dips, or even make Dukkah Roasted Potatoes. (Believe us, you'll fall in love with this versatile nut-and-spice mixture too.)

dukkah
Dukkah
| Credit: Linda T

One might not associate the luxuriously rich foie gras with this veggie-forward culture, but the ancient Egyptians actually invented this delicacy. This and other meats were historically enjoyed only by the upper echelons of society, and while the cuisine remains heavily vegetarian, meat is featured in heartier meals and celebratory dishes, such as the household favorite Lahma Bil Basal (Beef in Rich Onion Sauce), Egyptian Meatballs, and Bamya Bil Lahme (Egyptian Okra & Lamb Stew). Eggah, an Egyptian-style frittata is also a culinary darling, as is the fried-egg favorite Shakshouka.

Egyptian Lahma Bil Basal (Beef in Rich Onion Sauce)
Egyptian Lahma Bil Basal (Beef in Rich Onion Sauce)
| Credit: Melissa Goff

Some of the most quintessential Egyptian dishes, though, take us back into vegetarian territory. Ful medames is an iconic dish with history stretching back to the times of the Pharaohs. Served at breakfast, as a mezze, or on street corners, ful medames is a dish of fava beans cooked with olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, pepper, cumin, and chili pepper flakes — often served with hard-boiled eggs and sometimes topped with fresh vegetable salad, scallions, tahini, pickles, but always with bread. This beloved dish is widely considered Egypt's national dish, but it has a formidable rival in Koshari, a widely popular fusion-style street food combining rice, macaroni, and lentils, topped with a spiced tomato sauce. To give it an authentic Egyptian flair, garnish with chickpeas, crispy fried onions, and a sprinkling of garlic vinegar and hot sauce.

Chef John's Baklava
Chef John's Baklava
| Credit: Chef John

Once you've enjoyed a plate of savory goodness, sate your sweet tooth with a traditional Egyptian treat. Baklava is a popular crossover dessert from other Mediterranean foodways, but if you're feeling more adventurous, try Om Ali, a bread pudding-like creation made with puff pastry, milk, coconut, raisins, and a delectable combination of nuts; while, Mahalabia (Egyptian Milk Pudding) is a creamy, rich dream. To dabble in pastries, try Balah el Sham (Egyptian Choux Pastry) or Egyptian Rose Leaves. Pair your sweet with a warming cup of Egyptian tea, and enjoy the flavors of this ancient culture's rich cuisine!

Explore our complete collection of Egyptian Recipes.

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