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Egyptian delicacies

Egypt's food history has a long and winding narrative with roots reaching back to the days when its vast terrain was governed by lavish pharaohs. Over the years, the country has developed a culinary scene that's largely vegetarian, mostly down to the fact meat is expensive. The country's relationship with vegetables and beans is also thanks to its fertile valley and Egypt's greatest asset – the Nile River.

Along Egypt's coastal regions like Alexandria, Marsa Alam, Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada you'll find a selection of seafood, but on the whole you can expect an abundance of veggies and grains. Certain culinary traditions and dishes are also influenced by religious practices, especially those surrounding Ramadan and other periods of fasting. The cuisine closely mirrors other Mediterranean traditions in some respects, but with a few tricks up its sleeve.

Egyptian staples

  • Bread is so imperative to Egyptian cuisine that the Arabic word for bread is 'aish', which also means 'life'. On a whole, aish is prepared with a very simple recipe of wheat flour, water and salt, making a very thick, pitta-like bread.

  • Fava beans are mixed together to create a number of Egyptian dishes like ful medames – very similar to houmous – and falafel, which is believed to have originated in Egypt before spreading throughout the Middle-East.

  • Tea is Egypt's national drink, even before coffee. Tea ordinarily comes in two types – Koshary, which is a black tea sweetened with cane sugar, milk and mint leaves, and Saiidi, a much stronger black tea sweetened with heaps of cane sugar. Drinking tea is an almost-mandatory practice when visiting someone's home or office in Egypt – the same goes when you have someone over.

  • Traditional dishes

  • Kushari – Widely recognised as Egypt's national dish, kushari is a mixture of pasta, tomato sauce, lentils, onions, rice, garlic and chickpeas. The dish didn't become popular until the 19th century. Almost all of the ingredients were imported from around the world, but this carb-heavy dish was first combined in Egypt. Nowadays, it's eaten around lunchtime, as it's packed with protein and fibre so manages to keep you well fuelled throughout the day.

  • Ful medames – Think of ful medames as Egypt's version of houmous. This dish consists of fava beans, garlic, oil and lemon juice, historically cooked in a pot and then buried in the sand. Served with fresh Egyptian bread, it's a pretty great snack.

  • Molokhiya – Though it doesn't exactly look like the most appetising meal in the world, molokhiya competes with kushari for the title of Egypt's national dish. It's a green soup made of chopped mallow leaves, garlic and coriander that's then cooked in chicken broth, though the use of other broths like shrimp and rabbit are also common. The flavours you find in your molokhiya will largely depend on where you are in Egypt.

  • Basbousa – This sweet dish is a dessert-favourite in Egypt. It consists of a semolina cake that's soaked in syrup, sometimes with hints of rose water or lemon and honey.

  • Fatta – Fatta isn't your average Egyptian meal, as it's only really served for special occasions including Christian and Muslim holidays, after Ramadan or a woman's first birth. But around those times, you'll find it in abundance. It's a seriously heavy dish, consisting of layered rice and fried bread that's topped with garlic, a meat soup and deep-fried poached eggs.

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