Food and Drink
The range of food in Egypt is very wide and cosmopolitan. Mostly you will find dishes are a cross between Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Food is available in large restaurants or from street corner stalls and snack bars. The smaller snack-bars and cafes usually offer a good range of inexpensive lightly-spiced Egyptian food as well as sandwiches, pizzas and french fries. Falafel, or tamiya, is a delicious deep-fried snack made from beans and is available freshly cooked on every street corner. Check out how clean the stall looks, as some of these places don’t have running water or refrigeration.
The traditional Egyptian breakfast is ‘ful’ which is a kind of bean stew and extremely filling, but larger hotels and cruise ships will offer a buffet breakfast with just about anything you could possibly imagine, including a wide range of breads and cakes. Smaller hotels tend to stick to a continental breakfast of croissants or bread rolls with jam, honey, or cheese and tomatoes and sometimes eggs. Plain yoghurt is also popular.
Egyptian people often eat their main meal at lunchtime and this is usually chicken or beef with rice and vegetables and may be preceded by a soup. Pork is rarely seen in Egypt as it is considered unclean by Muslims. Bread accompanies every meal and there are many types of breads in different regions. The common ‘Aysh’ or Egyptian bread is an unleavened circle of coarse dough (and sand) a little like pitta bread, or larger loaves or rolls of risen white dough. Bakeries are abundant and the choice of pastries and very sweet cakes makes your mouth water.
A similar but smaller meal is eaten at sunset by Egyptians, but tourists tend to have their main meal in the evening, often quite late. A three course meal in a hotel will cost anything from around EGP 40 upwards, whereas you can get a three course meal in a local cafe for around EGP 20 or less. In Cairo there are many Western-style fast food restaurants, including places like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut and there is even a McDonalds in Luxor now. They are inexpensive compared to their branches in Europe. Seafood is also popular in Cairo, but more of a speciality in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea coast.
Egypt is famous for its coffee shops, the traditional place where men go in the evening for a game of dominoes or backgammon. There will usually be a television blasting out a loud football game in Arabic. In these pavement cafes you can have a cup of coffee (Nescafe or Egyptian coffee), tea or a soft drink and watch the world go by. Western women are just about tolerated now in these places but you will rarely see Egyptian women here except maybe in Cairo.
Tea is a traditional drink in Egypt and you will probably drink gallons of it while there, whether you like it or not. It is made by boiling a powdery form of tea leaves in a kettle of water until it is stewed, and then a large quantity of sugar is added. It is served in small glasses without handles. Coffee, unless you ask for Nescafe, will be similar to Turkish coffee, served in tiny cups with a thick residue of coffee grains in the bottom. This will also be very sweet unless you ask for only a little or no sugar.
The more traditional Muslims do not drink alcohol although they are tolerant of visitors drinking in moderation. Alcoholic drinks are usually confined to the bars of larger hotels and restaurants and can be very expensive, but limited stocks are now available in some supermarkets. A local beer called Stella, a fairly weak lager, is available in many places as is Stella Export which is stronger and more expensive. Several types of reasonable Egyptian wines are also available, but often expensive.
Naturally, bottled water and soft drinks are available everywhere. Try juice stalls on the street where you can get freshly squeezed fruit juices depending on the season for around EGP 6 per glass. Mango, guava, sugarcane, or strawberry are just a few of the many to tempt you on a hot day.