Looking for a guide to the best Egyptian food? This guide has everything you need to know about Egyptian foods! Egypt is sort of the culinary mecca of the Middle East. Over the thousands of years that the country has existed, Egyptian food has been perfected. So don’t be afraid to try these sixteen traditional Egyptian dishes that may be a bit out of your comfort zone, because they’ll be absolutely delicious!
While most people think of Egyptian food as only in Egypt, you’d be surprised how many other places you can find it. Egyptians have immigrated all over the world, particularly to countries like the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. One of the best restaurants on the little island of Oahu, Hawaii is actually an Egyptian restaurant! You don’t have to wait until you plan that dream trip to Egypt to finally taste a bite of Egyptian food. You may be able to find a fantastic Egyptian restaurant in your very own city! Or better yet, maybe you can even try to make a couple of these Egyptian foods at home!
Savory Egyptian Food
Most Egyptian food is savory. While in the U.S., lunch and dinner are savory meals, whereas breakfast is a coin toss (I mean, who doesn’t love a good French toast?), in Egypt, all three meals are typically very savory.
Koushari (pronounced koo-sha-ree) is known as the national dish of Egypt. It’s basically the pinnacle of typical Egyptian food and can be bought at just about any street corner in Egypt. This layered pasta, rice, lentil, and onion dish is eaten all around the country. But there is one important contingency: YOU MUST EAT KOUSHARI WITH THE TOMATO SAUCE. There will always be a small container of sauce on the side of any koushari dish. Sometimes it’s spicy, sometimes it’s not. Regardless of the spice level, use it. If you don’t, the dish simply won’t feel (or taste) complete.
No, this is not the Hungarian goulash stew or anything of the sort. The Egyptian goulash (pronounced GOOL-esh) is a dish made with several flaky layers of phyllo dough – this is basically the only unifying factor between the sweet and savory versions of the dish. Sweet goulash is filled with nuts and honey and is quite similar to Greek baklava. Savory goulash is typically filled with meat or cheese and is just as tasty as the sweet one. Both versions are definitely worth a try.
Egyptian macarona (pronounced mah-kah-roh-nah) is another traditional Egyptian food. Just like goulash, it is also quite deceiving to foreigners, as it looks quite similar to Italian lasagna. However, when you take a bite, there is the shocking, but delicious flavor of cinnamon. There are two versions of macarona – béchamel, which is a creamy white sauce, and tomato. Both are absolutely delicious.
These little grape-leaf rolls, known to Egyptians as machi (pronounced MAH-shee) are probably my favorite Egyptian food. The grape leaves are filled with an herby rice and meat (typically ground beef or lamb) mixture. They are NOT at all the same as the Greek dolmades, even though they may appear to be similar on the outside. The herbs used in the filling are quite different, and the Greek dolmades tend to be vegetarian.
*Pro Tip: In order to stop the machi at the bottom of the pan from burning, put some chopped onions or grape leaf scrapes before you place the machi in.
Kofta (pronounced kohf-tah) are basically Egyptian meatballs. They are elongated into ovals, usually grilled, and have an interesting combination of spices (including parsley and cinnamon – yes, cinnamon is basically a cornerstone of Egyptian cuisine) but, at its base, it’s a meatball.
There are a variety of different ways to eat kofta. The most popular may be kofta in sauce over rice, creating a sort of spaghetti-and-meatballs vibe (just swap the spaghetti for rice). Other ways to eat kofta include making a sandwich using pita bread or simply just eating them individually.
Fool (pronounced very similarly to the English word “fool” but with an elongated “oo” sound) is a slow-cooked soup or stew made from dried fava beans. (It is also known as “ful medames.”) It is flavored with a long list of ingredients, including tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, cayenne pepper, cumin, tomatoes, and cucumbers. And it is typically eaten by scooping it out of a bowl with pita bread (or eish baladi, another traditional Egyptian bread).
If you do plan to make a pot of fool, be prepared to have your oven on ALL DAY or ALL NIGHT (depending on when you want to eat it). For the fava beans to become as soft as they are supposed to be, they need to spend at least six to eight hours in the oven. If you’re trying to be as traditional as possible, fool is typically eaten for breakfast, so the fava beans usually sit in the oven and cook overnight.
Lastly, when the fool is finally served, there is a LONG list of toppings that can go with it. More tahini, a boiled egg, some fresh tomato wedges, a pinch of parsley…the list of toppings can go on and on!
While it may not sound like it with its extensive list of ingredients and absurdly long cooking time, fool is actually a popular Egyptian street food! There are many little nooks and crannies throughout the country where you can grab a bowl of this fantastic Egyptian food.
This slimy green soup can be quite intimidating to foreigners, and I’ve found that it’s pretty much a hit or miss. I recently found out that the plant used to make molokhaya (pronounced moh-loh-KHEY-yah) is called “Jew’s mellow” in English – ever heard of it? Me neither.
Rumor has it the molokhaya was eaten by the pharaoh’s in ancient Egypt. Many people in Egypt actually refer to molokhaya as “the king’s soup.” So if you want to eat what the great Egyptian pharaohs eat, try to get yourself a bowl of molokhaya.
Making molokhaya is quite a complicated process involving homemade broth, roasted garlic, and hand chopping the molokhaya leaves with a mezzaluna. Be prepared to spend at least a solid hour (probably more) whipping up a batch of molokhaya.
Aats (pronounced AH-ats) is another slow-cooked Egyptian soup – but this one is made of lentils. It is also typically eaten with pita bread as the only utensil. They have dishes that taste quite similar to this in Moroccan and Russian cultures as well.
Aats is the sort of like Egyptian comfort food. It’s warm, creamy, and great for a cold day. (Yes, despite the fact that Egypt is a desert, there are cold days there too.)
Bamya (pronounced bem-i-yeh) is another soupy, stewy Egyptian dish. (The country sure does love its soups and stews!) This stew is made with a tomato sauce base and includes okra, beef or lamb cubes, and a ton of onion. And compared to many of the other dishes, like fool and molokhaya, that take hours on end to make, bamya can be made in a little over thirty minutes!
*Pro Tip: when making bamya, try to use small okra, rather than large ones. That’ll give the okra a slightly less fibrous texture when you eat it.
Ok, you know all this hype with falafel lately? Well tameyah (pronounced tah-ah-may-yah) is the tastier Egyptian food version of falafel. Tameyah are spheres of ground fresh fava beans that are pan-fried in vegetable oil. They are naturally vegan and gluten-free.
Because the main ingredient in falafel is ground chickpeas rather than ground fava beans, falafel is brown on the inside, whereas tameyah is green on the inside. Plus, it becomes even greener if the chef decides to add a bit of parsley to the mix.
Fettah (prounounced fet-tah, sort of like Feta cheese, but with a little more emphasis on the “t” sound) is a rather simple Egyptian food (by comparison) that also happens to be one of the most delicious. It’s similar to koushari, in that it also has multiple layers.
The first layer of fettah is always pita bread that has been torn into bite-size piece. the pita bread is then followed by a thick layer of rice. These two layers are then topped off with some chicken or turkey broth – not enough to make the dish soupy, but enough to soak everything through. Then, if this is a side dish rather than a meal, you simply top it off with a ton of roasted garlic. Delicious!
However, if it is a meal, the broth-infused rice later is followed by a layer of tomato sauce, which is then followed up with a layer of stewy beef. Personally, I prefer the side dish option, because it’s a great thing to make with some leftover rice and bread. However, the meal version of fettah is fantastic too!
Sweet Egyptian Food
Just because there are so many delicious savory Egyptian dishes doesn’t mean that the country has slacked off on its sweets. As a matter of fact, some of the best Egyptian food actually comes from the sweet facet of the cuisine!
Kahk (pronounced KAH-hk – make sure the “h” sound is pronounced and kind of clear your throat as you end the word lol) is one of the popular Egyptian holiday cookies. They’re a little bit like American snowball cookies, but even better. This seemingly-simple cookie is actually quite difficult to make.
First, the butter has to be clarified by hand, which means there will be a pot of boiling butter on the stove for a few hours. This process gives the kahk a nice nutty flavor. From there, the newly clarified butter is mixed with dry ingredients until the proper texture is achieved. Then, the dough is rolled into individual balls and pressed down between two palms to create a sort of flattened top shape. The individual pieces of dough are then pinched to create a sort of flower pattern that will nicely hold the powdered sugar after they have been cooked to a nice golden brown color.
As you can imagine, because of this extremely long process, kahk is typically only made for special occasions. Luckily, without the powdered sugar on top, kahk can be frozen for long periods of time and still taste fresh!
Ruz Eb Laban
And now we’ve reached the sweet section of this list of Egyptian foods! But don’t worry, we haven’t lost the Egyptian obsession with cinnamon. This dish, ruz eb laban (pronounced rooz-ub-leh-ben), is the Egyptian take on rice pudding (the name actually means “rice and milk”). Of course, be sure to add an alarming amount of cinnamon on the top of your serving before eating it.
Just because ruz eb laban is in the sweet section of this list, doesn’t mean it’s only eaten for dessert. As a matter of fact, ruz eb laban is quite a popular breakfast dish in Egypt as well.
As another one of my favorite Egyptian foods, basboosa (pronounced bes-boo-seh) definitely had to make it onto this list. Pictured in the very first image of this post, this sweet, syrup-infused semolina cake is absolutely delicious!
Making basboosa properly is truly an art. Trying to get the cake to the proper texture between grainy and damp is a fine line. And determining when the syrup is ready requires a keen eye (or a burned finger – only Egyptians will understand that struggle). Plus, we certainly can’t forget the detail that does into putting a singular nut on each individual piece of basboosa.
*Pro Tip: Basboosa covered in orange syrup is significantly better than basboosa topped with rose water syrup!
Last on the list is another Egyptian holiday cookie. Beskawit (pronounced bess-keh-wit) is actually quite simple to make. The hardest part is the shaping of they dough, as these bite-size cookies are typically shaped with a piping bag, so they look like little dollops of frosting with a single chocolate chip on top.
Many Egyptian Americans have Americanized this Egyptian food by changing the shape of the beskawit cookies. Rather than little dollops with a chocolate chip on top, beskawit can be formed into just about any shape. For example, for Christmas, the beskawit dough can be turned into Christmas trees or Christmas wreaths.
Out of all of the Egyptian desserts on this list, kounafa (pronounced koo-neh-feh) is likely the most recognizable. Its fame is likely due to the fact that this dessert managed to spread all over the Middle East and even into parts of Europe, like Turkey and Greece! This crunchy Egyptian pastry is made of shredded phyllo dough, a variety of nuts, and a ton of syrup. To understand the flavor profile a little bit better, you can think of kounafa as a slightly more textured version of baklava.
Are there other Egyptian foods that you think should have made it onto this list? What are they? Let me know in the comments!
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