Eating Egyptian Food
In Egypt, dining out can range from stand up sandwich bars to luxurious five course meals. You can find small, inexpensive establishments that serve good Egyptian food for only a few pounds. If you're in a hurry, try the local snack bars. The "cubbyholes" off the street (which probably have running water) are generally safe. The larger cities even have western style fast food chains like McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, but they're relatively expensive. In cities both food and water are safe although the change in your diet may produce short term gastrointestinal upsets.
Although Egyptian eating habits may seem erratic, most natives begin the day with a light breakfast of beans (or bean cakes), eggs, and/or pickles, cheeses, and jams. Most families eat their large, starchy lunch between 5pm and 5pm and follow it with a siesta. They may take a British style tea at 5pm or 6pm and eat a light supper (often leftovers from lunch) late in the evening. Dinner parties, however, are scheduled late, often no earlier than 9pm, with the meal served an hour or two later. In restaurants lunch is normally served between 1pm and 4pm, dinner 8pm to midnight.
In Egypt, as in the rest of the world, restaurants are only as good as the cooks they employ, and cooks seem to be continually changing. For current information on the best restaurants, the expatriate community is unbeatable, and the magazine Cairo Today includes monthly tips listing places to try, and publishes an annual dining guide. Most establishments use native ingredients and will offer fruits and vegetables in season. Menus are in both Arabic and English except in Alexandria, where they are in Arabic and French. In large restaurants, the maitre d'hotel will speak English, French, and possibly German, Egyptian, or Greek. These establishments serve a mixture of international cuisine but often include Egyptian or Middle Eastern fare as well. Most hotels also maintain 24 hour coffee shops.
Throughout Egypt, little stand up shops dispense the Egyptian version of fast food. Most of these shops in major cities are clean and offer quick, inexpensive, and nutritious meals. Most shops have helpful staff, but during their busy times you may have to push your way into the pack of Egyptians to get waited on. You can buy roasted chickens that the shop will season for you. You can also get shawarma (Gyros), lamb cooked on a vertical spit, available most of the day.
Egyptian Home Cooking
If you're lucky, you may be invited to dine in an Egyptian home. There are no set times for dinner; often hours will depend upon your host's profession. Although invitations may be issued for as late as 1am! Generally if no time is set, guests are expected between 9pm and 10pm. If you wish, you may bring flowers, chocolates, or a bottle of wine (if your hosts drink -many Muslims do not). You will be introduced to other guests and perhaps the host's entire family, many of whom will not stay to eat.
Egyptian food reflects the country's melting pot history; native cooks using local ingredients have modified Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian traditions to suit Egyptian budgets, customs, and tastes. The dishes are simple; made with naturally ripened fruits and vegetables and seasoned with fresh spices, they're good and hearty. Food in the south, closely linked to North African cuisine, is more zesty than that found in the north, but neither is especially hot. The best cooking is often found in the smaller towns. Although Egyptian cooking can be bland and oily when poorly done, most of the cuisine is delicious. Enjoy!
Shopping For Food
The easiest way to stretch your food budget is to patronize the local stands and suqs, buying fresh fruit and vegetables you can eat raw. The prices are normally posted in Arabic and are fixed. Since there is no bargaining involved, you can just point to what you want, indicate how many or how much, and hold out your money; most vendors and small storekeepers are scrupulously honest. Small, local grocery stores occupy nearly every street corner and sell canned goods, preserves, bread, cheese, and soda pop as well as staples at government fixed prices. If the local grocery doesn't stock beer, there is probably a store nearby that does; ask. Here or at the brewery you can buy Stella by the case. Bakeries supply various types of bread and pastries at fixed prices.
Road to Egypt works with you to plan your Egypt experience at a pace and taste that suits your wish list and your budget. Choose from our suggested private tours or let us customize a program just for you. Contact us and speak to one of our tour designers.
Find answers to common questions about our Private Tours of Egypt. If you need further assistance, don't hesitate to call us. We're always happy to help.