Food in Cairo

Hello again class! Only a couple more weeks of blogging left. I’ve very much enjoyed reading your questions and seeing your thoughts (and drawings). Thank you for so diligently reading my posts and watching the videos, I really appreciate it.

BUT there are still two blogs left as well as our end of year party when I will visit your classroom in January! Do you have any ideas for what we should do on that day? Are there foods you would like to try (maybe this post will give you some ideas)? What would you like to see from me? Think about it and let me know. You’ve given me great questions for my interview with 6th graders in Cairo, so I’m confident you’ll have great ideas again.

Now without further ado, here is a video of the pretty, coastal city of Alexandria to help warm your day as winter settles over Portland.

One of the more enjoyable (or at least exciting) ways to get to know a culture is through eating its food. Because I am on a tight budget, the cuisine I most often eat in Cairo comes from street vendors or restaurants where you can’t sit down. First I’ll go through what I eat on an typical day and then I’ll talk a bit about the best meal I had in Egypt: a seafood extravaganza in Alexandria.

Person selling baked sweet potatoes on the street out of a portable oven that looks like a small train. They are all over Cairo but I have only eaten it once. Delicious, especially with some salt and pepper. Credit:

Breakfast: For breakfast, I’ll usually get a sandwich on the way to the bus. I’ll order a ful Iskanderani ala tamaya wa beid, which means “ful over falafel with egg”. Ful is perhaps the most common food in Cairo next to bread, and it is made from cooking fava beans over a long period of time. It is basically tasty refried beans, but I order ful Iskanderani, which means ‘Alexandrian ful’ and includes more vegetables like onions, garlic and parsley. Tamaya is what we call falafel, except in Cairo it is made with deep fried fava beans (like ful). In much of the Middle East and when you eat falafel in the US, it is made with deep fried chickpeas. It is not so normal for Egyptians to mix the ful, tamaya and a hard boiled egg and sometimes I need to explain what I want to the cook. It’s a tasty way to start the day, but mostly it is CHEAP. This sandwich costs about 4 pounds, equivalent to about 70 american cents.

Typical small falafel sandwich, but this is without the ful and egg.

Lunch: At school, I will go to the salad bar and make a massive salad of pasta, beets, carrots, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, onions and balsamic vinegar. This is on the campus of the American University in Cairo, and the salad bar line is always incredibly long. However, this style of salad is not that popular in most of Cairo and Egypt, and it might be more popular at my university because the students are more well-off than most of Egypt. What most Egyptians consider salad is called mezze, and its about half-a-dozen small bowls of hummus, baba ghanoug, tahini, taboulah and salads with onion/tomato/parsley/garlic/olive oil, some bread for dipping, and perhaps stuffed grape vine leaves or stuffed sausage if you go the more expensive route. Cost is 15 pounds, or $2.50.

Typical mezze layout

Dinner: A meal that every American study abroad student goes crazy for at the beginning of the semester and then quickly becomes tired of is called koshary. Basically it is a combination of everything I cook at home in Portland in one meal: mixed types of pasta, lentils, chickpeas, onions, tomato sauce. I got sick of it in two weeks, but have recently begun enjoying it again. Cost is between 50 cents and $1.50.

Juice: My absolute favorite meal or drink in Cairo is the juice bars that are on almost every street. They are always decorated by huge, netted bags of different fruits hanging over the entrance and bar and are always delicious. Juices include mango, pomegranate, carrot, banana, strawberry, orange, sugar cane, guava or (my favorite) a cocktail combining very juice. Price ranges from 2.5 pounds to 4 pounds for a glass. An added bonus is they serve you the juice in actual glasses, so you are forced to stand and talk with the store owner in Arabic for a few minutes.

Typical juice set up. He is pouring sugar cane juice.

In the US, I’m a vegetarian but in Egypt I have been eating some meat. Such as in Alexandria, where I had a feast of fish. It cost a whopping 60 pounds each, or $10. You could buy literally 60 falafel sandwiches for that much. But it was delicious. Unfortunately I know very little about meat and fish (since I grew up vegetarian), so I can’t give great info I’m afraid. I didn’t even choose the fish we ate, but my friend went into a room across the street from our restaurant and picked out a bunch of fish, mussels, shrimp and squid and then the food came out in various forms of grilled and deep fried and with all the mezze salads and bread I described above. I did eat a fish head, which was delicious. It was all delicious. I did not realize I was eating squid until after the meal, even.

Pile of mussels and shrimp

Like eating in a graveyard

Fish skeleton, mezze in background.


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