Beans in Egypt
Along with aysh, the native bean
supplies most of Egypt's people with their daily rations. Ful can be
cooked several ways: in ful midamess, the whole beans are boiled, with
vegetables if desired, and then mashed with onions, tomatoes, and spices.
This mixture is often served with
an egg for breakfast, without the egg for other meals . A similar sauce,
cooked down into a paste and stuffed into aysh baladi, is the filling
for the sandwiches sold on the street. Alternatively, ful beans are
soaked, minced, mixed with spices, formed into patties (called ta'miyya
in Cairo and falaafil in Alexandria), and deep-fried. These patties,
garnished with tomatoes, lettuce, and tahina sauce, are stuffed into
aysh and sold on the street.
Aspects of Cooking in Egypt
Egyptian food was cooked in simple
clay pots, using wooden utensils and stored in jars. Fish and meat had
to be especially prepared for storage. One common method, evidenced
in frescoes, was salting. Another was hanging the fish in the sun to
bake them dry. Egypt developed a thriving trade in dried and salted
In ordinary families the cooking
was done by the housewife, but larger households employed servants to
work in the kitchen and a chef - usually a man - to do the cooking.
The Egyptians had ovens, and knew how to boil roast, and fry food. There
were few kitchen tools: pestles, mortars, and sieves. Archaeologists
have unearthed early mortars with rubbing stones that would probably
have been use to separate the chaff from the grain.
Egyptian Foods and Recipes
Ancient Roots - Today's
The variety of Egyptian recipes
is extensive, and utilizes many types of food. With a history of foreign
trade, of invasions and the domination of other cultures, (Roman, Greek,
Arab among them) Egypt has adopted many ways of preparing food. The
influences came mainly from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Palestine,
and other Mediterranean countries, but even those were modified in Egypt
to a great extent, adapting them to suit Egyptian customs, and tastes
to make these foods uniquely Egyptian. The dishes are simple and hearty,
made with naturally ripened fruits and vegetables and seasoned with
fresh spices. The food in the south, closely linked to North African
cuisine, is zestier than that found in the north, but neither is especially
But we must remember that the early
Egyptians were accomplished agriculturists. They cultivated pistachios,
pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, still popular food today.
From their orchards came apples, apricots, grapes, melons, quinces,
and pomegranates. To this day, Egyptians love vegetables. Ancient gardens
featured lettuce, peas, cucumbers, beets, beans, herbs, and greens.
Pharaohs thought of mushrooms as a special delicacy.
Egyptian cuisine is known for flavor
and its use of fresh ingredients. The staple in every Arab's diet is
a bread called Aish (means life), which is a darker form of the Pita
bread in the Greek culture. Fava beans are also important in the diet.
At an Arab meal, one would expect to have a soup, meat, vegetable stew,
bread, salad, and rice or pasta. Their desserts aren't rich like those
of many other Arab countries, similar cuisine as it is and most dishes
have the same name all over the middle east, mostly fruit is served
after a meal. Egypt's cuisine includes bean stew and falafel with veal,
lamb and pigeon which is also popular.
was eaten before drinking bouts to prevent getting drunk. Herodotus
records that the slaves who built the Great Pyramid at Giza were kept
going on "radishes, onions, and leeks," three of the world's
is a leafy, green, summer vegetable. A traditional dish in Egypt and
Sudam, some people believe it originated among Egyptians during the
time of the Pharaohs. Others believe that it was first prepared by ancient
Jews. Molokhia is nutritious soup made from a type of greens, known
as molokhiyya or Jew's mallow (also called Nalta jute, Tussa jute, Corchorus
olitorius), which is found throughout and in other Arab countries with
the same climate as well as in Israel. Dried or frozen molokhiyya greens
may be obtained from Middle Eastern stores worldwide. Consumption of
molokhia was banned (along with a great many other things) during the
reign of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (c.1000 AD). In addition to molokhiyya,
the Egyptians make a variety of meat (lahhma), vegetable (khudaar),
and fish (samak) soups known collectively as shurbah, and all are delicious.
(ruzz)is often varied by cooking it with nuts, onions, vegetables, or
small amounts of meat. Egyptians stuff green vegetables with mixtures
of rice. wara' enab, for example, is made form boiled grape leaves filled
with small amounts of spiced rice with or without ground meat.
(bataatis) are usually fried but can also be boiled or stuffed.
(salata) can be made of greens, tomatoes, potatoes, or eggs, as well
as with beans and yogurt.
(laban zabadi) is fresh and unflavored; you can sweeten if you wish
with honey, jams, preserves, or mint. It rests easy on an upset stomach.
Rice and bread form the bulk of
Egyptian main courses, which may be served either as lunch or dinner.
For most Egyptians, meat is a luxury used in small amounts, cooked with
vegetables, and served with or over rice.
The Egyptian way of making kebabs
is to season chunks of lamb in onion, marjoram, and lemon juice and
then roast them on a spit over an open fire. Kufta is ground lamb flavored
with spices and onions which is rolled into long narrow "meatballs"
and roasted like kebab. Pork is considered unclean by Muslims, but is
readily available, as is beef.
(hamaam) are raised throughout Egypt, and when stuffed with seasoned
rice and grilled, constitute a national delicacy. If you visiting Egypt,
beware: local restaurants sometimes serve the heads buried in the stuffing.
Egyptians serve both freshwater
and seagoing fish under
the general term of samak. The best fish seem to be near the coasts
(ocean variety) or in Aswan, where they are caught from Lake Nasser.
As well as the common bass and sole, there are shrimp, squid, scallops,
and eel. The latter, a white meat with a delicate salmon flavoring,
can be bought on the street already deep-fried.
(gibna) comes in two varieties: gibna beida, similar to feta, and gibna
rumy, a sharp, hard, pale yellow cheese. These are the ones normally
used in salads and sandwiches.
of pastry or puddings are usually drenched in honey syrup. Baklava (filo
dough, honey, and nuts) is one of the less sweet; fatir are pancakes
stuffed with everything from eggs to apricots, and basbousa, quite sweet,
is made of semolina pastry soaked in honey and topped with hazelnuts.
Bbouzat haleeb or ice
cream is a totally different experience from the rich American
ice cream. Its quite light and gummy in texture. It actually stretches
a bit as you spoon it. Misika (Arabic gum) and shalab (an extract from
the tubers of orchids) can be found in most Mid-Eastern markets
ali is another national dish of Egypt,
and is a raisin cake soaked in milk and served hot. Kanafa is a dish
of batter "strings" fried on a hot grill and stuffed with
nuts, meats, or sweets. Egyptian rice pudding is called mahallabiyya
and is served topped with pistachios. French-style pastries are called
gatoux. Most homes and places serve fresh fruits for desserts, and it
makes a perfect, light conclusion to most meals.
Although Turkish coffee
has a reputation for being tart, its actual flavor depends on the mix
of beans used in the grind. The larger the percentage of Arabica, the
sweeter and more chocolate flavor. Ahwa comes in several versions: ahwa
sada is black, ahwa ariha is lightly sweetened with sugar, ahwa mazboot
is moderately sweetened, and ahwaziyada is very sweet. You must specify
the amount of sugar at the time you order, for it's sweetened in the
pot. Ahwa is never served with cream.