1. Mahshi Wara’ Inab
Translation: stuffed grape leaves, and all other stuffed delights
I hate capers. And no, this Egyptian food has nothing to do with capers, but for some reason, whenever I ate grape leaves in The States, the taste reminded me of the little nasties that always crept up on me in decent dishes. So what are stuffed grape leaves? Basically wara’ inab (pronounced watah i-nub) are grape leaves stuffed with white rice, seasoned with dill, lemon, onion, mint, and sometimes even meat, dipped in olive oil. Despite being a complete stuffed grape leaf hater pre-Egypt, once I had about 50 servings within ten days of my trip, I began to love their tangy taste. It’s not just grape leaves that get the stuffing treatment, they even stuff peppers, sausage skins, and any other legume you can think of. Mashi (all stuffed things) was served at least three times a week in Egypt, so I became a grape-leaf-lover real quick.
2. Ta’amiya (Falafel)+ Ful
Translation: falafel balls of perfection, and bean-paste on heavenly pita bread
(notice the heart shaped tomato? #foodporn)
If you told this Brazilian a few months ago that I would’ve eaten beans for breakfast and liked it… I would’ve turned the other cheek. In my culture, beans only go with rice and meat, or in feijoada. But I couldn’t resist myself when I got to Egypt and was introduced to my new favorite culinary duo: falafel and ful; the breakfast of the
farting champions. I didn’t even know what falafel was until I moved to NYC, *shout out to Connecticut’s food diversity.* If you don’t know, here’s the skinny: it’s a middle-eastern staple made of ground chickpeas that are deep fried into fritters of delight. When I got to Egypt, I was like damnnnn halal cart falafel ain’t got nothin’ on this (obviously, food in its country of origin is always better and way less processed)!
As if the crispy chickpea goodness weren’t enough to make your toes curl, you eat a side of warm pita with ful, a refried bean-esque paste and it’s OVA. Small disclaimer: get ready to toot it all day long.
Translation: think pizza, but so much better. Comes in savory and sweet… perfect to keep you choco-lated
(cinnamon, chocolate, banana, and caramel… #donthate)
(cheese and peppers fatir)
I became a monster when I first ate fatir; must’ve had nine pieces (all by myself) of salty and sweet heaven. How the hell was something that delicious been lacking from my life for 22 years? The magic is really in the buttery dough that can be dressed with gooey cheese, caramelized veggies, and perfectly-seasoned meat, or if you’re feeling a little wild you get some chocolate-banana sweet fatir as seen above. Really, this is hands down a game changer in the pizza game.
Translation: carbs on deck with crunchy onions and tomato sauce… questionable, but a classic
Definitely not my favorite, but a traditional Egyptian dish nonetheless. My whole hesitation towards this dish is the fact I have a rule about never mixing pasta and rice… isn’t that just kinda wrong? Either way, I did try koshary and felt that there was something “homemade” and traditional about it that I understood and respected. Beyond the taste, it’s super cheap and vegetarian. Apparently, this dish originated in the 19th century, when the overly-populated lower class citizens had a bunch of random leftovers at the end of the month and put it all together to make a meal. The ingredients include lentils, rice, macaroni, chickpeas, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, oil, vinegar, and sometimes hot sauce.
5. Macaroni Béchamel
Translation: if mac and cheese, gravy, and Fettucini Alfredo had a threesome, it would taste like this
(a typical lavish Egyptian lunch with macaroni béchamel in the middle, topped with chopped parsley)
This dish was one that my best friend turned Egytian tour guide wouldn’t stop raving about before we arrived. Expectations were off the charts and upon my first bite, I was not disappointed. This dish sounds pretty exotic, but really, when you break it down, it’s just penne pasta with this creamy white (béchamel) sauce sometimes topped with cooked spiced meat, all baked in an oven. If you like Fettucini Alfredo or are a lasagna lover, you might just call it quits and move to Egypt after trying this dish.
Translation: the hottest cafe au lait you’ll ever experience
(notice how I could barely hold the handle because it was so damn hot?)
Whenever I get to a new country, I’m always interested in their coffee culture; being as though coffee and tea are drank almost as often as water all over the world. I was surprised to find out that next to Turkish coffee, Nescafé is all the rage in Egypt. Let’s just begin by saying, damn, I didn’t know there was any coffee that could be hotter than McDonald’s small coffee. I was wrong. To make things even hotter, I decided to do what the locals did and ordered one to sip on at the beach. Who the hell was I kidding? I was already sweating before the coffee, I basically turned my body into a heat bomb from within. Heat aside, it’s delicious and has a creamy milky taste that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The only other thing that comes close is Yolanda’s (my adorable Ecuadorian host grandma) instant coffee with steamed milk. Oh, and coffee is an all day everyday kind of a drink in Egypt, which I respect. Midnight cups on deck.
7. Jelly Cake
Translation: pound cake with jello and bananas; count the bananas in that thing!
Jelly cake, say it out loud and you’ll fall in love without even having taken a bite. YES, Jelly Cake, YES.
I’m a chocolate lover and I very rarely cheat on my main-squeeze with fruity things, but the name sold me; the taste just sealed the deal. I was intrigued by how many bananas the baker fit in the cake… What is that like ten entire bananas?! How she made the cake layer and jello layer merge so cohesively will always be a mystery in my mind. That is, until I become fluent in Arabic.
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