Food In Egypt
Egypt can be a fantastic place to try a unique selection of food: not too spicy and well seasoned with herbs. For a convenient selection of Egyptian cuisine and staples, check out the Felfela restaurant chain in Cairo. However, some visitors complain that they have become almost too touristy and have abandoned certain elements of authenticity. A more affordable and widespread alternative is the Arabiata restaurant chain. Arabiata is considered by locals as the number one place for Egyptian delicacies such as falafel and fūl as well.
Strangely enough, beware of any restaurant listed in the popular guides. Even if the restaurant used to be great, it is likely that after publication they will create a “special” English menu with very high prices.
Like many countries by the sea, Egypt has many restaurants and fish markets, so you should definitely try the fish and seafood. Fish markets often have food stalls nearby where you can indicate the types of fish to be cooked. The stalls usually have a communal table, and locals are just as likely as tourists.
Be aware that, depending on the location, hygiene is not always present. The number of tourists suffering from some kind of parasitic or bacterial infection is very high. Despite protests to the contrary, you should use common sense and bring appropriate medication to deal with any problems. “Antinal” (nifuroxazide), an intestinal antiseptic, is cheap, effective and available in all pharmacies. Immodium” or similar products are prescription medicines.
Although Antinal is very effective, sometimes when nothing else helps, older people should check the brand with their doctor before relying on it because it contains a high concentration of active ingredient that is not approved by the US FDA or the UK Medicines Agency.
People who plan to stay in Egypt for more than 2-3 weeks should be cautious when using Antinal, as it can hinder their ability to develop immunity to local bacteria and make traveller’s diarrhea a more common problem.
Many local dishes are vegetarian or vegan, which can be explained by the high cost of meat in Egypt and the influence of Coptic Christianity (whose frequent fasts require a vegan diet).
Classic Egyptian dishes: The fūl medammes dish is one of the most common Egyptian dishes; it consists of beans (fūl) cooked slowly in a copper pot (other types of metal pots do not produce the right flavour) and partially or completely crushed. fūl medammes is served with cumin, vegetable oil, optional chopped parsley, onion, garlic, lemon juice and chilli, and is usually eaten with Egyptian bread (baladi) or occasionally with leavened pita bread (shāmi).
You should try the classic falāfel, which are fried ground bean dumplings (but better known worldwide for the ground chickpea version usually found in other Middle Eastern kitchens) thought to have been invented by Egyptian Bedouins. They are usually served as fast food or snacks.
Koshari is a famous dish that is usually a mixture of macaroni, lentils, rice and chickpeas, topped with tomato sauce and fried onions. Very popular with locals and a must for tourists. The scraped version is called tâgen.
In addition, hummus, a food based on chickpeas, is also widely available in the Middle East.
Kofta (meatballs) and kebabs are also popular.
Egyptian cuisine is very similar to the cuisine of Middle Eastern countries. Dishes such as stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, shawarma sandwiches are common in Egypt and the region.
This is one of the most reasonably priced countries in which Europeans have the opportunity to taste a wide assortment of fresh exotic fruits. The fruits such as guava, mango, watermelon and banana are available widely in the fruit stalls, particularly in the local non-tourist markets.
Drink In Egypt
Bottled water is available everywhere. Many of the local brands (Baraka, Hayat and Siwa) cost same as those of the international brands, which are also available: Nestle Pure Life, Dasani (bottled by Coca-Cola) and Aquafina (bottled by Pepsi). Evian is less available and expensive. A caution regarding a local brand “Baraka”: Although it is perfectly safe for people to drink this water, due to the high mineral content of the well water, a slight aftertaste of baking soda may be noticed.
No matter where you buy bottled water (even hotels are not entirely reliable), before accepting it, check that it is sealed with a clear plastic seal and that the neck ring is still attached to the lid by the breakable plastic threads. It is common to collect empty but new bottles and fill them with tap water, one of which can make you sick. Not all brands have the clear plastic lid, but all the good ones do.
Safety of bottled water
It is important not to buy foreign brands as they may not be safe to drink. In 2012, the Ministry of Health has ordered the following brands of bottled water off the shelves: Alpha, Hadir, Seway, Aqua Delta, Tiba, Aqua Mina and AquaSoteir.
Some of the former have been licensed since 2013, but the Ministry of Health has issued warnings against other unlicensed brands:
- Unauthorised and dangerous marks : (Safa, el Waha, Ganna, Sahari, Life, el Wadi, Zamzam ).
However, the Ministry of Health has stated that there are only 17 licensed trademarks that are safe to drink in 2013. This is the case :
- 17 brands of safes under licence: (Hayah, Safi, Aqua Siwa ,Siwa, Aman Siwa, Organica, Nahl, Aqua Sky, Mineral, Vira, Nestlé, Baraka, Alpha, Aquafina, Tiba, Aqua Delta, Dasani, Aqua Paris ).
Among the authorised brands, the locals advise tourists to avoid baraka if possible, as it contains a high concentration of mineral salts and has a somewhat unpleasant taste.
A wide range of juices are extensively available in Egypt – àSàb (sugar cane; قصب); liquorice (`erk sūs عرق سوس); sobya (white juice; سوبيا); tàmr (sweet dates; تمر) as well as several fresh fruit juices (almost in the same shop, which can be all these types of juice except liquorice, which you can find elsewhere).
Hibiscus, known locally as karkadē (كركديه) or `ennāb (عناب), is also a famous juice especially in Luxor, whether it is drunk hot or cold, but in Egypt people prefer to drink it cold.
Hibiscus and liquorice should not be consumed excessively as they may not be safe for people with low or high blood pressure. Hibiscus can lower blood pressure, while licorice can raise it.
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, and alcoholic beverages are religiously forbidden (haram) to strictly racticing Muslims – but not by law. Nevertheless, Egyptians tend to adopt a relaxed and pragmatic attitude towards alcohol for non-Muslims and foreigners. It is tolerated by the vast majority of Egyptians and consumed by a significant number of them. Establishments selling alcoholic beverages must obtain a special licence and pay additional taxes to operate.
Alcoholic beverages and bottled drinks are readily available throughout the country (especially in major cities and tourist centres). Please note, however, that public drunkenness (especially the noisy and obnoxious variety) is definitely frowned upon – without precaution, you could end up on land in a police cell. Try to be a good ambassador: If you have to be “tipsy”, limit yourself to the hotel or nearby! It is actually quite rare to see drunk tourists, even in tourist areas. It is illegal to drink alcohol in public and it is advisable not to try drinking in the street; however, on New Year’s Eve 2013, many Egyptians were seen drunk and holding alcoholic beverages in the streets of Cairo.
The cheapest alcoholic beverage is beer. The most common brands are : Stella (not Artois) and Sakkara, which are common lagers in Egypt (about 4%), both brewed by Heineken’s Egyptian subsidiary, Ahram Beverages Company. Other local brands are available, most of them with a higher alcohol variant, with values of 8% or even 10%. Foreign brands produced under licence in Egypt include Heineken and Meister, but they are slightly more expensive.
More expensive alcoholic drinks than beer are carbonated vodka cocktails with 10% alcohol, especially ID Double Edge, which is popular with alcoholics. There is also a selection of spirits (generally available only in liquor shops, and usually at reasonable prices in liquor shops that cater mainly to Egyptians). Wine is available; however, the prices of imported wines tend to be high, even astronomical, and local wines (e.g. Omar Khayyam) are extremely overpriced due to their rather poor quality.
Don’t buy anything you don’t know or suspect because there is a risk that it is counterfeit and that it contains methyl alcohol (a cheap and toxic type of alcohol that causes blindness).
Restrictions on alcohol
Alcohol laws in Egypt are officially much more liberal than in other Muslim countries, with the exception of the month of Ramadan, during which alcohol is strictly banned. During Ramadan, Egyptian law only allows foreign passport holders to purchase alcohol. However, the application of this law is far from consistent. In tourist areas such as Luxor, alcohol is sold even during Ramadan, and those who look like foreigners are not asked to show their passports or other documents.
During the month of Ramadan, the only places where alcohol is available are western-style hotels and pubs/restaurants, which are primarily intended for foreigners. On certain days of the year, such as the full moon in the month before Ramadan, alcohol is completely prohibited. In addition, some hotels and bars that welcome foreigners stop serving alcohol during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – call ahead to ensure that alcohol is always served to avoid disappointment.