The history of Egyptian cuisine began with Ancient Egypt. Archaeological excavations revealed that workers on the Great Pyramids of Giza were paid in bread, beer, and onions, which was their customary diet as peasants in the Egyptian countryside. Dental analysis and the desiccated loaves occasionally found in excavated tombs confirm this, in addition to indicating that ancient Egyptian bread was made with flour from emmer wheat.
Moving on many centuries to the present day, and the “peasants” of Egypt also now buy many similar items on the street from vendors who earn a living from making these delicious snacks. Let’s take a look at 12 of the most popular of these snacks that you will see throughout the street of Egypt.
Aish Baladi is a soft and slightly leavened flatbread baked from wheat flour. On the streets of Cairo, this bread is consumed on a daily basis – and often in high volume! It is regularly transported on bicycles through the streets by bread delivery boys known as Agalati. In fact, Egyptians consider aish baladi to be one of their staple foods!
Egyptian Dates are usually served with a cup of tea or coffee, but they can be bought in bulk from the street markets around Egypt, with Cairo in particular being a hotbed for the dates – and they are so cheap!
Once a preferred treat of the Ancient Egyptians, Mahshi is basically a vegetable (i.e. pepper) that has been stuffed with spicy ingredients to provide a real mouthful of flavour! Mahshi is served as street food throughout Egypt, but especially in the north around Cairo.
Hawawshi is a dish that is similar to the Turkish lahmacun pizza, but as street food it usually needs to be sliced up ready for consumption, rather than served whole (as you may see in a sit-down restaurant). The meat is combined with onions and chillies then sandwiches between two layers of dough prior to baking, then sliced into crusted slices.
A staple of Egyptian cuisine, Ful Medames is a dish of cooked and mashed fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin, and optionally with chopped parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon juice. You will see ful medames being sold roadside everywhere in Cairo where it is a popular lunchtime snack.
Shawarma is eaten all over the Arab World, but nowhere more so than in Egypt. The shawarma is meat roasted on a turning spit, so this could be lamb, chicken, or possibly beef (no pork in Egypt, though). Usually, the meat is folded into a wrap, and presented a bit like a chapati from India.
Proving that the best street food is the simple stuff, Qasab is made of sugar cane juice, and seeing as southern Egypt is full of sugar cane plants, you can bet your last Egyptian Pound that there will be some delightful qasab on your nearest street corner!
Feteer Mashaltet is simply the local variation of the classic Italian pizza. It is made with filo pastry and as such has a very flaky texture, but it can be filled with either sweet or savoury fillings – and some can even be layered with icing sugar for a unique Egyptian taste. Unlike the hawawshi, fiteer is usually served whole rather than in pieces.
Mombar Mahshy is a stuffed beef sausage and is one of the most common street foods in Egypt. You can hear vendors yelling “mombar, mombar” from a mile away!
Coctel is a delicious thick yogurt dessert-cum-drink that many Egyptians cannot get enough of in the Arabian heat. This is sometimes called Fakhfakhina in other parts of the Middle-East and Mediterranean, but Egyptians know it by its more simple name!
Falafel is a deep-fried ball made of chickpeas and is undoubtedly one of the most popular street foods in Egypt. Other countries may have their own version of falafel, but the Egyptian variety is the original. It can be served on its own or as a filling for bread such as hawawshi.
Dating back to the 19th century, Koshari has now become one of the most famous street foods on Egypt. You cannot visit the country and not try some kushari. It is made of rice, macaroni, and lentils mixed together, topped with a tomato sauce and short pieces of spaghetti, as well as crispy fried onions! Absolutely delicious!
I hope I have whetted your appetite for some amazing Egyptian street food! Let me know what your favourites are!