Must-try Food in Egypt: 14 traditional dishes & desserts
Take a flavorful culinary journey through the best traditional food in Egypt while exploring temples and pyramids. Go for the culture, stay for the food.
Traveling back in time through mystical pyramids and out-of-this-world temples is hungry work! That’s not a problem, as there are so many must-try dishes! Food in Egypt plays a big role, whether gathering with the family around a banquet or breaking the fast (Iftar) during Ramadan.
A great way to learn about a country is to eat your way around it. Along the way, you’ll hopefully learn the backstories behind the food, meet some locals, and give your taste buds a treat.
Cairo, the capital, is home to some of the best restaurants in the country, but you’ll find all these dishes throughout the country.
Keep reading to discover the best food in Egypt to try on your holiday!
Must-try foods in Egypt
Koshari is Egypt’s national dish, and it’s vegan, so everyone can try it!
It’s a random collection of food. Things you’d find in the back of your cupboard. Why somebody put all these ingredients together is a mystery. But it works!
It starts with a base layer of rice. Some lentils, macaroni and chic peas are thrown in for good measure. Then, they pour a generous amount of spicy tomato sauce over it and finish it with crispy fried onions for that much-needed crunch.
It’s carb central, but a dish guaranteed to fill you up for the day. As if it couldn’t get any better… it’s incredibly cheap for a huge portion.
Pro tip: For the best koshari in the country — a big statement, I know — visit Abu Tarek in Cairo. It’s delicious but a whole experience. You’ll see what I mean.
Shawarma may have originated in Turkey during the Ottoman Empire, but Egyptians love it too. And so will you… unless you’re a vegetarian.
This juicy and indulgent dish consists of thinly shaved pieces of meat cooked to perfection on a vertical rotisserie. It’s then served in pita bread or a wrap with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and tahini.
Walking past shawarma street food shops, the meat does the marketing itself. The mouth-watering aromas entice you without a second thought.
Try as many different shawarmas as you can. They’re usually made of beef, chicken, lamb, or mutton — each one uniquely spiced.
Since ancient times, aish baladi (Egyptian bread) has been a cornerstone food in Egypt. It’s still a vital component and is served with all meals — falafel, eggs, and even fried chicken.
Ok, ready for an unpopular opinion?
You would think having been around so long would have improved it a little. Honestly, it’s nothing to rave about, but it is a vessel for so many must-try foods in Egypt.
You might be thinking, hey, falafel isn’t Egyptian, but the country has added its own twist to falafel, which some argue makes it even tastier.
Authentic Egyptian falafel, or ta’ameya, is made from split fava beans rather than chickpeas. Crispy and golden on the outside, a bite greets you with a tender, herb-infused interior.
You’ll be craving this irresistible ball of fried goodness for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Lucky for you, it’s one of the most common foods in Egypt. They eat it for all meals.
But don’t eat your falafel without ful…
Ful Medames, commonly known as just ful, may not sound like the most exciting dish on this list but don’t underestimate it.
It’s made from fava beans slow-cooked in garlic, olive oil, and an array of spices until they reach a creamy consistency. It’s a classic and nutritious Egyptian dish you have to try.
Grab some aish baladi, falafel, tahini, and salad with your ful. That’s pretty much as Egyptian as you can get. You’ll notice a lot of people eating this combination for breakfast (or early afternoon… as many Egyptians wake up late).
Pro tip: Determined to find the best ful in Egypt? Hunt down the street food stalls where you hear the falafel frying. Those are destined to be great.
Mulukhiya is a must-try food in Egypt, even if it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of dish. Made from the green leaves of the Corchorus plant, the soup-like dish has a distinctively slimy texture, like egg whites. For some people (like me), the texture is too strange to enjoy the taste.
You’ll have to try it to decide whether it’s for you. You can eat it like a soup, dip bread in it or pour it over some rice to give it an extra punch of flavor.
Made with a variety of seasoned ground meats and shaped into a stubby sausage, a good kofta should be piping hot, juicy, and bursting with flavor.
What you pair with it also matters!
Most restaurants will serve you a coma-inducing-sized banquet. The set meal usually includes kofta or another meat dish, rice, vegetables, sometimes mulukhiyah and, of course, a mountain of bread.
Kofta can be found all over the world. Every country offers a slightly different taste and way of serving it. Egypt should undoubtedly be on your kofta bucket list.
When you think of Egypt, an image of a camel probably pops into your head. An image of them standing gracefully in front of the Pyramids of Giza or trekking through the desert, but not on your plate.
Some people don’t realize that you can actually eat camel in Egypt. And if you get it at the right place, it’s absolutely scrumptious.
There are many different ways you can try it, as a burger, steak, or in a tagine. I highly recommend a slow-cooked tagine mixed with vegetables. The meat ends up being incredibly tender, filled with juices and melting in your mouth.
The best place I tried camel was at King Jamaica Restaurant in Aswan. It’s worth the journey there just to try their camel tagine.
I was told by my Egyptian friends that whenever they eat mahshi, they think of their mum. It’s the kind of hearty food your mum makes the best.
If you want to try proper home-cooked food in Egypt, mahshi is the one to try.
Now, it varies quite a lot, so don’t get confused. It’s essentially vegetables stuffed with a spice-infused rice mixture. You can stuff almost anything — peppers, eggplant, zucchini. Vine leaves and cabbage are also popular.
My top tip: Try to find an Egyptian mum to cook you mahshi. Otherwise, restaurants do a pretty good job!
If you’re bored of eating chicken, why not give hamam mahshi, or stuffed pigeon, a try?
It’s a traditional food in Egypt that’s usually eaten on special occasions. Still, it shouldn’t be too hard to find in a restaurant, especially a touristy one, as trying pigeon has become a “thing to do.”
The young domestic pigeon is stuffed with rice, onions, nuts and spices before being grilled or roasted to create a crispy, flavorful skin.
Stuffed pigeon raises a mix of opinions.
Many people say the bird doesn’t have much meat, while others love the taste. Personally, I don’t see what the fuss is all about, but you’ll have to try it for yourself to find out!
Hawawshi is no mere sandwich. It’s a greasy, sinful and sumptuous must-try Egyptian dish.
As you bite into it, the crispy crust of the pita gently cracks, revealing the succulent, seasoned filling. Inside, you’ll find ground meat, typically beef or lamb, infused with a medley of spices — cumin, coriander, paprika and a hint of garlic.
Some vendors spice the dish up by hiding onions, tomatoes, and maybe a bit of chili inside.
The best food in Egypt for sweet treats
Feeling the scorching Egyptian heat? Sobia is the perfect thirst-quenching drink to try in Egypt.
Made from fenugreek seeds, water, sugar, and coconut milk, sobia will be one of the creamiest drinks you’ve ever tried.
Its luscious, velvety consistency goes down a treat. Before you realize it, you’ll be addicted.
It gives you a taste of heaven, but also Egypt’s culture. The drink has a special significance during Ramadan when it’s used to break the fast.
Kunafa, kunafeh, kenefe (the spelling varies depending on where you are) is a popular and incredibly tasty Middle Eastern dessert.
This little slice of heaven is made with layers of shredded phyllo pastry and milky sweet cheese. It’s then soaked in syrup infused with rose water. Some go all out and add pistachios or clotted cream on top.
Try to find kanafeh that is freshly cooked. The insides are still deliciously gooey, and it melts in your mouth.
It’s a dangerous habit to start. Once you get a taste, it’s hard to stop, so try it at your own risk!
Baklava has a similar story to kunafeh. You’ll find variations of it in many countries, especially around the Middle East, with each country adding its own spin to it.
You could argue they’re pretty similar desserts, but I promise they taste very different, and it’s well worth trying both.
Baklava is also made of multiple sheets of phyllo pastry layers with chopped nuts, butter and spices. It’s then baked and drizzled with honey or rose water-infused syrup.
Usually cut into small squares, they’re perfect bite-size pieces of yumminess!
Weather in Egypt
One of the perks of Egypt’s climate is the almost negligible concern for rain, offering visitors a rain-free travel experience. Instead, the temperature takes center stage.
Egypt’s summer months can be unbearable. From June to August, temperatures can reach 40°C (104°F) or more. On the coast, these temperatures are tolerable, but in the city, it won’t be much fun!
The best time to visit Egypt is between October and April when it’s a respite from the intense heat. Temperatures range from 15-23°C (60-73°F) from October to February, gradually warming up to around 30°C (86°F) in March and April.
Visiting Egypt during Ramadan can be a unique and magical experience, especially if you’re there for the cuisine.
After fasting all day, Egyptians break the fast with huge communal dinners where, most of the time, anyone is welcome. It creates a beautiful communal feel that gives you insight into the kindness of Egyptians.
Packing list essentials for Egypt
Your packing essentials for Egypt depend on the timing of your visit. During the winter months, December, January and February, it can get pretty cold. A jacket is a must.
For those venturing out in the summer, opt for the lightest and breeziest attire while adhering to a more conservative dress code. You’ll probably want loose clothes in preparation for how much food you’ll eat, too!
Since Egypt is a Muslim country, women are expected to dress more conservatively, which means keeping shoulders and knees covered. The conservative dress also conveniently protects you from the sun.
In popular beach towns like Dahab, Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada, and Marsa Alam, it’s ok to show a bit more skin.
No matter the time of year, bring a sunhat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. The food isn’t the only thing you don’t want to get burned.
How to get to and around Egypt
Egypt is a highly accessible country, so there’s really no excuse to miss out on its tasty cuisine.
Cairo International Airport receives direct flights from all over the world. If you fly outside peak season, you can bag some great deals.
Once there, you can use buses, trains, taxis and internal flights to explore the country.
Despite usually taking longer than advertised, Egypt has an easy-to-use and comfortable public transport system connecting all of the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Got room for more?
You can really get to know a country through its food. Here, you’ll learn it’s about sharing with others and keeping traditions alive. It’s a way to connect.
Egyptian cuisine is best described as hearty, flavorful and full of love. Working through these must-try foods in Egypt will leave you feeling full and give you an insight into the country.
Couple your culinary journey with one packed with history, culture and stunning landscapes. Our two-week Egypt itinerary will help you to combine all of those things!
The tasty bowl of carbs known as koshari is Egypt’s national dish and a cheap street food that will leave you full for hours.
Egypt is a very affordable place to eat, especially if you stick to street food like falafel, shawarma, and koshari.
Egypt’s national dish is also the most popular food in Cairo. Egyptians love their koshari!