Egyptian cooking is relatively simple but tasty. Many dishes are similar to the food found throughout the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Bread is, without a doubt, the most important item of the Egyptian diet; it is eaten with almost all meals. No wonder there is one colloquial Egyptian Arabic word, eish, for both ‘bread’ and ‘life’. Millions of people get their daily ration of bread from government-subsidized bakeries. The round flat breads are distributed through a barred window for 25 to 50 piasters each, less than USD 0.01.
A native cheese called gibnehis used mostly for sandwiches and comes in two varieties, gibneh beida, a soft white cheese of variable saltiness, and gibneh Rumi, a sharp, hard, yellow cheese.
As the price of meat and chicken has risen steadily in recent years, many Egyptians eat mainly vegetables. Fortunately, the Nile Delta provides the country with fresh, juicy, and tasty vegetables all year round. Vegetables such as okra, beans, and various types of squash, are typically cooked in a thick tomato sauce. Popular Egyptian dishes include ful medames (mashed fava beans, often eaten for breakfast), molokheya (a green soup made from the finely chopped mallow leaves, garlic, and coriander), and kushari (brown lentils, macaroni, rice, chickpeas, and a spicy tomato sauce). Another famous dish is mahshi, made with vegetables such as grape leaves, cabbage leaves, green peppers, aubergines, courgettes, and tomatoes that are stuffed with spicy rice mixed with fresh green herbs, such as coriander, parsley, and dill, and rarely mixed with minced meat. Falafel, or tameeya, is available on every street corner.
Meat, poultry, fish
Beef, lamb, buffalo, and goat meat is prepared in various ways. Skewered and grilled on charcoal, either in chunks (kebab) or minced and rolled (kofta); shredded (shawerma) and stuffed into baladi bread (large, flat, rounded, pita-like bread) with tomatoes, pickled vegetables, and tahini sauce; or slow cooked in a vegetable stew.
Because chicken is cheaper than other meats, much more of it is consumed, grilled, cooked, fried, or as shoarma.
Most Egyptians also enjoy fish and shellfish, which comes from the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Nile, and Lake Nasser.
Egyptian desserts really cannot be too sweet. Pastries and puddings are usually drenched in sugar syrup. Among the pastries is baklava (filo dough, honey, and nuts), atayef (small dumplings stuffed with cream or nuts), konafa (a pastry made of thin strings of dough stuffed with white cheese), fateer (pancakes stuffed with anything from eggs to apricots), and, one of the most popular, basbousa (semolina pastry soaked in sugar syrup and topped with nuts). Puddings include ruz bi-laban (rice pudding), mehalabeya (corn-starch pudding), bileela (a hot-milk pudding with whole wheat, often eaten for breakfast), ashura (a wheat pudding with nuts, raisins, and rose water that is eaten on the holy day of Ashura), and Umm Ali (a pudding made of thin pastry, nuts, and raisins soaked in milk).
Coffee and tea
Not simply a place to go for a beverage, coffee houses play an important role in Egyptian society. It is mainly men who frequent coffee houses to meet and relax with their friends, leaving the home to the women. People also run their businesses from coffee houses: Many independent plumbers, carpenters, and other professionals will be at the coffee house, where they can be reached by customers. Business deals will be closed, agreements made, and disagreements settled.
Even the foreign coffee chains, such as the American Starbucks and the British Costa Coffee, serve the same purposes and also provide women an opportunity to run their businesses. As they offer Wi-Fi, these foreign chains also tend to attract a more diverse clientele.
Despite these newcomers, traditional coffee and tea houses are still as plentiful as they are crowded. Here, Turkish coffee and strong tea are the prevalent drinks. Turkish coffee is made by boiling a mixture of very finely ground Arabica coffee beans, water, sugar, and sometimes cardamom seeds. When ordering a cup, one states the amount of sugar desired: ziyada (very sweet), mazbut (just right), ariha (very slightly sweetened), or sada (black).
While tastes in coffee vary, most Egyptians prefer their tea as sweet as possible. A cup of shai is offered in almost any situation and should not be declined. This often means just a glass of hot water with a Lipton teabag in it, but a true shai is a strong brew made from boiling water and local tea leaves together in the kettle.
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