Robin Graham eats like the locals in Cairo, Egypt. The cuisine is influenced from the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, and the result is interesting dishes.
Egyptian cuisine is produced from the melting pot of the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean. It is varied and fascinating, but it only takes one day in Cairo to cover the basics. Here’s how.
Felfela has been a fixture on the tourist circuit in Cairo for not just years, but generations. A haven for those perhaps intimidated by the less polished eateries of the city, but still offering something of an Egyptian flavor, it has been a firm favorite for many.
There are those who will tell you it’s past its prime and, who knows, they may have a point, but its takeaway branch aimed at the locals, around the corner on Talaat Harb Street, is very definitely going strong.
I like to go for breakfast, sometimes tucking into it there and then, standing along the walls where pedestals have been placed for the purpose, otherwise returning with it to the hotel if I am staying nearby. As long as the doors are open, this place is busy.
Fuul is what I’m here for. Served in grainy Egyptian pita bread, fuul consists of cooked and mashed fava beans, often served cold.
It is the quintessential Egyptian breakfast, more earthy and hearty than hummus, a better comparison being refried beans, but with a unique and not unpleasant bitterness. K hates it instantly. I can’t get enough. Instead she has ta’amiya, the local equivalent of felafel, but greener, more moist and well, better.
Koshary is all wrong.
Served as fast food and pretty much Egypt’s national dish it consists, bizarrely, of rice, macaroni and lentils. That’s right, you heard me. You wouldn’t credit it, would you? The sprinkling of a few fried onion flakes over the top with some chickpeas thrown in seems like a desultory effort at injecting a bit of flavour into this carb-fest; a little tomato sauce served on the side unlikely to elevate the whole stodgy mess to the status of decent meal. Insulting, almost.
Until, that is, you take a mouthful. At which point what looked so wrong tastes… oh so right. There is alchemy at work here. It might be the Cairo air, thick with pollution, or perhaps the fluid, expert motion of the koshary men as they flick their metal bowls, combining the ingredients in the flash of an eye, almost unconsciously; their muscle-memory doing the work.
Whatever the extra ingredient, koshary is an extraordinary dish. The word originates in the Hindi kishri, meaning ‘an unlikely mix’. It commands devotion, allegiance and loyalty; Cairo’s outlets compete fiercely, and regulars are just as fierce in their defence of their preferred venue.