Three foods as Egyptian as the Pyramids

Food — By Pharaonick on April 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Egyptian food has been greatly influenced by Egypt’s history and geography. Persian, Greek, Turkish and other Middle Eastern culinary traditions have been incorporated into the “original” diet of ancient Egypt.

Foods such as the felafel and fuul of Felfela, the shawerma of Taza, or the fattah of Al-Omda, are all good stuff. But you can find these all over the region. Some foods, however, are quintessentially Egyptian – as iconic as the Pyramids themselves. Here are three of them:



Koshary is probably the closest thing Egypt has to a national dish. It’s Dr Atkins’ worst nightmare, consisting of a mix of different pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions, and a tomato sauce. You can also add fiery chilli sauce, and a potent mix of lime juice and garlic called da’a. Stir it all together, take a deep breath, and dive in.

Koshary is as filling as it sounds, and a lot, lot nicer. It’s also dirt cheap, with prices at many places starting as low as 2 or 3 LE (less than $1).

You can get your koshary fix all over Cairo, from numerous hole-in-the-wall restaurants, to posher joints that may give you the option to add chicken or beef to the mix. The most famous koshary restaurant in Cairo is Abou Tarek in Downtown. But seriously – go easy on the chilli!


Molokhiya, also known as Jew’s Mallow, is a leafy green vegetable not unlike Spinach. It’s usually served as a gloopy green soup, perfect for dunking your coarse baladi bread, or sopping up some rice. I once offended all my Egyptian friends by referring to it as having the “consistency of snot… with added stringy bits.” While this may have been a touch over the top, Molokhiya is an acquired taste.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it!

Molokhiya is the sort of dish where everyone claims their mum makes the best one in Egypt. Sadly, you don’t find it on restaurant menus as often as you should. A good place to try it is at Aboul Sid on Zamalek, where you can go super-traditional and have Molokhiya with Rabbit.


The ancient Egyptians bred pigeons for eating, and the practice has continued to this day. All those spiky white domes you see dotted about the countryside are pigeon coups.

And boy, do the pigeons here taste good: rich, moist and game-y, and often stuffed with Bulgar wheat. They are, admittedly, riddled with fine bones, and rather fiddly to eat. The way to do it is to unleash your hidden carnivore, and rip the bird to pieces with your bare hands. Sucking the flesh from the bones and discarding them on the table is optional.

The best place to eat pigeon in Cairo? Well that would be Farahat, just next to Khan al-Khalili in Islamic Cairo.

Word of warning: the Egyptian word for pigeon (“hamaam”) is very close to that for toilet (“hammaam”), so be careful what you ask for. Eating a toilet – whether stuffed with cracked wheat or otherwise – is unlikely to be pleasant.


Note: Both photos taken from flickr Creative Commons. The koshary one is from jeminichronicles and the pigeon one from medea_material.

Tags: koshary, local food, molokhiya, pigeon


  • Ali says:

    I love the pigeon/toilet bit! I remember one drunken night in New Abu Simbel with Maharam and Cheeky, when I taught you hte difference…a proud moment ;)

  • Tyler Renaghan says:

    great post…especially the descriptions of some of the consistency of the foods – so vivid and experiential!

  • Crystal says:

    This makes me miss koshary SO MUCH. Tried to replicate at home and it wasn’t nearly as delicious as getting it on the street in Cairo. That photo looks delicious!

  • erinmaury says:

    Loved koshary! Pigeon … not so much. Haven’t been able to replicate koshary in London or find a good source here just yet. Will keep searching!

  • Shane says:

    Hmm, love Koshary. Despite going to a few more upmarket restaurants it’s that cheap dish that I remember the most. Have not tried the Molokhiya and, to be honest, you’re not selling it to me here.

  • Pharaonick says:

    Shane – Molokhiya is great, believe me!

  • heather -the kiwitravelwriter says:

    Ah……… this bought back memories – only in Cairo for a month but experienced a lot.

    I was turned onto Kashari by a Brit raving about it in Thailand! he told me i had to try it when I was there and I did – yum yum! We can have it in my hometown too now ( chch NZ).

    Also had pigeon stuffed with green rice ,,,,,,more tasty food. and of course – sugar cane jiuce.

  • Liv says:

    Out of curiosity, how does one say “pigeon” and “toilet” in Egyptian Arabic?

    Also, koshary looks like the freaking bomb. You can NEVER have too many carbs….

  • Liv says:

    Oh wait. You already wrote it in the description of pigeon. Sorry. The koshary blinded me with hunger.

    Hamaam. Hamaam. Hamaam. Hamaam….

  • Daniel N. says:

    Great post Nick!

    I actually really enjoy the molokhiya. With some rice and lemon juice, it’s really yummy!

    I would be more inclined to give the snot description to “bamia” (ocra) dish they have.

    And your description of pigeon/toilet made me smile, I was describing the same thing to my girlfriend a few days ago too!




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