I’m sad to say that we were disappointed in our dining experiences here in Egypt. I suppose it is a testament to how thoroughly integrated Middle Eastern cuisine is in the Western diet that we were so rarely surprised by the food. If you’ve had falafel, hummus, or shwarma, you’ve eaten Egyptian food.
Our problem was that there wasn’t much more than this on offer. It’s falafel all day every day. We’re willing to blame our experience partially on the tourism famine happening in the country, as many of the restaurants that came recommended by Google or our travel guide were closed.
There were a few standouts, though, both good and bad:
This fava bean paste thankfully only makes an appearance at breakfast. It looks like refried beans. I wanted it to be like refried beans. It is not refried beans. We met an Egyptian man on a long bus ride and I asked him about it. He put his hands to his heart and said, “Ful. We just want ful for breakfast. It is our food.” Sadly, we found it to be flavorless. Sometimes it was just the paste, other times it would come swimming in equally flavorless oil. On one occasion there were bits of onion and peppers in it, but the additions never quite meshed so it was like eating onions and peppers surrounded by flavorless paste. Maybe we were doing it wrong.
You will not starve in Egypt. They bring you a lot of food at every meal. The mezzes were always more than we could handle. These are small plates, similar to the Spanish tapas, only here in Egypt they rarely come served with alcohol. They come hot or cold in varieties that you’ve heard of – falafel, hummus, babaganoush, tabbouleh, and tahini yogurt sauce. We would often just eat the mezzes and call it a meal, but sometimes we’d order a bit of grilled meat or fish to go with it. It always comes with a big pile of pita bread, and it’s always solidly good.
Have you ever wondered what to do with all those small bags of grains you have sitting in your pantry? The Egyptians wondered that too, and unlike you and me they did something about it. At the end of the week they cook up whatever grains they have left, be they pastas, rice, lentils, or garbanzo beans, and serve it with spiced tomato sauce and crispy fried onions on top. It’s carb-tastic. The locals call it “poor people food.” We call it delicious.
We must have done sufficient penance by eating all that ful, because we met an Egyptian woman and her mother in Luxor and they introduced us to Om Ali. It’s Egyptian bread pudding. It’s so good. Instead of bread they use puff pastry and sometimes there’s almonds and pistachios in it.