Egyptian Cuisine in Cairo and Upper Egypt: How to Eat Your Way Across Egypt’s Biggest Historic Sites

Visiting the grand sites of ancient Egypt can be one of the most exhilarating and jaw-dropping historic tours on the planet. It’s also one of the most coveted bucket-list items, with travelers the world over intrigued by the spectacular structures, left startlingly intact thousands of years later, that the Egyptians left behind.

But imagine coming off the high of that experience and then trudging back to a mediocre, overpriced selection of assorted western fare served in some sub-par hotel lobby. With so much attention paid to the touring, the food often plays second fiddle or worse on visitors’ Egypt itineraries, meaning they’ll be missing out on the bevy of bold flavors in traditional Middle Eastern and North African dishes. There’s no reason to despair though, with the right insider knowledge and a plan of action that pinpoints all the can’t miss meals located alongside Egypt’s biggest cultural attractions, the food will be as memorable as—if perhaps slightly less mythologized than—the pyramids themselves.

A meze spread at 9 Pyramids Lounge

Courtesy 9 Pyramids Lounge

Giza and the Pyramids

Greater Cairo incorporates the twin cities of Cairo and Giza, which are separated by the Nile River. Giza, of course, is the site of the Great Pyramid of Giza complex, which includes a total of nine pyramids, as well as the Great Sphinx of Giza. One of the best vantage points to revel in the splendor of these iconic, unrivaled constructions is at the 9 Pyramids Lounge. The restaurant is located within the Giza Plateau for a direct view of every pyramid on the site; it’s the only establishment of its kind in the area, and reservations are required. The incredible views and ambiance are the key attraction, though the restaurant itself specializes in classic Egyptian fare such as meze and mixed grill platters of kofta, kebabs, and tagines.

Moored along the western bank of the Nile separating the city’s two halves is La Pacha 1901, a riverboat that serves as a dining and entertainment complex stacked with multiple establishments. For traditional Egyptian fare, opt for La Tarbouche, and order dishes such as hawawshi—a delicious, ground beef-stuffed pita—enormous falafel, and all of the accompanying dips, meze, and mixed-grill fare. Another speciality to consider is the stuffed, grilled squab—or pigeon—a traditional Egyptian delicacy known as hamam mahshi.

Egyptian street food in Cairo

In Cairo proper, popular destinations on the sightseeing circuit include museums such as the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, which houses the city’s spectacular collection of royal mummies, and the original Egyptian Museum (whose artifacts are set to be transitioned to the new Grand Egyptian Museum this year, though the original museum will remain in some way). The latter is an ideal jumping off point for a street food tour highlighting local specialties. 

“It’s something I like to do to show the real side of Cairo, the way we eat everyday,” says Hussein Elgabry, a freelance guide working with Kensington Tours, who was tasked with taking me to as many local eateries as we could handle.

Start at Moalem Kheder, a food truck parked at the corner of Mohammed Mahmoud Street, in front of a row of vendors and outdoor dining tables next to the American University in Cairo’s Tahrir Square campus. Come early for a delicious and filling Egyptian breakfast of falafel, mashed fava beans—known as ful or ful mudammas—warm Egyptian flatbread—called aish baladi—and an assortment of sides, salads, and condiments. “Ful is the main breakfast,” Elgabry says. “And ful and falafel, these two are always together.”

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