Must-Eat Egyptian Street Food in Cairo
Egyptian Street Food
The capital city of Egypt, may not be as renowned for its Cairo street food as it is for the Pyramids. This is understandable. However, I believe that the people of Cairo, after building a masterpiece that remained as the world’s tallest skyscraper for 3000 years, have now shifted their focus to rewarding themselves in the best way possible, with good food.
Like New York City, Cairo is a city that never sleeps, and its people never stop eating. Living in Cairo has its challenges, just like living in any other city with over 20 million people. Fortunately, finding great Egyptian street food is not one of those challenges. In the busy streets of Cairo, the delicious food of Egypt flows abundantly like the Nile. What’s more, none of these Egyptian dishes will cost you an arm and a leg.
So, when visiting Cairo, there will be nothing stopping you from trying the delights of Egyptian Cuisine that are on this list of the most mouthwatering Egyptian street foods.
Must-Eat Egyptian Street Food in Cairo
Ful Medames—Traditional Egyptian Breakfast
Ful Medames, otherwise known as Ful is a national dish of Egypt.
Ful ‘fava beans’ is not usually served for breakfast in most parts of the world. Many other countries prefer something lighter, sometimes just toast.
During my travels through the Middle East, I learned that it’s okay to go big for breakfast. In Cairo that means the traditional Egyptian breakfast of fava bean stew; it’s the perfect filler for big city life.
This Egyptian dish dates back to Ancient Egypt, and the tradition of Ful for breakfast has been exported throughout the Arab world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east.
To make this national food of Egypt more interesting, Ful is served with a cocktail of Arabian spices, sliced onions and drizzled with fresh lemon juice. It is routinely accompanied by boiled eggs, which add to the protein load. An everyday delight that can be shared by people from all walks of life.
You can be sure to find a local Ful seller on every street corner in Cairo. If you are looking for a famous Ful spot, look no further than Bashandy, which is highly rated by locals and tourists as a truly memorable Cairo street food experience.
Koshary—Famous Egyptian Food
The Egyptian street food Koshary is synonymous with Cairo. There is no way to visit Cairo without having this famous Egyptian food.
The term is said to have Indian roots, originating from the Indian dish Kichrdi. This claim will not be welcomed on the streets of Cairo, where Koshary is considered a national treasure. Also, to my knowledge, Kichdi is more of a generic name for several variations found across the Indian region.
Egyptian Koshary, on the other hand, has become specialized as a culinary superpower, in a class of its own. It can best be described as a symphony of taste tightly packed into a meal.
Traditional Koshary ingredients include lentils, rice, macaroni, fried onions, and chickpeas topped with a tomato and chili paste. To add even more of a kick, it is seasoned with a garlic and lemon sauce called Daga.
Koshary epitomizes the street food culture of Cairo. It is like eating Cairo on a plate. Check out Abu Tarek’s Koshary, which is regarded as the most famous Koshary joint in Cairo.
Hawawshi—Typical Egyptian Street Food
I would say that while Hawawshi has characteristics of all of these things, it should be given the privilege to be a sovereign food in its own right. And I’m sure the people of Cairo would agree.
This grilled delight symbolizes the bread and butter of street food in Egypt. It looks good, it smells good, and it most definitely tastes good. It’s not an explosion of spices. It’s not going to confuse your taste buds or keep you up at night wondering what you just ate. What you see is what you get.
If you are hungry you can buy it quickly and it gets the job done, every time. Put simply, it is a mixture of minced meat and a few spices, onions, and chilies, folded into a fresh dough that is grilled into a simple but insanely delicious pie. An ideal on-the-go meal or something that can be shared between friends.
Shawarma—Popular Egyptian Food
The shawarma is so popular, it is like the cheeseburger of the Middle East.
Found in Mediterranean cuisine, as well as, Middle Eastern cuisine, its true origins are disputed. However, what is not disputed is that it is a popular Egyptian food—especially on the streets of Cairo.
Known by its iconic sight, stacked meat spinning on a huge stick, everyone can appreciate a good shawarma.
The smell alone is captivating. So is watching it being made. It is not the most glamorous or unique form of Egyptian street food in Cairo. However, its popularity tells is its there to stay.
I have noticed that wherever I go the shawarma seems to taste a little different and Cairo is no exception. A shawarma is almost like coffee. It looks the same but each one has its subtle complexities and variations.
The shawarma has also been customized in so many different ways. The only thing that has remained constant is that spinning stake that will continue to rotate as long as the earth rotates.
Asab—A Refreshing Egyptian Drink
Anyone who visits Cairo will notice that Asab or sugar cane juice is sold all over the city. What visitors to Cairo don’t know is that Asab has been consumed and enjoyed in Cairo for centuries.
The sugar industry in Egypt dates back to the 8th century. Over the ages, this seemingly simple Egyptian drink has grown in prominence and is now very much cemented in Egyptian food culture.
Asab is known as a cheap and refreshing drink served chilled. It provides brief respite from the brutal summer heat.
There are some that drink Asab to get a boost of energy. Thus, it is considered as an old-school energy drink, loved by those who work long and hard.
There is yet another group of Asab lovers, those who not only enjoy drinking Asab but swear by its numerous health benefits. Some even say that Asab was initially produced as a medicine back in the day.
Asab is supposed to be good for the kidneys and heart. It is also said to be great for curing stomach ailments and generally good overall for the digestive system. The many benefits of Asab bear testimony to the fact that it is the Egyptian drink of choice on the streets of Cairo.
Cairo Street Food Culture
Cairo’s vibrant food culture is the heart and soul of the city. The local street food industry has managed to continuously serve the traditional Egyptian foods of its people despite the onslaught of global food franchises and international food trends.
Thus, the street food in Cairo has remained true to its roots, while still being able to cater to the needs of a cosmopolitan clientele. This is truly remarkable. Cairo’s street food also remains practical. Ful is the morning fuel. Koshary is the Friday night party on your plate.
Egyptian cuisine, and especially the food in Cairo, is definitely rising up the ranks to become a major name in the food world, and this includes the Cairo street food!
The Egyptian street food scene has also been making an impact far beyond its borders. Many of Cairo’s most enjoyed treats are spread across the Middle East and are now even getting recognition in some of the major cities in Europe and America.
Maybe the world is tired of cheeseburgers and lasagna. Perhaps the market for Chinese noodles and masala chicken has been exhausted. It is a blessing that the Egyptian street food in Cairo has not been replaced with generic fried chicken and bland burgers. This article is only the tip of the iceberg of Cairo’s street food potential. Cairo’s food revolution is here and it is about to go global.
Have you visited, or do you plan to visit Cairo? Have you enjoyed Egyptian cuisine? let us know in the comments!
About the Author
Faheem Suliman is an English teacher from South Africa, currently living in Istanbul, Turkey. He is also a travel and lifestyle content creator at CapetoCasa, a travel blog that documents his travels and experiences. Faheem is interested in learning new languages, experimenting with local food, and exploring different cultures. Find Faheem online: Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and Pinterest