the building blocks of egyptian dining

Alright, it’s at the end, but I need to put in an entry on the basics available, photos or not. These basics are the ‘salads’ as they are often referred to on menus in English, though they can also be found under appetizers.

First up is our favourite, baba ghanoug, or as it’s known back home (from the Lebanese) baba ghanoush. Made from blended, baked eggplants and spices, it ideally has a nice smoky taste to it. We tried this all over and found two places where it really shone – the fancy hotel buffet we gorged at (pictured here with pomegranate) and Sofra in Luxor – but it was nice to have every time.

Hummus follows quite closely, mostly because Christine liked baba ghanoug more – they’d be a tie for me. Made of mashed chickpeas, tahnini (sesame paste), oil, and often a bit of lemon juice, it’s proteintastic and is wonderful with the pita bread you get everywhere. It’s best when it’s nice and creamy – good olive oil will give it the best consistency.

Tabbouleh isn’t terribly common here, being a Lebanese dish, but it can be found on a few menus. Parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lemon juice make up this vegetable salad. It’s not my favourite, though when it’s done really well, it’s really good.

Foul is possibly the most basic food in Egypt. Made from smushed fava beans and spices (though sometimes it’s just the beans, really basic), it always comes with bread – either inside a sandwich (sometimes also with falafel) or on the side for dipping. If it’s on a plate, it often gets a dollop of olive oil for flavour. Sometimes it comes with a bit of spicy green pepper sauce/relish that gives it a great kick. We’ve only had this in Sinai in the east and in Jordan, but I like it a lot.

Ta’miyya (or as it’s known outside of Egypt, falafel) is fava bean paste with spices (or sometimes too much salt), rolled into a ball and deep fried. This is the other most basic food and has a long history. I think. I’d guess so, considering it’s made from the same thing as foul – beans! A cup of these costs almost nothing and, depending on where you go, fills you up in a delicious way. It’s the dish of a thousand variations, even though you don’t know what can be varied.

Lastly, we’ve got stuffed grape vine leaves. If you go to local markets, you can find grape leaves out for these little buggers. Spiced rice inside the leaves fills you up pretty quickly. They’re usually accompanied by labna, a delicious yogurt dip.

There are often other choices that can be found here and there, but they’re not always dependable. Coleslaw, potato salad, garlic tomato salad (really nice and garlicky!), and often different things with eggplant.

If you want to eat for cheap in Egypt, this is where you have to head. Healthy, tasty, and filling: there’s a reason they’re available everywhere.

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