The Arab Republic of Egypt is located in the northeastern region of the
African continent, bordering both the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The
climate is arid and dry and most of the country receives less than one
inch of rainfall each year. The Mediterranean may offer Egypt's
northern coastline up to eight inches of rainfall each year, and keeps
year-round temperatures cooler than the inland deserts. The widespread
lack of rainfall makes it extremely difficult to grow crops. Egypt has no
forests and only 2 percent of the land is arable (land that can be

The well-known Nile River, the longest river in the world, runs north and
south through eastern Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. The
Nile River Valley, which includes the capital city of Cairo, is the most
fertile land in Egypt. Approximately 95 percent of the country's
population lives alongside the Nile River. However, overcrowding in this
region is threatening Egypt's wildlife and endangering the
Nile's water supply.


Thousands of years ago, ancient Egyptians left evidence of their love for
food. Well-preserved wall paintings and carvings have been discovered on
tombs and temples, depicting large feasts and a variety of foods. Many of
these ancient foods are still eaten in Egyptian households today. Peas,
beans, cucumbers, dates, figs, and grapes were popular fruits and
vegetables in ancient times. Wheat and barley, ancient staple crops, were
used to make bread and beer. Fish and poultry were also popular. Dried


fish was prepared by cleaning the fish, coating the pieces with salt, and
placing them the sun to dry.


(salted, dried fish) remained a popular meal in Egypt as of 2000.

The unique Egyptian cuisine has been influenced throughout history,
particularly by its neighbors from the Middle East. Persians (modern-day
Iraqis), Greeks, Romans (modern-day Italians), Arabs, and Ottomans (from
modern-day Turkey) first influenced Egyptian cuisine thousands of years
ago. More recently, the foods of other Arabic people in the Middle East
such as the Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, as well as some foods from
Europe, have affected the Egyptian diet. However, Egyptian cuisine
maintains its uniqueness. After thousands of years, rice and bread remain
staple foods, and


(a spinach-like vegetable) and

ful mudammas

(cooked, creamy fava beans), a national dish, are nearly as popular as
long ago.

Ful Mudammas (Broad Beans in Sauce)


  • 2 cans (15-ounce each) cooked fava beans
  • 6 cloves garlic, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1½ Tablespoons parsley, minced
  • Garnish, such as radishes, hard-boiled eggs, chopped scallions, pita
    bread (toasted and cut into wedges)


  1. Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press into a medium bowl.
  2. Mash the garlic and salt together.
  3. Next, add the lemon juice, olive oil, and parsley to the garlic mixture
    and combine thoroughly.
  4. Drain the beans well, rinse, and put beans into a large pot over low
  5. Add garlic mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly.
  6. Serve warm with the garnishes arranged on a platter.
  7. Each person is served a plateful of

    Ful Mudammas

    and adds the garnishes of his or her choice.

Serves 4 to 6.


Koushari, a vegetarian dish, combines lentils, chick peas, macaroni,
and rice in a tomato sauce subtly flavored with onions and garlic.
It is always accompanied by pita bread.

EPD Photos


Egypt has a variety of national dishes.


(pronounced "fool," bean paste),


(sesame paste),


(lentils, macaroni, rice, and chickpeas),

aish baladi

(a pita-like bread),


(spicy, minced lamb), and


(grilled lamb pieces) are the most popular.

Koushari (Lentils, Macaroni, Rice, and Chickpeas)


  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas (also called ceci)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil




  • 1 cup canned tomato puree
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 1 garlic clove, or to taste


  1. Prepare lentils:

    Place the lentils in a sieve and rinse thoroughly. Place them in a
    large saucepan with 3 cups of water and 1 teaspoon salt.
  2. Heat until the water begins to boil. Lower the heat, and simmer for
    about 1 hour until lentils are tender. Drain and set the lentils aside.

  3. Prepare the macaroni:

    Fill the same saucepan with water (add salt if desired). Heat until the
    water begins to boil.
  4. Add the macaroni and boil about 12 to 15 minutes, until macaroni is
    tender. Drain and set the macaroni aside. (It is okay to combine the
    macaroni and lentils.)

  5. Prepare the rice:

    Heat the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in the same saucepan. Add the rice
    and cook for 2 or 3 minutes, thoroughly coating the rice with oil.
  6. Add 2 cups of water and heat until the water begins to boil. Cover the
    saucepan and simmer until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

  8. Assemble koushari:

    Drain chickpeas and rinse. Add chickpeas, lentils, and macaroni to
    cooked rice and toss very gently with a fork.

  9. Make sauce:

    Peel the onions and cut them in half lengthwise. Slice each half
    crosswise into thin slices.
  10. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet. Add onions and cook, stirring
    often with a wooden spoon, until onions are golden brown.
  11. Add garlic clove and cook 1 or 2 more minutes. Stir in tomato puree and
    heat until bubbly.
  12. Now pour the sauce over the lentil mixture and heat over very low heat
    for about 5 minutes, until completely warm.
  13. Serve with pita bread.

Serves 4 to 6.


, the Arabic name for bread, means "life." It accompanies
most meals and is served in various forms. The most common bread is pita,
usually made with whole wheat (or sometimes white) flour. Long, skinny
French-style loaves of bread are also widely eaten throughout the country.
Traditional Egyptian cheeses, as well as feta imported from neighboring
Greece, are frequently served alongside bread at meals.

Despite the country's dry climate and shortage of arable land (land
that can be farmed), Egypt grows a variety of fresh fruits.












(plums), and


(grapes) are commonly grown.


(creamy bean paste made from fava beans), one of the country's
several national dishes, is a typical breakfast meal. It is often served
in a spicy sauce, topped with an egg. Lunch, normally served between 2


and 4


, usually includes meat or fish, rice, bread, and seasonal vegetables.
Salad (




if more than one is served), topped with typical Middle Eastern fare such
as olives, cheese, and nuts, may also be eaten. Meat (usually lamb,
chicken, fish, rabbit, or pigeon), vegetables, and bread make up a typical
dinner in Egypt. Tea and a dessert, such as


(honey pastry),


(cream-filled cake), or


(cooked batter stuffed with nuts), are familiar after-dinner treats.

Tea and coffee are widely consumed. Egypt's numerous coffee and
teahouses brew very strong coffee and tea (often mint tea), usually
offering both full of sugar. Coffeehouses are typically filled with men
who gather to play dominoes or backgammon. Coffee is served


or "bitter" (no sugar) or


or "very sweet." Egyptians also enjoy a drink called
sahleb, made from wheat, milk, and chopped nuts.

For a typical dessert, Egyptians may serve mint tea with sugar and a
sweet, flaky pastry called baklava.

Shai (Mint Tea) and Baklava


  • 1 package mint tea (loose or in tea bags)
  • Sugar
  • 4 to 6 cups water (depending on how many people are being served)


  1. Bring water to a boil.
  2. If using loose tea, measure 1 teaspoon of tea leaves into a teapot for
    each person being served.
  3. Otherwise, place one tea bag per person into the teapot.
  4. Pour boiling water over tea.
  5. Allow to steep (soak) for about 3 minutes.
  6. Pour tea into cups. (In Egypt, small glass tumblers are used.)
  7. If loose tea is used, allow the tea leaves to settle to the bottom of
    the pot, and pour carefully to avoid disturbing them.
  8. Add 4 or 5 teaspoonsful of sugar to each cup.
  9. Enjoy with a piece of baklava, purchased from a bakery.

Serves 4 to 6.

Lemon and Garlic Potato Salad


  • 2 pounds of red potatoes, scrubbed but with skin left on
  • ½ cup parsley, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Juice of 1½ lemons
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


The dressing for Lemon and Garlic Potato Salad is a light and
flavorful combination of lemon juice, garlic, and parsley.

EPD Photos


Cheese with bread is frequently served at meals. Here, oven-fried
cheese, Gebna Makleyah (recipe follows), is served with lemon wedges
and pita triangles.

EPD Photos


  1. Boil potatoes until tender (½ hour to 1 hour, or until a fork can
    easily pierce the skin) and let cool.
  2. Add parsley, garlic cloves, lemon juice, oil, and salt and pepper; mix
  3. Chill and serve.

Serves 4.

Gebna Makleyah (Oven-Fried Cheese)


  • 1 cup firm feta cheese, crumbled, or traditional Egyptian cheese such as
    labna or gebna
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon wedges and pita bread cut into triangles, for serving


With very clean hands, shape the Gebna Makleyah cheese mixture into
balls about one inch in diameter.

EPD Photos


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Place the cheese, flour, egg, salt, and pepper in a bowl and mix well
    with very clean hands.
  3. Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls.
  4. If the mixture seems too loose to hold the ball shape, add a little more
  5. If the mixture seems too dry, add a bit of lemon juice, vinegar, or
  6. Pour 2 or 3 Tablespoons olive oil onto a cookie sheet to grease.
  7. Arrange the cheese balls on the cookie sheet, rolling them around to
    coat thoroughly with the oil.
  8. Bake 5 minutes.
  9. Wearing an oven mitt, open the oven door and shake the cookie sheet to
    prevent cheese balls from sticking and to turn them.
  10. Bake 5 more minutes, until golden brown.
  11. Remove with a spatula and drain on absorbent paper.
  12. Serve warm with lemon wedges and triangles of pita bread.

Serves 4 to 6.


Approximately 90 percent of Egyptians are Muslims, which means they
practice the religion of Islam. The most important time of the year for
Muslims is a monthlong holiday called Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan
(the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, usually November or December),
Muslims fast (do not eat or drink) from sunrise to sunset, and think about
people around the world who do not have enough food. Muslim families will
often come together to prepare hearty meals, including a variety of
sweets, after sunset. Muslims end Ramadan with a three-day celebration

Eid al-Fitr.

Eid al-Adha,

a three-day long "great feast," is another important
holiday for Muslims. In recognition of the Bible story of Abraham's
sacrifice of his son, Jacob, families will sacrifice (kill) a sheep or a
lamb. The animal is slaughtered and cooked whole on a spit over an open
fire, and some of the meat is usually given to poorer families. These
animals are also sacrificed on other important occasions, such as births,
deaths, or marriages.


A bakery displays loaves of bread on racks.

Cory Langley

Throughout the year, several


may take place. A moulid is a day (or as long as a week) celebrating the
birthday of a local saint or holy person. Several events take place during
this time. Food stands decorating the town's streets are usually
set up near the holy person's tomb. Cairo, the capital of Egypt,
celebrates at least three moulids every year. The largest moulid, Moulid
el Nabit, commemorates the birthday of Muhammad and takes place in Cairo
in early August.

Just under 10 percent of Egypt's population are Christians, whose
most important holiday is Easter, falling in either March or April. It is
common for families to come together to share a hearty meal, much as
Christians worldwide do. Egyptian Christians observe the Orthodox
calendar, which places Christmas on January 7 each year.

Bamia (Sweet and Sour Okra)


  • 1 pound small okra pods
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • ½ cup water


  1. Wash the okra and pat it dry with paper towels.
  2. Discard any blemished or hard pods.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and sauté the okra in the
    oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning each pod once.
  4. Add the honey, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and water. Cover, lower the
    heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, adding more water if necessary.
  5. Serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6.

'Irea (Cinnamon Beverage)


  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
  • 1 cup cold water
  • Mixed nuts


  1. Place the cinnamon and sugar in a small saucepan with the cold water and
    bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  2. Lower the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, or until
    it is brownish.
  3. Remove the cinnamon sticks and pour the drink into a cup.
  4. Serve with mixed nuts sprinkled into the cup.

Makes 1 cup.



  • 1 cup dried prunes
  • 1 cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup dried small figs, halved
  • 1½ cups raisins
  • 1 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 2½ cups boiling water


  1. Place all the fruits in a bowl and mix together gently.
  2. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the dried fruits.
  3. Carefully pour the boiling water into the bowl, cover, and allow to cool
    to room temperature.
  4. Refrigerate for several hours, or overnight if possible. (


    is best when allowed to marinate overnight or for several hours before

Serves 4.

Lettuce Salad


  • 1 small head of lettuce, shredded
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1½ teaspoons pepper, or to taste


  1. Toss lettuce with orange juice.
  2. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Dining customs vary throughout the country and between different
religions. When guests are in the presence of Muslims (who make up
approximately 90 percent of Egypt's population), there are some
general guidelines one should follow. The left hand is considered unclean
and should not be used for eating, feet should always been tucked under
the table, and alcohol and pork should not be requested.

When invited to be a guest in an Egyptian household, it is polite for
guests to bring a small gift to the host, such as flowers or chocolate, to
show their appreciation for the meal. Before dinner, cocktails (often
nonalcoholic) are frequently served. This is a time for socializing and
becoming acquainted.


(salads and dips) would also be served at this time. When dinner is
ready, usually between 9


and 10


, guests seat themselves and food is placed in the middle of the table.
Bread will almost always accompany meals, which may include vegetables,
rice dishes, soups, and meat dishes. Following dinner, guests will move
into another room and enjoy coffee or mint tea. Guests should always
compliment the cook.

Most Egyptian peasants cannot afford a large meal. Their diet includes
vegetables, lentils, and beans. Meat, which is more costly, is eaten on
special occasions. Most middle-class families eat a similar diet, but add
more expensive ingredients when they can afford to. All social classes,
however, enjoy quick bites at Egyptian cafes or street vendors.
Traditional teahouses will serve tea in tall glasses (rather than teacups)
and cafes normally offer strong, sweet Turkish coffee. Street vendors sell
a variety of inexpensive foods, including


(fava beans) and


(a macaroni, rice, and lentil dish) as a lunchtime favorite. Vendors also
sell a variety of


(fresh-squeezed juices) made from fruits like banana, guava, mango,
pomegranate, strawberry, from sugar cane, and even hibiscus flowers.

Spinach with Garlic


  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 can (15-ounce) tomato sauce
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 cups cooked rice


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet.
  2. Add onions and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until onions are
  3. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil.
  5. Simmer for 10 minutes on low heat.
  6. Add the spinach and water, and heat to a boil again.
  7. Cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
  8. Serve warm over cooked rice.

Serves 4.


In Cairo, Egypt, a young vendor pushes sugarcane stalks through a
commercial juice extractor. Behind him is a supply of sugarcane,
cultivated on the farms of Upper (southern) Egypt.

EPD Photos/Sana Abed-Kotob


In 1999, agriculture made up approximately 16 percent of Egypt's
economy, employing about one-third of all Egyptians. However, Egypt’s
agriculture is also contributing to the slowing of economic growth. A
shortage of arable land (land that can be farmed) has become a serious
problem. The lack of farmable land has caused Egyptian farmers to move to
other countries.

Irrigation necessary to grow its major crops, such as sugar cane, barley,
wheat, corn, cotton, and rice, is also a growing problem. The Nile River
is Egypt's main water source for both drinking and irrigation, and
overuse could risk the country's delicate water supply. More than
two thousand years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus wrote: "Egypt
is the gift of the Nile." Without the Nile River, Egypt would be
virtually dry and crops to prevent hunger and malnutrition could not grow.
Much in part to the irrigation from the Nile River, Egypt has one of the
lowest childhood malnourishment rates on the continent. About 9 percent of
children younger than five were considered malnourished.



APA Productions.

Insight Guide: Egypt

. New York: Langenscheidt Publishers, 1999.

Balkwill, Richard.

Food and Feasts in Ancient Egypt.

New York: New Discovery, 1994.

Haag, Michael.

Cadogan Guide to Egypt

. London: Cadogan Books, 1998.

Hachten, Harva.

Best of Regional African Cooking

. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1998.

Imeme, Sally-Anne, and Stefan Cucos, eds.

Odyssey Guides: Egypt

. Chicago: Passport Books, 1997.

Lonely Planet: Egypt

. 5


ed. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd., 1999.

Mallos, Tess.

The Complete Middle East Cookbook.

Boston: Tuttle, 1993.

Web Sites

Recipes for Food and Cuisine in Egypt. [Online] Available

(accessed January 28, 2001).

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