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Sep 24, 2011 12:06 PM

Egypt recs?

We're off to travel around Egypt for a few weeks, and were hoping to use some recommendations from the board. I've looked up and noted down the recommendations already mentioned, but was hoping there would be more up-to-date recommendations:

We're visiting the following towns/ cities: Cairo, Alexandria, Marsah Matrouh, Siwa, various oases, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel.

Our tastes: great food. Dives, fine dining, whatever. Not European/ Japanese/ etc, or anything we'd probably find of a better standard in London where we're from. We're happy to travel a few extra miles for something great. We don't really drink, so that's not a consideration.

And finally, any foods we should bring back? We'll be there in October.


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  1. You've probably come across a few of my recommendations since we lived there for a year. I wouldn't worry about recommendations being outdated -- things in Egypt move at a glacial pace, and I highly doubt that much has changed since last year. Bear in mind, as I've said in other places, Egypt is not a foodie culture. Most affluent Egyptians are thrilled that they can afford to eat in places like TGI Friday's, Chilli's, MacDonald's, etc. The local food, like fuul, tamaya, and kosheri are by and large the food of the masses, though everyone eats them from time to time.
    More than anything else, I'm happy you're going to Egypt since it seems that there have been few posts about Egypt since the February revolution. When I ask my friends how things are there now, they all say the same thing: fine, like it was before, calm, nothing different. I hope you have a great time!

    10 Replies
    1. re: roxlet

      Thanks, roxlet. Your recs have indeed been extremely helpful, and are safely compiled in a word document to take with us! It's good to know that they're probably still valid. In addition, do you have any recommendations for relatively cool, calm cafe type places? It occurs to me that it's always nice to know where to find an island of calm when visiting big hot bustling cities. Any trendy cafes or cafe districts? And - I know you'd have mentioned this in your posts, but thought I'd double check anyway - any places where one can get home style Egyptian food?

      1. re: tavegyl

        There is a cafe/restaurant at the Al Ahzar park, which is above or near the Citadel. I didn't actually make it there, but my friend who was visiting from England went with our guides. She said it was lovely and like an oasis in the hurly-burly of Cairo. This is probably not what you are looking for, but the Four Seasons Hotel in Giza had a lovely French cafe in the lobby that we frequented. It was really the only place in Cairo to get good bread, other than pita. There are chains like Cilantro, which are all over the city, where you can get a coffe or another beverage. They're just so-so. As far as home-style Egyptian food, I never found a place that had it. We once went to a cooking lesson at someone's apartment (through our guide) and ate home-style Egyptian food there. Other than that, there are the koshari places, Gad, a chain where all the Egyptians eat, the Egyptian Pancake house in the Khan, and such, but none of those are home-style Egyptian food. If you read my posts, we talked about going with our guide Wael to a place in Imbaba, which had home-style "baladi" food, which translates as countrified. Some of it was very good, and many locals in the area would pick up chicken or other meat to take home to dinner. I would not recommend going to Imbaba without a guide, and most of them won't take you there. This is a photo of my son at the cafe in Imbaba with the restaurant owner and the waiter.

        1. re: roxlet

          Once again, thanks for the tips, roxlet. A full trip report promised on our return!

          1. re: tavegyl

            I don't know if I've caught you before you left for your trip, but we are going to Egypt in November and we have already had several people recommend Sofrah restaurant in Luxor as being quite good, serving traditional "Middle East" food, including Egyptian dishes.

            So it's firmly on our list. Given my past experience traveling in other Middle Eastern countries, I wouldn't be surprised if we end up going to Sofrah every night while we're in Luxor. If you find the one good restaurant you like, stick with it.

            1. re: Roland Parker

              Just back from my Egypt trip, and hoping this will catch you before you leave! We did go to Sofra a couple of times: it had a lovely atmosphere on its terrace, excellent Turkish coffee, and quite good (though not superb) food. Very good fresh juices as well.

              If you're on the West Bank, I do recommend trying out the Memnon Restaurant (not the Dream of Memnon next to it). It's a small roadside place opposite the Colossi of Memnon, which our hotel staff recommended we try. They follow the common Egyptian pattern of asking whether you want meat/ chicken/ fish, and preparing it with all the usual trimmings. I thought the quality of preparation was a notch above most places we ate at, and the chef had a certain finesse in how he handled his ingredients. It was also the only place we ate at where there was an effort at providing a seasonal local and delicious dessert: a simple and very tasty dish of fried bananas and guava in a sweet, tart karkaday [hibiscus] syrup.

              I will type up my thoughts on the places we ate in the coming days/ weeks, but will happily offer any thoughts on specific places before then. We ate at least a couple of meals in the following cities and towns:

              Marsa Matrouh
              Abu Simbel

              1. re: tavegyl

                What did you enjoy in Cairo? Any must haves or nots?

                1. re: Roland Parker

                  The only NOT I can think of is the Mena House hotel's restaurant (Khan-al-Khalili), but it's very unlikely you will eat there unless you're staying there. Stale, flavourless food, some of the worst we had in Egypt.

                  Abu Tarek's koshary was a revelation: how a mixture of boiled lentils, rice and pasta can be so delicious is still beyond me. If you order the 'special' version for a few Egyptian pounds more I think you get extra fried onions, which I'd recommend. Also, definitely use plenty of the condiments on the table. We ordered a salad and mixed in the cucumbers and tomatoes.

                  The Egyptian Pancake at Khan al Khalili (just off Midan al Hussain) was also superb. I should say, the Egyptian Pancake itself appeared to be closed, but the neighbouring restaurant insisted they had taken over. We were hungry and tried it anyway. Indeed, it was delicious: a light, flaky pancake, like a Pakistani paratha, covered in white homemade butter (what they called cream) and honey. Of the three fiteer we had in Egypt, this was by far the best.

                  Other than that we ate at Gad, which was a good tasty pitstop, with very nice juices, and Abu el Sid, which was a lovely upscalish experience, with superb marinated aubergines. We had the front seats to the filming of an Egyptian TV show there. I like molokhiya, a thin spinachy broth served over rabbit or chicken, but I gather many don't. I wasn't too taken with the pigeon stuffed with frik, although I could see this was a far better rendition than the one we'd tried previously, at Sofra in Luxor. I think I simply didn't find it very interesting.

                  We also visited the Citadel View cafe in Al Azhar park. The location is lovely, on a hill in a park facing the Citadel. The cafe itself is huge, but well designed, and a cool, quiet place for a drink, especially if you get a table on one of the upper balconies. It was quite expensive and the food didn't look great, so we only had some highly refreshing fresh juices before returning to Cairo fray.

                  Be warned, if you intend to combine the Citadel View with a visit to the Citadel, the entrance to the park is a good 20-30 minute walk along a major road. From our map they appeared to be next to each other.

                  1. re: tavegyl

                    Sounds like you hit all the major stops. Glad you enjoyed yourself. What was the tourist situation like? Gad rarely has tourists, but some of the other spots do.

                    1. re: roxlet

                      Abu Sid was the only place to have many foreigners. Abu Tarek had one table of Americans next to us, but they appeared to be students in Cairo. All in all, there were very few tourists, especially those travelling without the chaperonage of a tour group. This was great for us if we were careful to time our visits between groups (we and one other couple were the only ones inside the Khufu Pyramid during our visit, and we had the tombs in the Valley of the Kings largely to ourselves), less great for the country as a whole.

                      1. re: tavegyl

                        So sad for our guide friend there who must be having a very tough time of it.

    2. We just returned from Egypt.

      On the whole Egyptian food is average and unremarkable. Since we live in Dubai we're already used to the standard Arabic fare of grilled meats and kebabs with sides of hommous and baba ghanoush, and that's just what you will find all over Egypt, but not necessarily of the greatest quality.

      It's rather puzzling when you consider that Egypt is one of the world's oldest civilizations and at the center of multiple trade routes and yet failed to develop a noteworthy cuisine. We ate far better in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey despite that these countries have relatively similar base cuisines with Egypt.

      Koshury at Abu Tarek was....ok. It was fine and edible and cheap but even with the additional sauces, onions and spices I didn't think it was an amazing dish. It's meant to be everyday comfort food but I'm not running for the nearest koshury place.

      The Egyptian pancake house was closed during our entire stay in Cairo, but we had "pancakes" from a small joint near the old American University of Cairo campus in downtown Cairo. It was fine. Think of griddled fried dough with various toppings or stuffings.

      We ate dinner one night in a restaurant in downtown Cairo called Felfela, largely because it was there and we were too tired and hungry to go elsewhere. It was...fine. Grilled meats and dips. Very atmospheric, old fashioned jungle themed interior that hasn't changed since the 1950s, including the waiters.

      We had one lunch and dinner at Gad, which is an Egyptian chain serving the standard grilled meats and side dishes. It was cheap and quite good value.

      The food in Luxor was a mix of standard Egyptian fare and the standard working class British-abroad fare (lasagne with chips, anyone?). Several acceptable pizza joints that made the kids happy. We did go to Sofra on our first night and it was disappointing. I had the Egyptian pigeon and found it unremarkable, mostly stuffed rice with minimal meat. Service was impossibly slow. Around the corner from Sofra (on the main street that you traverse before reaching Sofra, which is down a side street) is an Egyptian restaurant/grill joint with an outdoor seating area that was frequented by both locals and tourists and it was quite good. We had several tagines (Egyptian style), the grilled meats and the tahini and baba ganoush dips with the pita breads.

      Overall, the food in Egypt is serviceable and nothing to get excited about. But there were two pleasant discoveries: Egyptian rice is excellent, thick, fluffly and cooked with stock/seasoning, and Egyptian bread (a spongier version of pita bread) is also very long as you don't ask yourself where the restaurant got their day's batch of bread as it's sold all over the cities and towns, usually by old women from a platter on the streets, with flies hovering all over the bread.

      While I'm sure there's excellent food to be had in Egypt, those are going to be higher end "international" or "ethnic" restaurants frequented by affluent Egyptians and not necessarily on the tourist trail. Cairo is not Istanbul or Beirut. But Egypt is still a marvelous country, notwithstanding the touts in Luxor. Just don't go there expecting brilliant street food or creative restaurants.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Roland Parker

        I have spent over a year in Egypt among a non-touristy , affluent population, and I'm here to tell you that there is not really great creative restaurants anywhere, so don't be so sure there is excellent food to be had in Egypt. Oh, sure, there are some decent places to get a good meal, but these are mostly westernized places, some in hotels, and some not. Egypt is just not a foodie culture. Only the very affluent can afford to eat in MacDonalds's or TGIFriday's, and these are considered to be very good, pretty expensive places to eat. I have hosted many Egyptians here in NY, and when they are left to their own devices, they eat at American chains. Someone took my most recent guests to The Cheesecake Factory, which they thought was 'amazing.'.

        We lived in Dokki, which is a very affluent community in Giza, and the only good meals we had there were either things I cooked, or at a French resto or a steak house, both owned my Omar Sharif's son. They were notable because they were westernized. In the French resto, the chef actually wanted to meet us because we ordered our beef medium rare. All Egyptians seem to like their meat cooked until it resembles shoe leather. Egypt is simply. Not a foodie culture.

      2. I'm sorry to see that you've already come and gone from Egypt and seen how largely bland the cuisine is, but for any future travelers I recommend the following in Cairo. They're all mostly outdoor, streetside (or alleyside), inexpensive places.

        El-Rifai (Sayeeda Zeinab, down an alley across the road from the Sayeeda Zeinab mosque)- Grilled meats. You'll be inundated with salad and tahine, as well as a weird (but delicious!) spicy salad-juice known as "Egyptian Whisky." You can order by the kilo, if you're that hungry.

        El-Nil (Bab el-Luq, Bustan Street)- seafood. Really great grilled fish and grilled shrimp. If you're in a rush the downstairs section has shrimp and fried fish sandwiches. For some reason their tahine is exceptionally delicious.

        Yemeni Restaurant (Dokki, Iran Street)- Yemeni cuisine has all the spice that Egyptian lacks. Fusuliya ma-beid (beans with eggs) and Fahsa lamb are highly recommended, as is the bread, of course.

        Sudanese Restaurants (Ataba)- there is one off Gumhurriya Street (down an alley) and one just off Adly Street (also down an alley). Top it off with gabbana, the delicious coffee.

        Mahrous (Garden City, the street just off the Canadian Embassy)- fuul served streetside, but unlike the ubiquitous 1LE bland fuul sandwiches, you're served a huge bowl with an array of delicious mezze. Definitely get the spicy Alexandrian fuul.

        Umm Dahab (Downtown, in the alley by After 8 nightclub)- Dahab and her mother (Umm Dahab) make homestyle Egyptian food right in front of you. The chicken is delicious, as is the molokheyya and the mahshi.

        If you like offals, there are little stand-alone places all over Downtown offering liver and brain sandwiches. I also always enjoy feteer, and my favorite is at a place on the Garden City side of Qasr el-Aini street.

        1. On the road back into Cairo from the pyramids, there is a great big rotisserie chicken place called "Andrea's" . Sorry! But that's the best I can give you on location (I was with my parent's driver). It is mostly outdoor tables, with nice garden surroundings. Excellent grilled chicken, veggies, and fabulous bread made by hand by women you pass on your way to your table. Not fancy, but delicious and relaxing, with excellent service (not always the case in Egypt). Locals would probably know it and could give you better directions. Wait! Proof that you can find anything on the internet: 60 Maryotteya Canal, Cairo, Egypt
          38 31 133