This post is long overdue, especially since as of today we’ve been here for a month! In a word, the food is fantastic.
There is a high premium put on wholesome, good-quality ingredients. Just ask the driver of this truck full of chili peppers or this lady making country bread at a rest stop along the Desert Road!
I have a policy of at least tasting anything that is put in front of me. Anything. Even if it still has eyes, as in the case of the fish from the Citadel and the Seafood. Usually this policy works out exceedingly well, since I end up trying things I would not ordinarily have ordered or even considered tasty before. Almost everything is fresh, fresh, fresh and locally produced so no matter what you try, it is highly likely to be heavenly.
The local diet is filled with legumes: lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, etc., lots of vegetables, and unparalleled seafood, including sea bream, whitefish, herring, tuna, and flounder.
Egypt has some classic American chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC, but these are considered far more upscale than they are in the US. For the common man, it’s fool and falafel for food on-the-go and on-the-street, along with shwarma, koshari and shish tawook (grilled and spiced chicken on a bun).
I am in love with something called Shwarma Soori, which is shwarma meat (either chicken or beef) with garlic yogurt sauce and pickles, all wrapped up in a paper-thin pita-like bread. There’s a great place just a block from campus where you can buy excellent classics along with foreign imports, like crepes and gelato, all for under 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $3.75). I’ve finally mastered ordering all in Arabic, so this place has become quite the guilty pleasure!
Shwarma soori and some orange Schwepps. I could die happy.
Beverages are equally stupendous. The coffee is rich and dark and muddy, sweet and hot. The tea is wonderful, especially the local favorites of mint, anise, cinnamon, and clove. Mint tea comes very very fresh (modeled below by Carolyn. photo credits to Hannah J).
The best drinks in my opinion are the fresh fruit juices available all over, but not just the expected ones, like apple, orange, and pineapple. I’ve sampled guava, coconut, mango, peach, strawberry, banana, carob, and even hibiscus juice. This weekend we stopped at an infamous Alexandria hotspot, a place many people raved about last year when I told them I’d be coming here: Aseer Makka (Juice Mecca). The place sells only fruit juice, but with only juice that still includes over 100 different varieties and combinations. I was intent on trying aseer leb (pumpkin seed juice), but they were all out, so I had peanut juice. In reality it was more like pulverized peanuts mixed with milk and chocolate into a kind of smoothie. It tasted like a tall glass of Reese’s peanut butter cups and went down just as densely. Mmmmm!
You can also get all kinds of inventive packaged drinks, like blackberry soda and this gem from the Metro supermarket (below).
The local desserts are great, too. Cookies and western-style stuff tends to be a bit bland and crackery, but anything local is absolutely awesome (and the right way to go anyway!). A new favorite is Konafa, vermicelli-like pastry with pistachios, shredded coconut , raisins, and sometimes cinnamon on top, to which powdered sugar and warm cream are customarily added. It ends up tasting like shredded wheat’s upscale cousin, without the goopy, slimy, geriatric image.
This weekend we went to what is considered the best place for fool and falafel in Alexandria, Mohamad Ahmed. We had the classic spread of bread, fool, tahina, tomato and cucumber salad, hummus, banga (beets), gibna (cheese), potatoes and parsley, and falafel. True to its reputation, Mohamad Ahmed did not disappoint.
I swear without the amount of walking we do every day here, you’d have to roll me back to the States.
In case you’d like to get in on the culinary and gastronomic adventure, here’s a recipe for koshari, a classic comfort food considered by many to be Egypt’s national dish. <http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/egyptian-koshari/detail.aspx>