Five Dishes or Drinks to Try in Egypt
We had mezzes several times during our trip, but my hands down favorite was at Sofra in Luxor. Sofra's mezze platter is a combination of eight hot and cold offerings from their mezze menu, served with pita-like bread. A little poking around the internet shows me that which eight you get varies. Ours included...
Torshi: pickled vegetables - basic, but I love them at home as well
Baba Ghanoug: eggplant dip
Hummus: the staple chickpea dip, tasted more roasted and less vinegary than what I'm used to throughout Egypt
Khiyar bil Zabadi: basically Egyptian tzatziki
Ta'miya: similar to falafel, but the fried patties are made from fava beans instead of chickpeas
Kebdat Sofra: veal liver - melt in your mouth amazing, and a small portion is perfect.
Trying to identify them a month later, I have no idea what the last two were, but they were good!
Koshary is what everyone says you have to try in Cairo. You can get it, cheaply, pretty much anywhere, but Kate made us wait to go to Cairo Kitchen. I was so glad - it ended up being one of my favorite restaurants on the trip! New, bright, clean - hardly "authentic" - Cairo kitchen serves up traditional dishes cafeteria-style. Sometimes when you can't read the language, it's nice to be able to see, point, and ask, instead of relying on a menu.
I wasn't sold on koshary from the description - a mix of rice, fried onions, and pasta in tomato sauce? - but it was honestly good. It was fun to be able to share our dishes though, and I think the chicken fattah ended up being my favorite.
I decided to play it safe when it came to meat in Egypt - I know my stomach and its aversion to certain kinds of ground meat - and went for chicken over kofta every time. (From the teensy bit I did sample, I know I missed out.) But shish tawook was a decent replacement. I ordered it twice, on our Nile Maxim dinner cruise and again at Sequoia. I think it was more flavorful at Sequoia, but hesitate to recommend the restaurant for reasons I've written about here. In any case, if you want to try a grill in Egypt, but can't do red meat, this is your answer!
We had caramel flan and Umm Ali at a rooftop bar in Zamalek. Both were good, but the Umm Ali is definitely the one to try. A light bread pudding with nuts, raisins, and coconut, the dessert comes with a distinctly Egyptian back story. When a sultan died, his two wives argued over whose son would rule once the boys came of age. The first wife had the second wife beaten to death with slippers by her own handmaids when she went to bathe. To celebrate, the triumphant wife made this dessert and served it to her people. Her son, Ali (Umm Ali means 'mother of Ali') went on to rule.
We also had the good fortune of staying in Zamalek, right around the corner from Mandarine Koueider. Kate and her roommates kept their freezer well stocked with ice cream from the Patisserie. The Nutella-flavored ice cream was a particular favorite.
I really wanted to try some karkade tea while in Egypt and El Fishawy ended up being the perfect place to do so. It came in a tall glass filled with crushed ice and was wonderfully sweet and almost plummy tasting. I bought some flowers to take home and brew - good but not quite the same.
Whether or not you try the karkade, El Fishawy is an experience worth having. The passage in front of the cafe is decorated and serves as wonderfully atmospheric outdoor seating. When we were there, the seats were mostly occupied by local men, from grandfathers in traditional dress to young hipsters. Two cats kept us entertained while we had tea and ate falafel from around the corner. I had to restrain myself from taking this kitten home with me - very hard to do when it climbed in Lis's bag!
Finally, something we didn't try - Rania said matter-of-factly, "Your stomachs aren't used to it; you would get sick" - was this liquorice flavored drink, sold on the street. Didn't stop the vendor from posing for us!