The Middle East @ Work

Eating and Drinking in Egypt

Meaw Mar 6, 2008

I wasn’t sure what to expect in Egypt for meals or adult beverages. I’ll start with the food. I haven’t had a bad meal here yet. I was warned to be leery of uncooked vegetables and definitely the water. I’ve stuck to bottled water but I have eaten cucumber and tomato salads almost every day without problems. The lettuce, I hear, can be a little dicey. They use a lot of pesticides.

One of my favorite dishes is koshery. It’s pasta and rice mixed with lentils and tomato sauce. It’s a very hearty – and cheap – meal. Expensive koshery is less than $3 US. It’s supposedly a dish of the lower classes. I could eat it almost every day, although I might have a carbo-ttack.

Meat-eaters will love the shish-kebab, and something called Fatah. It’s minced meat rolled into a patty. I also had a “hamburger” at a Cairo restaurant. There was no bun. It was four small meat patties spiced with Cumin. Very tasty!

Vegetarians will love the fuul. It’s a fava bean dish cooked with butter, tomatoes and onions. Delicious. Doesn’t sound like a breakfast, but a lot of Egyptians eat it first thing in the morning as a hearty way to start their day.

On to drinking. Alcohol is prohibited in Islam, but there are social drinkers in Egypt and lots of tourists. So, many restaurants serve beer and wine. Egypt makes its own wine, but the grapes are imported from other countries. I had some, and while it wasn’t bad, I can’t recommend it too highly.

The “Budweiser” of Egypt is called Stella. It’s not Stella Artois. This Stella is made in Egypt. It’s a decent lager. There are a couple of other beers you’ll find in most places – Sakara from Egypt and Heineken. They also have a beer called Meister Max, which is 8% alcohol. Maybe two of those – Max. There are some liquor stores hidden throughout Cairo. I haven’t been in any, but I hear they have Jim Bream instead of Jim Beam. This isn’t a bourbon-drinking kind of place.

We spent one day in Alexandria, which is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean. Before you get dreamy-eyed about the ancient city of Alexandria… that city is mostly at the bottom of the sea or underneath the new city. They do have a beautiful new library, which is the main tourist attraction. It really is stunning. But the fish in Alexandria is also worth the trip. We ate at a place right on the sea where we picked out the exact fish we wanted to eat – a snapper and a sea bass. They were brought to our table and the waiter went to town on it, slicing and dicing it with a whirlwind of knives. It was spectacular. And so was the fish.

We tried to eat lunch in an Alexandria neighborhood. There were no other tourists in sight. We spent 45 minutes trying to order food… at a restaurant. There was a major communication breakdown. We finally gave up. The menu was in English and Arabic, but they couldn’t seem to figure out what we wanted to order.

Food and drink prices vary greatly here. At one restaurant, I could order a big bottle of Stella for 7 pounds ($1.50 US) or I could pay 15 pounds at another place or 30 pounds at the hotel. At some restaurants, four of us could get a meal for 100 pounds (20 bucks). Or we might pay four times as much.

They do have American fast food restaurants, like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Sbarro. The service at these places is impeccable, quite a difference from the US. The people who work there take a lot of pride in what they do. And the food is well prepared. I was surprised.

The one bad thing about Cairo restaurants — the cigarette smoke. You can literally gag on it. One place we went, there was a visible haze in the room. We ate pretty quickly that night.

Scott Jagow

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