Egypt which is home of the pharaohs and the great pyramids, could rightly be called the land of mouth watering cuisine as well. The Egyptian civilization has contributed to some of the most exotic flavours that are relished by millions of people. It is believed that coffee was first produced in Kafa, an Egyptian province. The Egyptians honour the Nile as their sacred 'mother' which nourishes their land and blesses them with prosperity. The country largely depends on the Nile for agriculture as Egypt receives meagre rainfalls due to its unique geographical position between the Mediterranean and the Red sea.
The 'gift' of Nile
The fruits, vegetables, and pulses which are grown on the banks of the Nile are used abundantly in the Egyptian cuisine. After the floods when the river valley became extremely fertilized, cultivation of shallots, ginger, cabbage, tomato, garlic, cucumber, radish, turnip, pulses, leak and lupine increased. Besides, fruits like apples, olives, pomegranates, grapes and figs too were grown in abundance. The Egyptian cuisine, which has lots of vegetarian, uses this fresh produce generously.
Meat dishes made with duck, goose, quail, squab, crane, and ostrich are special delicacies in the Egyptian cuisine. Rabbit meat, mutton, chicken, beef, lamb, and camel meat too are widely used in their dishes.
The history of flavours
The gastronomic history of Egypt could be traced to the different parts of the world. Egypt was a major exporter of spices through the many ports in the Red sea. So, unique spices sourced from around the globe were easily available in the local Egyptian 'souk' (market) as well. Cumin seeds are a primary ingredient in the Egyptian dishes, besides coriander, cardamom, chilli, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mint, dill, bay leaf, fennel seeds, fenugreek, and mustard, and curry leaves.
The Egyptian cuisine was significantly influenced by the ancient Persian, Greek, Roman, Arabic and Ottoman Turkish cuisines. Later, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Syrian influences too became evident in the Egyptian dishes. It is known that the Egyptians drank wine from 3000 BC onwards. In the days of yore, exotic wine was made by men, crushing juicy grapes in large vessels, with their feet, and the must (freshly extracted grape juice) stored in huge clay cellars for brewing.
Dishes like kebabs, kofta, shawarma, vegetables stuffed in grape leaves are similar to the East Mediterranean cuisine. In Egyptian cooking, 21 different varieties of oils are used.
Art of 'Eating'
Many paintings and engravings on the century's old tombs depict scenes of elaborate feats, acts of cooking and hunting. Evidences prove that a special kind of soft, white, salty cheese called the domiati cheese was consumed from the time of the pharaohs. This cheese was found from the mud vessels excavated from the ancient burial places and tombs which date back to 3000 BC. In the earlier days, the Egyptians ate fresh dates as dessert. Archaeologists have even found dates among the various food items stored in tombs for the dead to feast on. Drawings of roasted deer meat marinated in honey, duck roasted over fire, pomegranates, jujube, and honey cakes are found on the walls of these ancient burial places.
Breads and beers were made form wheat, barley and farro. Farro, a whole grain was widely used to make bread, gruel and beer, and wheat soup was one of the popular dishes in Egypt. Cheeses like domiati, arish and rumi were major ingredients in the dishes in the past. However, today, mish, a salty fermented cheese is widely used in the Egyptian cuisine. Even from centuries ago, fish was cleaned, rubbed with salt, and dried in the sun. Sea food forms an important part of the Egyptian food culture especially in the coastal regions of Egypt.
The pita bread, which could rightly be called the traditional dish of Egypt, is baked at a very high temperature. Eesh Baladi, a whole wheat bread, is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eesh means 'life' in Egyptian, and this appropriately denotes the importance of food in the Egyptian culture. Foie gras, an Egyptian speciality, is made with the liver of the duck that has been fattened through the gavage technique. Food historians claim that this exclusive dish has been consumed in Egypt as early as 2500 BC onwards. Delicacies made with the brain of goat are relished by the Egyptians. Eesh fino, bread packet stuffed with chopped liver, capsicum, pepper, cumin and garlic fillings is also a popular dish. Shayi or black tea added with fresh mint leaves is a refreshing beverage. Sipping hot or cold hibiscus tea on a pleasant evening is the favourite pastime of the Egyptians.
Other important dishes
Kushari, made with rice, macaroni, and lentils mixed together, and topped with specially prepared tomato-vinegar sauce, and garnished with chick peas is one of the most popular dishes in Egypt. In fact this dish, which is loaded with different ingredients and spices, is known as 'food of the poor.' Foie mudmus, known as the 'king' among the Egyptian street food, has fava beans, salt, pepper, cumin seeds and olive oil as the main ingredients. This dish, eaten alongside pita bread, is usually cooked in bronze vessel a day before it is actually served.
Hamam mahshi is a stuffed squab grilled to perfection. In Egyptian, 'mahshi' means stuffed. Another popular mahshi dish, inspired from the Mediterranean cuisine, is spice infused rice stuffed in grape leaf and cooked in tomato sauce. A squeeze of lime before serving adds the perfect tang to this aromatic rice. Fiteer baladi, known as Egyptian pizza, can be consumed as a sweet or savoury dish. It is baked in traditional clay oven, and can be made sweet by adding honey or sugar syrup, or spicy by filling it with meat, vegetables, cheese, and spices.
Falafel or tameya is a fried vegetable dish made with fava beans and loads of aromatic herbs like parsley, coriander, and cilantro. Meat balls, called kofta, are made with minced beef or lamb mixed with spices, and roasted on coal. Chunks of beef kebabs, crispy havashi lamb sandwich are the perfect dishes to relish at a grand gala.
Kunafa is an Egyptian dessert which looks like thin noodles (semolina). It is baked with fresh cream and lots of nuts. Baklava is another popular sweet pastry dish with chopped nuts and sugar syrup or honey. Pickled vegetables called torshi is an unavoidable side dish on the Egyptian platter. The Egyptian tagine, the fragrant fish stew, is similar to the Moroccan tagine.