Friday, May 15, 2015

Travelog: Egyptian cuisine

I've always liked Mediterranean cuisine in general: hummus, couscous, olives, grape leaves, etc. so I was very excited about trying real Egyptian cuisine. I heard about a dish called "Kushari" that is uniquely Egyptian, and got to try some at a popular chain called Zooba at City Stars mall.

I loved it! It is a mixture of rice, macaroni, lentils, onion, with a little red sauce. You can add hot sauce to make it spicy, and/or a dressing made of lemon, vinegar, and garlic. Topped with crispy fired onions. I would totally eat this at home. I also tried a dip made with Egyptian aged cheese and tahina, which was really really strong. It tasted like a highly concentrated and very salty feta cheese. I liked it, but could only eat a few bites with bread. There are also many varieties of pickled veggies, which I loved.

After I told some of my new local friends that I tried Kushari, they told me that I should try another uniquely Egyptian dish called Molokhaya. I got to do that last night, when one of my colleagues invited me to her home for dinner.

Molokhaya is made from jute leaves, or okra, which are muddled or whirled in a food processor and then added to boiling broth. Seasoned with coriander and garlic, it makes a thick green soup that has an unusual texture, which foreigners might call "slimy." I actually liked it. I thought it tasted a little like spinach, but we definitely don't have anything like it in the USA. We had it over rice, with some meat that was stewed in a red sauce. The whole meal was very comforting! I can understand why Egyptian people would miss this dish when they travel abroad, and it reminds them of home. 

Another culinary adventure that I got to experience was a famous and popular restaurant called Andrea

This first thing you see as you walk in - chickens turning on a rotisserie
Women bake bread in outdoor ovens near the entrance

Guests are seated on an outdoor patio; there is a childrens' play area adjacent

Other wonderful things that I've had here: Olives, dates, and melon - are all locally grown, fresh, and delicious. The melon is particularly sweet. Fatir - a rich, flaky pastry, and Ful - similar to refried beans - are eaten for breakfast. Fresh juice drinks, such as Lemon Mint - my new favorite. It's not nearly as sweet as lemonade. Bread and baked goods here are very good.

I had an awesome and decadent (expensive) meal at a Lebanese restaurant Al Dabke in the Fairmont hotel.
Mezzeh and Mixed Grill
You can find many other types of cuisine here. I had really good sushi the other day at Mori in Mall of Arabia.

Nescafe is a thing here. If they don't have Nescafe, then it's Coffee Mix. The fancier coffee places might serve "American coffee" which is filtered coffee as we know it, or from a French press. What we might call Egyptian coffee - the strong espresso-like brew with a bit of sludge on the bottom - is what they call Turkish coffee. And, it's excellent. Tea with fresh mint is also very good. Fresh squeezed juices are very popular, and I love the lemon mint - it's not as sweet as lemonade and very delicious.

This is a Muslim country, but drinking is not banned. There are many non-muslims living here. I am not finding a great beer selection, but I'm not really looking for it, either. I could probably find an ex-pat bar with a better selection, but I'm playing it safe and staying in my hotel where the choices are:

Or, Heineken. Both Stella and Sakara are Egyptian-made beers. Both are lagers. They aren't bad, but they are not very remarkable, either.

I had better luck with wines. The popular Egyptian wines are: Kouroum of the Nile - Shahrazade (was my favorite), Omar Khayyam, and Grand Marquis.

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