Ah, what to say about Egyptians and their food.
First, just to get the diplomacy out of the way: Egyptians have food. There is indeed food here in Egypt that people do eat. Some of it is even delicious, and some of it would actually make you want to slice the taste buds off your tongue one by one.
What could be that bad, you ask? I’m prepared to tell you. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with “Egyptian cuisine”.
One important rule we have learned in our short time here – one that applies not just to food, but also to our new life in general – is that one must never have any expectations. That’s because, with expectations, even if someone hasn’t just served you pizza made with ketchup or a Caesar salad dressed with mayonnaise with extra mayo on the side, you’re still likely to be disappointed in the end.
The second important rule we’ve learned is that one should never trust a restaurant that makes any claims about the ethnicity of its food. Yes, the Syrian restaurant on the Corniche is believably Syrian, and I’ll trust you if you purport to be an Egyptian restaurant. But if you have the words “AMERICAN CAFÉ” in big letters on the front of your building, why then would you serve burgers made of kofta? If you’re an Italian place, why does my spaghetti Bolognese have BBQ sauce in it? No thanks, I’ll pass.
So, as you can tell, we don’t get on well with most of the restaurants around us. There are at least two in our neighborhood alone that we’ve sworn off completely, and we try to stay away from anything that calls itself a “cafe”. Most of our worst experiences (the ones you read about in the previous two paragraphs) were had in “cafes”. (I have to admit that I was in rehearsal while Bethany was having the “worst meal [she’s] ever had in Egypt”, so I can’t really describe it. Maybe she can.)
It isn’t all bad though; there are some restaurants we’ve actually enjoyed. Since we live on the Mediterranean, we have had some luck with seafood restaurants. And there’s China House, which just barely compensates for its mediocre Chinese food by having the best views in Alexandria.
I definitely wouldn’t want to sound like I’m whining, so there are a few Egyptian foods that we do like. Egypt has taken shawerma from the Syrians, and because we come from a small town about as far away from the Middle East as you can get, it’s new to us. Personally, I could eat shawerma until I explode, and then I would get some more. Bethany isn’t quite as hooked on it, but she likes it enough to have found a favorite (Gad, ubiquitous until you’re actually looking for one.)
They have this thing called feteer, a dish I was introduced to when the flutist in the orchestra ordered one for me during one of our breaks. I’m afraid I will never be able to recreate this, as it involved speaking to someone over the phone. (Seriously, why can’t I just know Arabic already?). It’s basically phyllo dough filled with stuff, so imagine a puff pastry calzone. So good.
And there’s fattah. We’re not entirely sure what goes in this one. There’s rice, and plain yogurt, and sometimes meat. And maybe some kind of cracker thing on the bottom? It’s bowl food, served in a bowl.
Then there’s the Egyptian foods you eat not necessarily because you like them, but because they’re just..there. Kofta (little ground beef wieners), felafel, . Foul (pronounced “fool”) is just beans. Special beans, I’ll grant, but they go crazy over it here. I don’t see its appeal. I haven’t tried koshary yet, but some people like it. From what I understand, it’s essentially chili served over macaroni and maybe other noodles and maybe other stuff. Like I said, I haven’t had it yet.
What else do Egyptians like? One word: Sugar. Excuse me, I mean “SUGAR!!!” They have a serious thing for dessert here. Not necessarily good dessert, but as long as it’s made of sugar, I don’t think they really care. It’s incomprehensible how much sugar they eat. I’m struggling to describe it accurately, so I just won’t.
We’re looking forward to a couple upcoming trips out of Egypt, mainly for the food. I’m sure we’ll talk about it.
I’ll leave you with this image of a crab bathing in some soup.