Egypt is becoming increasingly popular as a destination for Europeans and Americans, especially after the pandemic. I can’t begin to count how many times I was asked for tips for friends or friends of friends going to Egypt last year.
The reasons for that may vary. Egypt is now safer to visit than a few years ago. Moreover, the Egyptian pound has been devaluing compared with the euro and US dollar making Egypt an even cheaper destination than it was before (sad for locals, but it is working out well for tourists).
The reason I get asked for so many tips about Egypt though is that there are two Egypts: the one you read about when you “Google” stuff in English as a tourist and the Egypt we know as locals which is way less artificial and more interesting.
Food is the most obvious example. If you look up “Best restaurants in Cairo” on Trip Advisor, you will find the top rated ones to be Western-style American and European diners which are mostly over-priced.
Most people don’t come to Egypt for burgers, fried chicken, and fries. Moreover, we don’t make these very well so visitors come to the conclusion that food is “meh” in Egypt when food is actually pretty good and the cuisine is really varied.
It is just that locals don’t do TripAdvisor and rely heavily on word of mouth as well as social media in Arabic.
It was even more scandalous in Alexandria as McDonald’s was rated in the Top 5 for a couple of years in the past (not sure who was responsible for this!).
So here I am revealing a few recommendations of where locals really dine in the two biggest cities in Egypt: Cairo and Alexandria (along with some Dos and Don’ts).
79 Talaat Harb, Madinet Al Ommal, Imbaba, Cairo
Yes, we don’t have a “P” in Arabic so we pronounce it “Brince,” rather than “Prince.” Hands down, this is my favorite place to eat in Cairo. It is not for the weak though. Portions are big, food is heavy, and it is so good, you will eat a lot.
They are well-known for two things: Molokhia (thick green Egyptian soup usually eaten with bread) and War’t Lahma (meat in foil) which could be a bit spicy for some people’s taste). They also make traditional dishes with oxtails, sausages, and liver. Even though the place looks a bit shabby, it is often frequented by Arab and Egyptian celebrities as the food there is just exceptional.
151 Abeid Street, Cairo
This is El-Brince’s main rival, equally shabby and equally famous and busy. Their tarb is a must-have (grilled kofta wrapped in lamb fat). You also can’t visit Egypt and not have stuffed pigeons, which you could try out at Sobhy Kaber (they are not the same as pigeons you see flying around in Europe, don’t worry). I would also go for “Bamia stew” (Okra and beef) as it is identical to the ones we have homemade.
15 Hoda Sharaawy, Downtown Cairo
Felfela is definitely not the only place where one can have a full Egyptian breakfast: “Ful Medames” (fava beans), falafel, eggs with pastrami, fried aubergines, “baladi” bread, clotted cream and honey. However, I found that I prefer the food quality there over other places.
Always ask for food without fresh salad and mayonnaise in Egypt though. People often get food poisoning when they make one of three mistakes: order a salad, choose something with a mayonnaise dressing, or drink tap water. If those three things are avoided (especially in cheap breakfast places), you will be fine throughout the trip.
El-Sayed Mohammed Karim, As Sayalah Sharq, Alexandria
I believe that food is better in Alexandria, my home town. This is not because I am biased.
We are inherently cooler in Alexandria. It is a fact.
Of course, you can’t miss out on the fresh seafood and fish in this Mediterranean city. You will find expensive, fancy recommendations online for fish places.
Ignore all that.
Go to Arous El Bahr. It is where locals also go for fish. Each household in Alexandria has at least one family member who makes really good fish so if we go out for that kind of meal, it has to meet some snobbish standards.
Order squid (both grilled and fried because they are both really different and so good). Also try out “Singari fish” which is a way of cooking fish, not a specific kind of fish. The Singari fish is grilled open with a special marinade (so good!!).
The shrimp soup in Arous El-Bahr is a must-have along with the special Alexandrian rice which we eat as a side dish with fish “Sayadia”.
The Greek Club (White and Blue Restaurant)
Kayetbai, As Sayalah Sharq, Alexandria
This fancy place serves incredible seafood and fish accompanied with a scenic view over the Alexandrian harbor. It also serves beer and wine so you can enjoy your meal with some alcohol. It is a bit more expensive than Arous El-Bahr given the location and the view, but the view at sunset makes it totally worth it.
If you are lucky, they might have “Besaria” (fish bait) which goes really well with a cold beer on a hot Alexandrian day.
Farag Abu Khaled
32 Mohamed el Sayed Korayem St., Alexandria
Back to a shabby place with really good food: One can’t visit Alexandria without passing by Farag Abu Khaled. The restaurant is mainly known for Alexandrian liver, which is a speciality you can only find in Alexandria. It is beef liver cooked and marinated in a special way (either eaten in a sandwich or with a side dish of choice). Even if you are not big on liver, it is hard to resist the Alexandrian version of it. People drive miles from other nearby towns to eat liver sandwiches at Farag Abu Khaled.
This list is by no means inclusive of everything you can eat in Egypt. It is basically a fraction of the options in terms of variety of dishes and restaurants. What is important is to always bear in mind the context in which one is traveling to maximize their enjoyment of the experience.
Traveling within Europe is different from traveling to the Middle East.
The latter needs a bit more preparation, but it is definitely more enriching.