DESTINATIONS eating-out-19


Eating Out

Local eateries are no more than street kitchens with a couple of tables, though you can find better restaurants serving local food in Cairo and the major tourist towns.

Cairo and Alexandria are both well known for their ahwas (coffee shops). Today U.S.–style joints offering caffeine in a range of flavors and styles are joining these traditional cafés.

In all major towns you'll find a range of international cuisines including Thai, Chinese, and Italian. The best restaurants are usually found in upscale hotels. Vegetarians will always be able to find local salads, hummus, and rice to sustain them; however, finding variety during a trip may be a problem (pizza is available in most tourist destinations, as are delicious soups, just be aware that some of these soups are made with meat-based stocks).

Meals and Mealtimes

Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.

The main meal of the day is lunch (ghada). It starts with a soup, such as shorbat'ads (lentil), for which Egypt is famous throughout the Middle East, or molukhiyya, a thick green-leaf soup. A wide range of mezze (appetizers) follows, and this can make a meal in itself. You'll taste dips like tahini (sesame-seed paste) or baba ghanouj (mashed roasted eggplant), wara einab (stuffed grape leaves), a crispy local ta'ameya (Egyptian felafel), and fuul (stewed fava beans). The main course is invariably grilled chicken, often roasted whole in a rotisserie oven, lamb or beef shish kebab (skewered in chunks), or kofta (minced lamb on skewers). Hamam mahshi (stuffed pigeon) is popular. Fresh vegetables are hard to come by, except in the rather generic cucumber salad, but stewed vegetables such as bamia (okra) are common. Every meal comes with round loaves of pita-style bread, either 'aish baladi (coarse-grain wheat) or 'aish shami (white). 'Asha, or dinner, is composed of a similar menu, although many Egyptian families partake in only a light meal at night, consisting of fruit and sandwiches.

For fitar (breakfast), you can do as Egyptians do and indulge in a steaming plate of ful, accompanied by fried eggs, bread, and pickles. Lighter fare includes croissants and other savory pastries, bought fresh from the local bakery and topped with cheese or jam. In Cairo, there are a few American-style breakfast restaurants, but these are by no means widespread. Certain places like El Fishawy Café in the Khan al-Khalili stay open for 24 hours.

In the countryside, few Egyptians eat out and so restaurants there tend to be rudimentary affairs. In cities and resorts you'll find a range of restaurants, from street kitchens to gourmet spots with silver service. Most restaurants stay open throughout the day, so you'll always be able to find something when you get hungry.


Credit cards are widely accepted in hotel restaurants; less so in private establishments. More private establishments in Cairo and the Red Sea resorts accept cards than in the rest of the country.

Reservations and Dress

Make reservations when planning to dine in upscale hotel restaurants, particularly if you are not a guest. Restaurants requiring a jacket and tie for men are rare, with the notable exception of several restaurants in the Sofitel Winter Garden Hotel in Luxor. Diners in upscale Cairo restaurants tend to dress up, however.

Wine, Beer, and Spirits

Although Egypt is an Islamic country and many Egyptians do not drink alcohol, the country does produce its own beer and wine. Local beers are very thirst quenching, especially if drunk cold. Look for the trade names Luxor, Saqqara, and Heineken (brewed under license in Egypt). The wine industry isn't competition for the French or Californian vineyards but does supply acceptable table wine—look for the labels Grand Marquis, Cape Bay, or Jardin du Nil.

Many local restaurants don't serve alcohol, so ask before you order your food if this is important to you. Any hotel above two stars should by law serve alcohol, but outside the tourist hot spots there may not be enough demand for hotels to hold a stock. Imported alcohol and wine are very expensive, so expect to pay a premium for these when they are available. On religious holidays and during the month of Ramadan, many restaurants do not serve alcohol.


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