Dan and I were very interested in trying Egyptian food, so in planning our trip to Cairo, we booked a food tour shortly after we booked our flights! For any foodies planning a trip to Cairo, this is a GREAT idea (especially if you are not Egyptian and/or don’t speak Arabic) because it allows you to try really local food from vendors who may not speak English and see the heart of old Cairo (which can be quite overwhelming!). Its also a good idea if you are taking a Nile River cruise, because the food on those cruises is usually not Egyptian!
We joined a tour with Bellies En Route, as it was recommended from a blogger friend and because it was one of the only food tour companies that I could find online. We did the Downtown Cairo Food Tour at a cost of $70 USD per person, which included the tour and all food and water on the tour, as well as 1 alcoholic beverage at the end of the tour. While expensive for Cairo, as foreigners only in Cairo for a couple days, we thought this was a great activity, and it was well worth the money.
Our tour started in a convenient location on Tahrir Square, which happened to be very close to our hotel! The meeting point was in front of the Hardee’s (yes, the Western chain restaurant), making it very easy to find. After meeting up with the crowd, we walked a few blocks to our first food stop, and I could not tell you the name of the restaurant, but it was very local and the menu (and name) was entirely in Arabic.
Here, we tried the traditional Egyptian dish of kushari, which is basically vermicelli rice, macaroni, lentils, and garbanzo beans, among a few other things! We topped the kushari with a spicy salsa type dish and mixed it all together. According to our guide, kushari is very popular amongst the regular people in Cairo, as its an inexpensive way to feed a family. Aside from being a total carb bomb, kushari was definitely tasty and I had not been able to find it previously on our trip!
The kushari was paired with my favorite dish of the food tour, and a front-runner for my favorite dish of the entire trip – Egyptian Whiskey A/K/A Salad Water! Yes, that exciting! And no, its not alcohol. Instead, it is basically like pickle juice filled with bits of lettuce, onion, and tomato served in a shot glass. I LOVED this dish and really wish that I had drank more of it!! Apparently, its popular with locals and is commonly drank after a filling meal, such as kushari, kind of like an aperitif!
Our next stop was a short walk away at an old “Greek” coffee shop. Spoiler alert, this shop is no longer Greek, but they still make excellent coffee. Here, we tried some green coffee made with cardamom and ended up buying some to bring back home.
Our next stop was a bit of a feast at a literal whole-in-the-wall (I would have NEVER stopped here on my own) that specializes in roasted chicken and is home to several cats. Seriously, cats. We entered the restaurant and all sat down at a casual table. Shortly after sitting, the restaurant brought out tons of Egyptian food for us to try, starting with the most delicious Egyptian bread!
The bread was paired with roast chicken, which was really, really good, some beans, the most amazing mixture of greens (it reminded me of okra but our guide said it was not okra), and molokhia, a mixture of finely cut greens, garlic, and coriander in chicken broth. My favorite was clearly the greens mixture. It was SO GOOD. The restaurant also put out some rice, and everyone made their own little plate.
After the chicken restaurant (for lack of a better name), we next made a brief stop for “sugar cane juice,” which is basically a sweet juice made from sugar cane. We had previously drank this in Luxor, and we were big fans! This sugar juice was served in a little plastic bag with a straw – how cute!
We then moved on to Felfela, an adorable and delicious cafe that I found to be very Westerner-friendly. Meaning that, it had somewhat of a familiar feel, there was a big focus on design of the restaurant, it had some-what of a Western feeling, Felfela serves alcohol, and the food was awesome! At Felfela, we tried a lot of foods (another feast, so to speak); this was definitely the biggest food stop of the trip! The first dish was a lentil soup with lemon – apparently quite common in Egypt and very tasty!
Next up was Egypt’s signature green falafel, which is so incredibly good! I could not get enough of these falafels the entire trip, and its nearly impossible to find them outside of Egypt! The falafel was served with ful, an Egyptian breakfast dish, tahini, an eggplant based spread (I can not remember anything else about it except that it was good!), and the best friend eggplant. The falafel was my favorite, but every dish at Felfela was really, really good. I would absolutely return to Felfela!
The final food stop of the tour was an old-school Egyptian bakery making all sorts of Egyptian sweets. For those unfamiliar, Egyptian sweets are often a type of flaky bread sweetened with honey, cream, coconut, and pistachios. There are certainly other ingredients, but these are some popular ones. Dan and I split an entire plate of Egyptian sweets. We swore that we could not finish it – but we did!
Our tour ended at the Carlton Hotel’s Roof Garden for a, gasp, alcoholic beverage! Yes, alcohol! Surprising to me, alcohol is not as taboo in Cairo as I thought and there are quite a few bars around town. Younger Egyptians drink, and its definitely not hard to find a beer or glass of wine in Cairo. Hard liquor, however, is more difficult to find and its expensive. The Carlton Hotel is a real old-school hotel in a good location with a fabulous roof top bar! The worst part was by far its elevator, which lacks a door… Here, we had our choice of a glass of wine or a beer, which included these bizarre wine coolers. I went with the wine cooler because it was peach flavored. I still regret this decision.
The tour ended after the Roof Garden and our guide helped us get an Uber back to our hotel. All in all, the tour was really interested and a great way to experience Downtown Cairo. The company, Bellies En Route, was also pretty cool, in that any uneaten food was given to the homeless and the owners are two women from Cairo! I would highly recommend this tour for foodies – go with an open mind and hungry!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Bellies En Route Food Tour: We did the Downtown Cairo Food Tour at a cost of $70 US/person. Book in advance online, as spots on the tour are limited. This was a great way to see downtown Cairo and try some local foods. Price includes all food, unlimited bottled water, and 1 alcoholic beverage (or a non-alcoholic drink like a tea or soft drink).
Felfela: 15 Hoda Shaarawy, Bab Al Louq, Qasr El Nil, Cairo Governorate, Egypt. Open daily 9 – 00. You don’t need a reservation for lunch; I would have your hotel call to confirm dinner availability.