Aside from history, amazing beaches and pyramids, Egyptian food is another reason you should visit my country.

All of our history makes Egypt’s cuisine what it is now. As with the majority of the Middle Eastern countries, a big part of Egyptian culture is gathering and celebrating with family and friends. These gatherings most often are centered on delicious food. There are some traditional Egyptian food favorites that everybody should try at least once from breakfast to dessert.

Ful, pronounced as fool, is the most common breakfast in most Egyptians’ diet. Ful is made of fava beans. The fava beans should be soaked overnight, then cooked for hours over low heat in a pot in order to remove the beans’ casing. Traditionally this is how they are cooked and served in Egypt.

However, since fava beans require long preparation, there is a pre-made version available in cans being sold in local markets and grocery stores. The beans can then be prepared on the stove. Ful is commonly eaten with eggs, cheese and pita bread. It also can be a quick and easy breakfast sandwich.

Falafel, or ta’meya, is traditionally served with breakfast along with ful, eggs, cheese and pita bread. Falafel is traditionally made with chickpeas, whereas ta’meya is made of fava beans.

Again the fava beans should be soaked overnight to soften, then crushed in a food processor. Then we mix with a fresh combination of chopped cilantro, parsley, white onion, garlic and leek. This gives the ta’meya its vibrant green color. Spices (cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper) are added along with chickpea flour. The mixture is then rolled into balls and fried.

Koshary, or koshari, is found on the streets of Egypt served from carts or restaurants. It is a cheap and filling meal. A layering of rice, macaroni, lentils and chickpeas topped off with caramelized onions, thick red, and a garlic/chili/vinegar/sauce– a total carb bomb.

Mahshi is another favorite among Egyptians. It is a great vegetarian dish. Mahshi is basically vegetables of choice (eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, cabbage) stuffed with a filling. The filling consists of rice, herbs (parsley, cilantro, dill), tomato sauce and a touch of cinnamon. If you want, you could add ground meat to the filling for a generous meal.

Shawarma is a popular street food. It might be something that you have had before. It is served in gyros. Shawarma is made with a choice of either chicken or beef marinated with Middle Eastern spices. The shawarma cooks all day on a spit with fat melting on top. Meat is shaved off and placed in a wrap. Typically with Egyptian food, beef is served with tahini, and the chicken would be served with tomaya (garlic sauce).

Macaroni Béchamel is classically an Egyptian comfort food. It is Egypt’s version of lasagna or macaroni and cheese. It is made with rigatoni noodles, ground meat cooked in chopped onion and tomato paste, then topped with the classic béchamel sauce.

Fattah is served for big feasts, such as weddings and the birth of a new baby. It is a combination of crispy bread, rice, meat and vinegar/tomato sauce. For special occasions, lamb is used, but on ordinary days, beef is used.

Roz Bel Laban translates to rice with milk. It is Egypt’s version of rice pudding. It is rice cooked in milk or cream with sugar and typically topped with pistachio pieces.

Umm Ali (Om Ali), is translated to Ali’s Mother. It is a hearty dessert combined with sweet flavors of bread (puff pastry), milk and sugar. It is the Egyptian version of bread pudding. Commonly it is topped with a mix of raisins, nuts and coconut pieces. It should be served hot.

Konafa is made with shredded phyllo dough filled with cream or cheese. It is baked and eaten with syrup. Konafa is eaten during gatherings while celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.

These are some of my homemade, mom-approved dishes.

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Sherif Elkhyati has been an executive chef at Victors in Florence and at The Inn at the Crossroads in Lake City. He soon will be an executive chef in Charleston.

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