The Great Pyramid of Giza in El Giza, Egypt was originally built to be 481 feet tall and 756 feet long. Day in and day out, thousands of workers walked back and forth from barges on the Nile River to the pyramid site, carrying huge limestone blocks on their backs. The only payment these men received was bread, beer, and onions, yet somehow they kept on working! Clearly, this food was nutritious enough to fuel them throughout their intense laboring and thus it is not surprising that it has stuck around. Except for beer, of which the consumption was severely decreased with the Muslim conquest of 641, these foods still represent the basis of the Egyptian diet. Onions are the primary vegetable used for flavoring and nutrition, and bread is eaten with almost every meal.
The most common type of bread in Egypt is called aish merahrah, or just aish, which means "to live". For much of history, this bread was "life" to the Egyptian people, especially the peasants who could not afford much else. Aish is a flat bread made with 5 to 10% fenugreek seeds added to maize flour. These seeds increase the protein levels, digestibility, and storage length of the bread, which is already pretty long! Often while being baked, an air pocket will form in the middle of the bread. This allows aish to be stuffed with meat, vegetables, or small salads such as tabbouleh. An alternative to aish that can be found in American supermarkets is pita bread, and the Egyptian practice of using bread in place of utensils and plates is a good way to get children excited about eating healthy!
Egyptians are known for their hospitality and generosity. Portions are large as a courtesy to guests; it is considered impolite to finish a meal with a clean plate because it signals to the host that there was not enough food to begin with, and the diner is still hungry! People in Egypt often eat "family style," where there is one large dish such as ful medames (crushed fava beans with parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon juice) in the middle of a family or group of friends. They will then dip bread, meats, and vegetables into the medames while they discuss their day, professions, politics, and family. As a way to bring your family together after a long day at work or school, try eating this way. Tell each other your stories from the day!
Egyptian geography is incredibly conducive to the vegetarian diet. A stunning 95% of the Egyptian population lives along the Nile River because the land that runs along its edge is the only farmable land in the country. Everywhere else has an extreme desert climate, is virtually unlivable, and certainly not farmable. However, the soil in the Nile Valley and delta is very fertile, and successfully produces multitudes of vegetables and legumes. In Alexandria and other coastal towns, seafood is a frequent visitor in dishes, yet for the most part the vegetarian diet relies on food that can be grown from the ground, such as vegetables and legumes. Therefore, even though portion sizes are large, obesity rates are low because of all the veggies and beans.
To learn to cook and eat like an Egyptian, the recipes and books below are a good start.
Click on a photo or recipe title below to link to the full recipe.