February is harvest for many of the crops grown in Egypt (they grow almost everything except coffee and tobacco in the fertile Nile valley) so there is no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables. (note, however, that you should definitely follow the rules about eating fresh food while traveling: peel it yourself, or don't eat it. Make sure it's fully cooked, etc).
Roadside stands sell carrots, oranges, guava, potatoes, and just about everything else you can imagine. It's hard to resist sometimes.
Most food is fresh -- often on-the-hoof -- the day you order it, since there are few options for food storage and even fewer options for "grocery-store-style' shopping. When we had dinner at Mr. Mohammad's, his wife produced a five course meal in a kitchen the size of a phone booth, with meats and vegetables she had bought that day at the local market. It was lovely.
We had some of the most interesting conversations over lunch -- we were often offered "chicken or meat?". Um. What kind of meat? That question was met with curious stares, and a shrug. "Meat!". Most of the time, the meat is grilled as kebab. Included in a 'grilled lunch' are usually kofta, lamb sausage patties.
Chicken is a common choice (and it's very good!). Beef is less common and is usually water buffalo. We ate a lot of lamb and mutton and in some of the more remote places we were served goat. We're also pretty sure we ate either camel or donkey at least once, since we couldn't otherwise recognize the meat! Being a predominantly Muslim country, pork is not served.
Soups and stews are also common, including a greenish specialty, molokhai, which is definitely acquired taste. Most meals are accompanied by rice.
Muslims do not drink alcohol, although it is commonly available just about everywhere, especially in the tourist areas. We found that most people assumed that we wanted an alcoholic beverage with our meals -- one of the odd misconceptions about Americans that we ran into.
- Tea is ubiquitous and is served in tall glasses, not cups. It is normally served with mint leaves (very good for an upset stomach) and, if you ask, sugar. I tend to like my tea very sweet, and got a few laughs when I ladled in a bunch of sugar that left a sludge in the bottom of the cut.
- Turkish coffee, 'abwa', is also very common and is served in tiny little porcelain cups from the long-handled pot. This stuff packs a wallop, making espresso look tame in comparison.
- Karkade, a reddish concoction made from the hibiscus flowers, is also good. It isn't very sweet, and it is served cold, so be wary of drinking it if you're leery of the local water.
- Fresh juices are available in nearly every town -- you can buy a pound of fresh fruit and watch as they press it and pour it into jugs. Fresh guava and orange juices are fabulous.
Nearly every meal starts with plates of various munchies and bread (aish). We would almost make a meal of the mezze served. SOme of the things you might find are:
- Aish -- flat breads, like pita bread, that are usually made fresh and served cut into quarters.
- Hummis -- chickpeas, sesame paste, and oil, eaten on bread
- Fuul -- fava beans mashed with lemon juice and oil, eaten on bread
- Babaghanoush -- grilled eggplant and sesame paste, also eaten with bread
- Taamiyya -- deep fried fava bean patties with herbs, usually served with tomatoes and cucumbers
- Cheese -- in many different forms, including a soft white, salty cheese served with tomatoes.
- Salad -- rarely a lettuce salad, this is more likely a combination of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and lemon juice.
Every meal we had included sweets and fruits for dessert. Flaky pastries with nuts (baklava and others) were a common offering. Umm Ali -- a baked pastry-with-raisins -- was also very good. If you have a chocolate-craving, it's a bit harder to find desserts with chocolate, but there are a few.
Be adventurous -- other than the common precautions of eating 'safe' foods (peeled yourself, and fully cooked) there are some wonderful foods to try. Nubian food is quite different than food in Cairo (often spicier) , and the seafood in Alexandria is fabulous. Bring Immodium and try everything, it's well worth it.