Egypt is a nation of fast-food lovers. In the Middle East and Africa region, the country is second only to Saudi Arabia for consumer spending on eating out, with almost 12 per cent of the total value of the food-and-beverage industry in 2016.
And recent years have witnessed a growing interest in Egyptian street food in particular, with small startups and entrepreneurs reinventing the way traditional fast-food offerings are prepared and served in a trendy yet genuine atmosphere.
“Egyptian street food is great,” Middle Eastern chef and cookbook author Anissa Helou told My Salaam. “Dishes like koshari or ta’miyah [falafel] have become quite fashionable. […] However, as much fun as it can be to eat off a beautifully painted cart, the hygiene is often questionable, so it’s safer to eat the same food in a trendy cafe, and [it’s also] more comfortable.”ADVERTISEMENT
The streets of Egypt have always been popular for their mobile food carts. From the never out-of-date tradition of ful and falafel freshly served early in the morning to the perfect warm cup of spicy chickpeas seasoned with lemon by the River Nile, food carts have been a culinary haven for low-income households.
However, new street-food startups have transformed the classic Egyptian street-food cart into a business model that’s more accessible and can attract customers from all backgrounds, including expats and visitors.
“People figured out that eating street food doesn’t have to be cheap and dirty; it can be clean and tasty,” said Mustafa El Refaey, partner and Executive Chef at Zooba, a local street-food startup.
Mustafa believes that there is a lot that other countries can learn from the Egyptian street-food experience. “The Egyptian street-food success story came from connecting three dots: culture, authenticity, and creativity.”
So whether you’re based in the country, heading there for business or study, or simply just visiting, these are the big four that you must pay a visit to:
Zooba launched its first branch in Cairo in March 2012, and while Egyptian street food has always been popular among the public, Zooba instantly stood out by serving fresh, contemporary Egyptian street food in a trendy atmosphere and with beautiful packaging, appealing to a new class of customers.
After Zooba was launched, eating traditional Egyptian ful, falafel and koshari became hip again. The local eatery currently operates a network of six branches within greater Cairo. Backed by success in multiple culinary competitions around the globe, they are now looking forward to expanding across borders.
DESOKY AND SODA
Desoky and Soda has crafted an interesting food concept by offering traditional Egyptian street food in a modern, ambient restaurant setting combined with a western-style Muslim-friendly ‘bar’ serving non-alcoholic drinks called mocktails. The restaurant chain was launched by food-lover Ibrahim Nagi, an Egyptian doctor-turned-entrepreneur, in April 2016.
With four different locations around Egypt and a new branch currently being set up in Cairo, the restaurant chain has been doing exceptionally well for a street-food startup. They are currently exploring expansion into other cities around Egypt.
This is a colourful casual restaurant serving Egyptian street cuisine in a funky home-cooking style. With traditional wooden dining tables and chairs, and food served in colourful retro-looking enamel plates, the whole dining experience is meant to simulate a classic Egyptian family meal in a countryside home.
Cairo Kitchen was launched in March 2012 by two women cofounders, Nadine Beshir and Suzanne Zeidy. It is currently available at two of the most famous neighbourhoods in Cairo and runs a seasonal beachfront branch in Egypt’s north coast in the summer. The company also sells packaged ready-made jams and desserts.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.