Guest Post by @travelsupermkt
Simit for breakfast
It’s not the easiest thing to write or read about with a hungry appetite but nevertheless it’s an interesting debate as to which of these two countries has the tastiest street food. The national cuisines of Egypt and Turkey are delicious in their own right, whether consumed in a top restaurant or on the noisy, bustling traffic laden streets of Cairo, Luxor, Istanbul or Izmir.
However, whilst conventional package holidaymakers to Turkey
and Egypt may prefer opting for the safety of the hotel restaurant menu, there is something much more exciting, authentic and genuine when you begin to dive into the local markets and food stalls that never fail to bombard the senses.
With the sizzling of lamb skewers on a hot griddle, drifting plumes of spice filled smoke clouding the atmosphere, the energetic calls of a street ‘chef’ enticing you closer, the envy of a passer-by eating a mouth watering dish you don’t quite know the name of, all for a fraction of the cost of the nearest restaurant, it makes the chicken and chips back at the hotel seem very tame indeed.
Turkey and Egypt are virtually neighbours by global standards occupying the south western corner of the Mediterranean Sea, yet with Turkey bordering Europe and the Middle East, and Egypt positioned in the north east of Africa, the national cuisines have distinct differences.
For ease of comparison let use the western tradition of three meals per day and first consider what would constitute a typical breakfast in these two gastro wonderlands. In Egypt it’s not very common to see locals eating anything until 10am, however, when their bellies begin to grumble, Fuul is a favourite which consists of a bean paste made from crushed fava beans often laced with a hint of spice and served inside aysh (bread). This of course is washed down by incredibly strong coffee usually full of sugar (called ziyada – very sweet) or alternatively mint tea which is equally as popular but also consumed with heaps of sugar. Bought on the street, Fuul in aysh with a coffee would cost no more than 4 Egyptian pounds, which equates to 50p.
Breakfast in Turkey is often labelled ‘kahvalti’ which means ‘before coffee’ where strong black tea is served along with pide (flat bread), cokelek (spicy cheese), boiled eggs, olives and melon during summer months. Turks are also fond of simit for breakfast which is a ring of bread speckled with sesame seeds. Again, this bread is a matter of pence and will keep you going until lunch.
Image by Jason Lam on Flickr
Appetites in Turkey and Egypt really get going at lunchtime, typically eaten around 2pm followed by a siesta to digest and avoid baking temperatures outdoors. Street hawkers in Turkey offer kebabs in abundance, it’s a stereotypical Turkish dish and available for approximately 3 Turkish Lira or £1.30. A city gent would usually opt for a doner kebab on the go, commonly doner meat, mixed salad and kasar cheese all wrapped inside durum (similar to a Mexican tortilla wrap). Whilst Turkish kebabs are world renowned (there’s numerous varieties though shish kebabs – meat on a skewer stick – are very common in Turkey and worldwide) other dishes are equally as tasty. For example Midye Dolma is a tasty plate of mussels served with rice, pine nuts, raisins eaten cold with lemon juice. There’s also pilav, a rice based dish, difficult for a novice to cook though an experienced street hawker can often be seen ladling pilav out to people on their lunch from steaming hand pulled street carts. Pilav can be mixed with tomato (domatesli), cubes of meat (etli) or in the Black Sea region of Turkey Hamsili pilav, spiced rice accompanied with anchovies and baked in an oven.
Image by Lean Droid from Flickr
Over in the midday suqs of Egypt a simple deep fried falafel will cost around 70p or the option of Fuul could be saved until lunchtime too, both quick, nutritious meals, filling and very cheap. A very popular cheap Egyptian lunch is Koshari (often spelt Kushari) which is classic street vendor food. Koshary consists of pasta, lentils, chickpeas, tomato and would appeal to a vegetarians and vegans, in fact many would argue Koshari is the national dish of Egypt. On the streets, you’d be unlucky if a plate of Koshari cost you anymore than £1.50 and that would be exceedingly expensive, its more than likely you’ll pay a street hawker about 25p for a stomach bursting portion. Likewise a shawarma is the Egyptian version of a kebab made of marinated lamb, chicken or even goat and stuffed into a pita with salad. Meat is a treat for many hard up Egyptians and is often used in small amounts Again a price range of 4 to 8 Egyptian pounds (50p to £1) would see you satisfied for the afternoon. For the hungry traveller in Egypt, an afternoon snack of Tamiyya using crushed up fava beans moulded into a falafel shape dusted with cumin and inserted into pita would set you back about 40p.
Post siesta, in both nations, the evening meal opens up a whole range of options. Staying with Egypt, a classic meal might start with Molokhiyya – a thick soup made from a thick green leaf vegetable native to Egypt. Moving on, another contender for national dish would be Hamaam, which is grilled pigeon stuffed with seasoned rice – harder to find via street hawkers but probably a blessing considering the Egyptians often leave the pigeon head buried in the pita!
Spicy meatballs or Kofte’s are common in both countries though Turkey seems to vary ingredients depending on the part of the country you’re visiting. There’s a common understanding that ‘basic is better’ where kofte’s are concerned but the main inclusions are nearly always chilli and onion, interestingly, when a kofte is coated in egg its referred to as Kadin Badhu which translates to ‘ladies thighs’! Traditional across Turkey and Egypt, kofte’s are served with copious amounts of bread and yoghurt to balance out the spices.
Image by Disco Palace on Flickr
A little more risqué is the Turkish dish of Kokorec and not for the faint hearted. Kokorec is lamb or goat meat wrapped in intestine and very spicy – probably to disguise the taste. On the Aegean Coast there is an equally interesting dish by the name of Kelle Sogus consisting of sheep cheek, tongue, brain and eyes marinated in oil and served with lavas bread. Personally, the majority of travellers to Turkey would run a mile if this was being sold on the street but these customs exist and must be respected!
Based on the evidence here, making a choice between Turkish or Egyptian street cuisine is clearly difficult be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. It would seem Egypt has the edge over price whilst the variations of dishes within Turkey, especially where kebabs are concerned would mean perhaps a greater choice on the streets. Either way, opting for street vendor food allows you to meet the locals and sample a more authentic experience whilst taking a holiday in turkey or Egypt, perhaps its time to move on from that predictable full board option at the hotel buffet!
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