//Skip to content
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

How Egyptian Cuisine Can Follow Lebanese Footsteps on the Global Stage

May 23, 2024


Certain meals are made for quick consumption, branding, and profit. Meanwhile, others are meant for sharing around a table with loved ones, and creating subtle moments of joy, grace and comfort throughout the day.

Inequalities can take various forms and shapes in our world, from segregated homes to bridges that divide cities and towns. Yet there is also another kind of division worth noting: how food is consumed and produced.

In one realm, food is neatly packaged in supermarkets, adorned with labels, and owned by big corporations. In another realm, food journeys from the farm directly to someone’s home, where it is lovingly prepared by people’s own hands.

In an era where international brands are slowly fading in importance and food costs are soaring from a heavy reliance on imports, there is a growing desire to showcase local and homemade cuisine on a global scale. The question, then, is how can we expand the appeal of traditional and homemade dishes to engage wider audiences?

The unique charm of Egyptian cuisine 

Traveling deep into Egypt’s countryside, the quiet and serene landscape of the green farmland contrasts with the lively laughter and familial gatherings within the homes.

There, you will encounter the warm and hearty hospitality of rural Egyptians, who will often welcome you to share ‘feteer bel asal’ (a puff pastry with honey) as you sit on the floor around a circular table.

The gentle crispness of the feteer, paired with the sweetness of black honey, embodies the simplicity and humility of Egyptian cuisine. It is authentically homemade, warm, and meant to be enjoyed with your hands.

Most Egyptians will tell you stories of their grandmothers trekking, by foot, to farms or local markets to gather ingredients, even bringing back live chickens to prepare at home. These grandmothers were not mere home cooks; they were also bakers, butchers, and farmers all rolled into one.

During this year’s RiseUp Summit, held at the Grand Egyptian Museum, Egyptian cuisine and the legacy of homemade cooking by Egyptian grandmothers were spotlighted as a cultural treasure, capable of preserving heritage while also captivating new audiences.

In the panel titled ‘Food as Cultural Currency: The Importance of Preservation and Innovation,’ the simplicity of Egyptian homemade cuisine was regarded as an important tool for its universal appeal.

“As Egyptian women, feeding others is a cherished part of our culture. We’re proud custodians of this tradition, nurturing and sharing the food we prepare,” Yasmine El Gharbaly, cookbook writer and podcaster at CairoCooking.com, said during the panel.

It is the humbleness of the homemade meal, and the pleasure of preparing food by hand, that truly defines the essence of Egyptian food. The Egyptian baladi bread exemplifies how the appeal of Egyptian food lies not only in its final presentation on the plate, but also in the process of making it.

In rural villages, women gather around scorching hot cobblestone ovens and work the well-hydrated sticky dough, dividing it into equal portions. They carefully flatten each piece, arranging them artfully on a large wooden tray lined with bran before transferring them into the oven.

“In most places, great food means fine dining. In Egypt, the best meals are found at home, as our food naturally excels without trying too hard,” Mostafa ElRefaey, executive chef and co-founder of Zooba, said during the panel.

“The Egyptian baladi bread stands apart from any other bread globally. Its distinct taste arises from the blend of grains and the unique grinding process of the wheat,” he added.

Globally, the rise of homemade cooking came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. With everyone confined to their homes, more individuals turned to homemade recipes, gaining a deeper appreciation for the beauty of traditional cooking.

As a result of that shift, the food industry began to cater to these evolving consumer preferences. While at home, many consumers discovered a love for cooking, and in a recent Deloitte survey, said they plan to eat more of their meals at home even after the pandemic is over.

“I sincerely believe the cooking revolution is at an all-time high. We will dip as the world opens and we want to experience restaurants and outside-home activities, but we will come back to cooking, as people have now been exposed to a better way to eat and live,” Justin Cook, celebrity chef, consumer products research leader in Deloitte’s Consumer Industry Center, once highlighted.

The challenges of commercializing Egyptian food 

However, while Egyptian food has the potential to climb to famer, there are still key challenges that are hindering its global success.

“There are two barriers hindering the global expansion of Egyptian food. Firstly, there’s a question of pride, with many Egyptians valuing other cuisines over their own. Secondly, there’s the challenge of commercializing Egyptian cuisine for global audiences, as it may appear complex for anyone to replicate,” El Gharbaly noted during the panel.

Lebanese cuisine, for example, has gained popularity for its focus on fresh, wholesome ingredients, marketed as a healthier alternative to Western fast food. It offers a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, like tabbouleh made with finely chopped parsley and vegetables.

Leveraging the well-known health benefits of Mediterranean cuisine, Lebanese restaurants position themselves as part of this healthy culinary tradition rather than solely Arab.

Another health-conscious aspect is the serving style, with mezze presenting guests with a colorful array of small plant-based dishes.

When it comes to Egyptian food, there are two factors that can help it become more commercialized: its affordability, addressing a key concern for global consumers, and its emphasis on natural, local, and authentic ingredients, which has gained momentum over recent years.

“The essence of Egypt’s global appeal lies in its affordability; it’s not about expensive fine dining. Take the Egyptian baladi bread, for instance—it’s crafted from simple, cost-effective ingredients, contrasting with the more expensive white bread typically exported abroad,” Yehia El-Alaily, food and lifestyle photographer, also said during the panel.

Another significant factor is the health and environmental advantages of Egyptian home cooking. Home cooked meals are increasingly recognized as a healthier and more nourishing option compared to dining out, a sentiment echoed in numerous TikTok videos reflecting a generational shift towards this lifestyle.

A 2017 study conducted in the UK further highlights the advantages of home cooking, revealing that a higher frequency of homemade meal consumption was associated with a 28 percent decrease in the likelihood of having an elevated BMI and a 24 percent decrease in the likelihood of possessing excessive body fat.

Despite these advantages, the panelists stressed that a lack of pride remains a central obstacle in elevating Egyptian cuisine to a global level.

“We must cultivate a greater sense of pride in our culinary heritage and provide stronger support to help others acknowledge its worth,” Wesam Madous, co-founder and chief culinary officer at the Food Lab, emphasized.

Comment (1)

  1. […] post How Egyptian Cuisine Can Follow Lebanese Footsteps on the Global Stage first appeared on Egyptian […]