Who serves the best street food – the Egyptians or the Turks?
The bustling, frantic streets of Turkey and Egypt’s towns and cities are home to hundreds of street hawkers who excel in delivering mouth-watering dishes of their national cuisines for a fraction of restaurant prices. If you’re holidaying in Turkey or Egypt this summer it’s well worth exploring your gastronomic options outside of that tried and tested hotel buffet. Eating out on the streets means you can immerse yourself in daily life; interact with friendly locals and try some delicacies you’d never try back home.
With the crackle of shish kebab skewers on a hot plate, clouds of aromatic smoke in the atmosphere and the intrigue around how delicious some else’s food looks, makes the chicken and chips back at the hotel seem very tame indeed.
Turkey and Egypt are neighbours by world standards occupying the western corner of the Mediterranean, yet with Turkey sharing borders with the Middle East and Europe, and Egypt located in the north east of Africa, the national cuisines have distinct differences.
Beginning the day with a spot of breakfast is a rarity in both countries. In Egypt, many locals would pop along to their local Fuul vendor at around 10am to grab what is essentially a fava bean paste, spiced up and served in fresh aysh (bread). Throughout Egypt coffee is never too far away and its normally referred to as Ziyada (very sweet) as its laden with sugar. This first meal would set you back no more than 50p.
Breakfast time in Turkey is ‘kahvalti’, which translates as ‘before coffee’ when strong black tea is served along with bread) along with a simit - a ring of bread dotted with sesame seeds. Again, this combination will easily keep you going until lunch.
Stomach’s begin to grumble around 2pm in Egypt and Turkey. Street hawkers in Turkey offer kebabs in huge numbers, a decent doner or shish would set you back no more than £1.30. Though Turkey’s kebabs are world famous other dishes are equally as tasty. For example Midye Dolma is a tasty plate of mussels served with rice, pine nuts eaten cold and drizzled with lemon juice. There’s also a rice based dish called pilav, usually fresh and steaming hand pulled street carts. Pilav is often mixed with tomato (domatesli), cubes of meat (etli) or in the Black Sea region of Turkey Hamsili pilav; oven baked spicy rice accompanied with anchovies.
The Egyptians are quite fond of a simple deep fried falafel (very cheap at 70p) or the option of Fuul could be saved until lunchtime also, both quick and wholesome and very cheap. A very cheap and veggie friendly lunch is Koshari (often spelt Kushari) which is classic street vendor food. Many would argue Koshari is the national plate of Egypt. Consisting of a huge portion of pasta, lentils, tomato and chickpeas, tomato you’d be unlucky if a plate of Koshari cost you over £1. A more realistic price a street hawker would charge would be about 25p for a stomach bursting portion. Likewise an Egyptian kebab or ‘shawarma’ is made of marinated lamb, chicken or even goat and stuffed into a pita with salad. Meat is a rare treat for many working class Egyptians and is used sparingly. A ‘street’ shawarma would cost around 50p!
Photo Copyright Lean Droid at Flickr
Evening dinner time is when things get interesting. In Egypt, a feast may start with Molokhiyya – a delicious thick soup made from a green leaf vegetables native to Egypt. Next up could be Hamaam, another contender for national dish, which is actually grilled pigeon packed with seasoned rice – the pigeon head is often buried in the bread so beware!
Kofte’s, otherwise known as spicy meatballs are common in both Turkey and Egypt though the Turks seems to vary ingredients depending on the region you’re visiting. ‘Basic is better’ where kofte’s are concerned but the main ingredients are always chilli and onion, interestingly, kofte’s are coated in egg its labelled as ‘Kadin Badhu’ which equates to ‘ladies thighs’! Kofte’s are served with copious amounts of bread and yoghurt to diffuse the spices on your tingling palate.
On Turkey’s Aegean Coast there is a strange street dish by the name of Kelle Sogus - consisting of sheep cheek, tongue, brain and eyes marinated in oil and served with lavas bread. I would think the majority of visitors to Turkey would turn away if this was being sold on the street but these customs are local, genuine and therefore must be respected!
Choosing between Turkish or Egyptian street food is clearly difficult no matter what time of the day. Perhaps Egypt has the edge regarding budget whilst the sheer variety of dishes within Turkey, especially with kebabs and kofte’s could mean a greater choice on the streets. Either way, opting for street hawker food allows you to meet the locals and sample a more authentic experience whilst taking a holiday in Turkey or Egypt, and who knows perhaps its time to move away from that ‘safe’ full board option at your hotel buffet!