Anthony Bourdain in Egypt: 4 Spots Where Tony Ate

Think of Egypt, and you’ll likely think of the Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, and the remnants of one of the oldest civilizations on Earth. However, there is more to the most populous state in the Arab world than just its history, as Anthony Bourdain discovers when he skirts the main attractions, and instead indulges in the country’s rich food heritage.

Anthony Bourdain visited Egypt once, to film season 4 (episode 18) of No Reservations; it was his only visit to the country, and took place in 2008 before political instability in the country and the Arab Spring movement swept through the region – he did not make it back again before his death a decade later.

Anthony Bourdain in Egypt Hero

If you’re planning a trip to Egypt now, you’re in for a treat; the political situation is much more stable, and there are some incredible foods to try. Let this guide to the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Egypt help you seek out the best ones and where to eat them. الهنا و الشفاء! (The Arabic equivalent of “bon appetit!)

Want to watch the episode where Anthony Bourdain visits Egypt?
The No Reservations episode is available on Amazon and Hulu.

Unknown Street Food Cart (Attaba, Cairo)

Anthony Bourdain in Egypt - Ful Medames

Beginning in the Attaba neighborhood in the capital city of Cairo, Bourdain first visits a street cart for the typical Egyptian breakfast of Ful medames. A solid utility breakfast, this dish is a mix of cooked and mashed fava beans, simmered slowly in a copper pot, mixed with oil, garlic, chili pepper, parsley, and cumin; this is a common breakfast dish across the Middle East, though usually prepared slightly different from country to country.

Served with a side of pickled vegetables, together with chopped hardboiled egg and Egyptian flatbread, Tony notes this nutritious filler to be “a rock in the stomach,” and a perfect start to the day.

Ahmed Farahat Restaurant (Khan Al-Khalili Market, Cairo)

Anthony Bourdain in Egypt - Stuffed Squab

Venturing into one of the biggest bazaars in the Middle East, and following a sweet, spiced mystery drink, Tony’s next stop is the Ahmed Farahat restaurant to try stuffed roasted pigeon. Unlike many New Yorkers who consider the pigeon little more than a rat with wings, Bourdain notes that a lot of the world sees it as quite a delicacy.

Preparation is simple: the bird’s cavity and neck are first stuffed with rice seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, and bay leaf, whereupon it is simmered in stock until tender, before being rolled in spices and finally seared in a pan until caramelized. The pigeon is then served with tahini (a condiment sauce made from sesame paste), a salad of cucumbers, onions + tomatoes, and pickled vegetables, and a glass of pigeon soup (made from the broth) on the side.

“You don’t need to be a fussy eater,” Bourdain quips, “just dig in.”

Abou Tarek (Cairo)

Anthony Bourdain in Egypt - Koshari

The next dish on Anthony’s agenda is the koshari, Egyptian fast food that could be considered the equivalent of a New York slice or a dirty water hotdog; he seeks it out at Abou Tarek.

This 1000yr old dish, invented by India, came along the spice route and is similar to Ful medames in that is again a starch-heavy dish designed to fill the consumer up quickly and nutritiously.

A mix of rice, spaghetti, black lentils, and chickpeas, topped with fried onions is served in a bowl, then served with tomato-cumin sauce, vinegar and garlic dressing, and optional hot sauce.

Al Rifai Roastery (Cairo)

Anthony Bourdain in Egypt - Baba Ganoush

Following a boat trip down the Nile and some minor sail setbacks, Bourdain alights to test his theory that perfect happiness is only achievable through a mystery meat fest at Al Rifai Roastery.

In this suitably carnivore-centric establishment, he is served an assortment of such meats. Kofta kebab (ground beef mixed with spices), sausages, lamb chops, and lamb testicles, are cooked up over hot coals and served on a bed of parsley.

In addition to the familiar sides of tahini and salad, there is also baba ghanoush, an appetizer consisting of finely chopped roasted eggplant, olive oil, lemon juice, various seasonings, and tahini.

Tony also samples ‘Egyptian whiskey’, though with Egypt being a predominantly Muslim country this isn’t alcoholic and is instead the water from pickled vegetables mixed with spices.

Local Dining Experiences Tony Had in Egypt

Anthony Bourdain in Egypt - Roast Goat

In addition to the restaurant, market, and street food meals that Tony had which I’ve already listed, he had a few local dining experiences in Egypt too:

  • Traveling outside the bustling Cairo south along the Nile River, Anthony Bourdain is next invited to a local farmer’s house for a home-cooked meal. Alongside starters of baked potato bread (local to the region), and fresh cheese and butter, which is made by being vigorously shaken in a goat skin vessel, there is the main course of mulukhiyah. This dish is made from duck stock, dried mallow leaves and fresh garlic, into which the duck itself is added, first simmering until tender then fried to crispy perfection.
  • For his final stop in Egypt, Bourdain returns to a familiar stage, albeit in a different country, and travels into the seemingly endless Sahara Desert to visit a Bedouin camp. Tonight’s meal amongst the dunes is a whole goat. Onion, garlic, cumin, chili pepper and black pepper are first rubbed all over the meat, and the animal is then wrapped in foil and placed in a barrel with hot coals and buried in the sand, where it is slowly roasted over the course of several hours. It is accompanied by potatoes, olives, pickled vegetables and salad, and a dish of rice and organ meats from the animal’s cavity. There is also Bedouin sun bread, a hardened bread that can last almost a month without going stale.

Following this meal and reflecting on his experience in Egypt as a whole, Bourdain notes the desert’s unearthly quiet, giving a feeling unlike anything else as he walks barefoot and feels the cool sands beneath his toes. “Your life: both meaningless in the grand scale of all that nothingness, and somehow meaningful again, which is to say, it’s nice, real nice.”

Cairo Food Tours to Try

As Anthony Bourdain focuses most of his time eating in restaurants in Cairo, you might be spending most of your time there too – and looking for additional ways to sample the cuisine. I found a few good food tours you might consider adding to your travel plans; you’ll be able to sample a lot in a short time.

Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Egypt, or what he ate while visiting? Let me know in the comments below.

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Matt Young is a street food fanatic and world traveler, currently splitting his time between Europe and South East Asia.

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