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When travellers think of Egypt, images of ancient tombs and pyramids in the desert come to mind. And while the country may be a haven for historical ruins and a window into an ancient civilisation, it’s also a food lover’s treasure trove. Egyptian cuisine is the country’s best-kept secret. Egyptians know how good it is, but to the rest of the world, it is still relatively unknown or overshadowed by the umbrella of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Bellies En-Route was created by two women, Laila Hassaballa and Mariam Nezar, out of their desire to share Egyptian food with the world. Food was their favourite way to explore a new place and learn about the culture. “We believe there’s more to food than just eating,” they state.
With limited food tours on offer in the city, Hassaballa and Nezar decided to start their own, especially after realising many travellers were apprehensive about how to approach locals and worried about being disrespectful of cultural norms.
Cairo, in particular, is the epicentre of all things Egyptian food. It has all the old-school tradition, alongside the innovations and invention of new food fusions and trends. A metropolis that is packed with plentiful restaurants and street food, Cairo is a delicious destination, but can be a little intimidating to visitors. Bellies En-Route takes visitors into the heart of downtown Cairo, helping them get familiar with and navigate the hectic streets. Through food, you will learn about the history, culture and spaces you are walking through.
The tours are walking tours, visiting five or more stops for food (savoury and sweet) and beverages, with an intimate group of six or seven people. There are two tours available, one for downtown Cairo and one for Heliopolis, a historic neighbourhood filled with family-run restaurants and monuments.
The types of foods on the tour include Egyptian staples like ful (fava bean stew) and falafel, which in Egypt is fava bean-based, and more homey dishes like koshary, a dish with rice, macaroni, lentils and a tomato-based sauce, molokhia (soup made with leafy greens) and macarona bel bechamel (jokingly referred to as, “Egyptian lasagne”). The tour also takes you behind the scenes in one of the kitchens to see how falafel gets made, which is consistently the favourite dish among tourers.
There are also street food favourites like feteer (a savoury or sweet stuffed pastry), hawawshi (a spiced meat-filled sandwich or pie) and more unusual things like salad water (an appetising herb-filled vinaigrette that you sip before the meal). All the dishes, however, are distinctly Egyptian and incredibly popular.
Beverages also make a large part of the tour and Egypt has so many interesting and delicious drinks to accompany your meal: juices that are thick and taste like the ripest fruit, teas including iced hibiscus and the digestive aid of mint, and Arabic coffee. Needless to say, you will be full and satiated by the end of the tour, but you will also be more knowledgeable about Egypt, its culture and its people.
Bellies En-route plan to expand to other cities soon.