Where to Shop for Egyptian Ingredients
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
From ful to fesikh, Mei takes you on a journey of Egyptian flavors and ingredients and where to find them in Ireland.
Egyptian cuisine, elegant and simple, traces a distinct link to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The soup, melokhia, made from the mallow leaves, for instance, was once eaten only by pharaohs and their families, and we have evidence that broad beans (ful) were on the breakfast table 5,000 years ago.
Ful. Photo: Canva
At its heart it is fresh, seasonal, and vegetable-based fare. There is of course a passion for basturma (cured beef) and squab. Also, Egypt being a country bordered by the sea, has a love of fish. However, lining yourself with vegetables and legumes is the key. Ful (broad beans) is the equivalent to the potato, rice or bread in other cultures. Honestly, why are we not all eating like this?
The spicing is evident, but not as complex as the Maghreb North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Egyptian food shares more in common with Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Palestine in its flavors, but remains distinct. In Egypt, it is about the fresh.
Flavours are coriander (dried and fresh), saffron, garlic, and heaps of fresh herbs, namely coriander and dill. There is quite a lot of acid, most often from citrus, for a sparkle. There is also cumin, which, to paraphrase one Egyptian chef, if you want to make it Egyptian, put more cumin on it.
There is falafel, colored bright jade from broad beans/ful, which distinguishes it from the chickpea falafel of other countries. There is melokhia soup, gelatinous, decadent, leafy. There are fresh white cheeses, and shaskhua, eggs nestled in tomatoes. There is the ful medames central to every breakfast, broad beans cooked in olive oil and tomato, the exact recipe which would vary with the region and the grandparents that made it first. Also there are pickles of large white radishes and of tiny key limes, scented with saffron, poppy seed,
and grains du paradis. (If you can’t find the key limes, Egyptians here prefer to use lemons to the limes that are available here.)
Photo: Mei Chin, Asian Food Mary Street
Plus there is street food: shwarmara, a liver baguette (kebda eskandarany), and koshari. Street food, in any country, is fantastically difficult to duplicate in a home kitchen, but many Egyptians here crave it and so make dishes like koshari, a savory blend of lentils, macaroni, fried onions, and tomato sauce, which hearkens to the Italian migrant population of the late 19th century.
Because there are no Egyptian owned stores in Ireland, Egyptians shop at halal and Indian stores, plentiful in Dublin and keep a lookout for when their favorite fruits (key limes, guava, fresh dates and jujubes) are in season, which starts in April. The Egyptian love of ful or broad beans means that those shops stock it in tins and also in dried form -- look out for the Baladna and California Garden brands, and do not get them flavoured. You can buy molokhia (or jute/mallow) leaves dried in most places, but many people prefer the frozen, which is ubiquitous, and more convenient. For fish, which Egyptians adore, they go to what is best, which is in Ireland, their local fishmonger.
Photo: Mei Chin
Photo: Mei Chin, Star Asia Foods
As is the case with internationals coming into a country that is not their own, there are hacks. For instance, because there is no dedicated Egyptian bakery, so if you want to make kebda eskandarani (liver sandwiches) -- for bread, hotdog buns at Tescos might be the best bet. If you are making koshari, check out the macaroni at Polonez, Moldova, and Marks & Spencers. Staple vegetables -- like peppers, cucumbers, and especially tomatoes, are readily available in Irish shops, although an Egyptian might sigh about the quality.
One is yet to find a supplier for proper Egyptian basturma, the beef that is lovingly salted and cured with spices like fenugreek. However, fesikh -- salted, fermented red mullet – necessary for special occasions, is sold at the shop behind the Mosque at South Circular Road. Ditto, we cannot find a source for halal squab; however, if keeping halal is not your priority, you can get gorgeous squabs from butchers like FX Buckley and behind the counter at Fallon and Byrne. So far, I have been unable to locate a halal squab.
Shop like an Egyptian
Here is a list of some of the favourite, most comprehensive shops around Dublin. Spices in these places are fresher than your local Lidl, Tesco, or Dunnes, simply because of a higher turnover. All, with the exception of Ayla, have a halal butcher on the premises. (All of Ayla’s meat products are halal.)
1. Aiysha Spice Shop
Unit 6, 15, Coolmine Industrial Estate, Dublin
2. Al-Barakah Halal Shop
Everyone loves this place, a shop that adjoins the beautiful mosque on South Circular Road. Plus, you can find fesikh (salted, fermented red mullet) here!
Islamic Foundation Ireland 163 South Circular Road Dublin 8
(01) 453 3242
3. Asian Food Mary Street
Staff is friendly and helpful. Produce selection is sparse but you can find things like fresh dates.
Mary St, North City, Dublin, D01 DH76
4. Azan Halal Shop
Unit 9 Porters Ave, Coolmine Industrial Estate, Blanchardstown, Dublin, D15 X2XC
5. Cost Less
Who doesn’t love a bargain? They have an array of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and halal meats here. If you are not from the area, bring a car with a big boot.
Belgard Rd, Tallaght, Dublin 24, D24 P9CC
6. Halal Food and Grocery
Slightly pricier than Cost Less, less expensive than the shops in town.
60 A Clanbrassil Street Lower, Merchants Quay, Dublin 8, D08 X49D
7. Oriental Pantry
We love the consistently fresh and beautifully arrayed vegetables and fruits here -- okra, guavas, dates and the long purple aubergines used for malahashi, vegetables stuffed with rice. Like Asian Food Mary Street, prices are slightly more expensive than the shops outside the city centre.
22-23 Moore St, North City, Dublin 1, D01 N7E8
8. Star Asia
The place to go in city centre for your Egyptian shopping needs, only its products come at “big city prices.” Witness the huge stock of fresh produce, and also their selection of date fruits, in a variety of textures and colours.
35/41 Parnell St, Dublin
So far, no one we know stocks proper Egyptian basturma; however, if you or a relative aren’t curing and hanging this coveted beef, packaged Turkish basturma works in a pinch, and Ayla has it!
30 Capel St, North City, Dublin 1, D01 F593
Here are other places outside of Dublin that have been recommended to us. As always feel free to recommend more!
10. Aiysha Spice Shop (Cork)
The sister of the Dublin shop in Coolmine
82, Shandon Street, Cork
(021) 422 0422
11. Aroma Foods (Galway)
Unit 8, West City Centre, Old Seamus Quirke Rd, Galway
This article would not have been possible without the help of chef Hader Serour and Niall Sabongi from Salt Water Grocery and Klaw.
Basturma: cured beef
Cumin: the essential Egyptian spice
Falafel: in Egypt, this is made with broad beans or fava, as opposed to the chickpeas in other countries
Fisikh: salted, cured red mullet
Ful: dried broad beans/fava, the staple of every Egyptian table. Find it in falafel and in ful medames, which is stewed with tomatoes and garlic and herbs and essential for breakfast
Koshari: traditional Egyptian lunch staple of noodles, lentils, and a spicy tomato sauce served with rice, vermicelli, and crispy onion
Melokhia: Mallow leaf; also the soup that is made from this leaf; available dried and frozen
Malahashi: vegetables stuffed with rice
Shakshuka: eggs and tomatoes, often cooked for breakfast