It’s a pretty safe bet that any form of food that has been found within a tomb from thousands of years ago, must have been a culinary hit.
Remnants of Ful Medames were uncovered in a number of the 12th Dynasty (1991-1786 B.C.) Pharonic tombs in Egypt.
Today, there’s no doubt that the dish is one of the most common and popular forms of Egyptian street food and probably the national dish.
Ful Medames (also known as fūl mudammas or foul medames), is a nutritious Egyptian staple made primarily of mashed fava beans.
It can be compared to forms of Mexican re-fried beans but with Egyptian flare.
In Egypt the beans are boiled down, mushed together and seasoned with salt and olive oil. After being served, some choose to add toppings like tomatoes, onions, parsley, chili pepper, lemon juice, or even a splash of clarified butter or extra fat.
Ful Medames is traditionally cooked and served out of a giant metal jug. The beans are slowly cooked overnight to create a rich melt in your mouth bean paste. The mild spices, garlic and olive oil are the subtle flavors that add to the naturally tasty fava beans.
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It was on the chaotic streets of Cairo where I was first introduced to the delights of Ful Medames; There are little restaurant shops all over the city (and all over Egypt) that are conveniently set up as cheap fueling stations.
I ordered up 5 ful sandwiches for the price of $1.
A half of a piece of Arabic bread filled with beans, a squirt of sauce and a handful of pickled vegetables was included. I was in love from my initial bite, the home cooked beans were pure and had that natural earthiness to them. The picked carrots and peppers were fished out of a briny solution and complemented the sandwich.
Walking around in Cairo is always a paradise of action, smells and sounds. One of my ultimate Ful Medames devouring experiences came in central Cairo, near the Ramses Train station.
I was confusingly walking along when the brightly colored red and green cart stacked with the familiar array of bean condiments and the loitering of men caught my attention.
Check out this “53 second” video!
It was one of the most beautiful looking street food carts I’ve seen in my life and there was no way of passing up the opportunity to take part in the middle a crowd of hungry men.
Soon I was standing at the bean bar as the chef sloppily scooped out a spoon full his nutritious hit meal.
Along with the fava beans, I got a small metal bowl of tomato salsa, some pickled carrots and a never ending stack of Arabic bread. The bread was just flopped on a separate table and men seemed to grab as many as they pleased and are them rigorously (Arabic bread in Egypt is very cheap).
My only downfall was that I forgot to tell him to omit the squirt of liquid butter on top. It was a bit greasy.
Throughout the remaining portion of my trip to Egypt, ful medames was my staple and food reliance as a cheap, filling and delicious meal.
Though I did my best to eat as much variety of Egyptian street food as possible, a day did not pass without at least a few plates of ful and a couple stacks of Arabic bread to go with it!