Photography by Rami El Shakry

When Khedive Ismail’s palace chef retired, he shared his rich repertoire of recipes in a book. These are not for the kitchen novices out there!

In 1811, Mohamed Ali killed off the last of the Mamluks and forced the Ottomans into giving him hereditary rule over Egypt as viceroy, ushering in a new era in Egypt’s history. After securing his grip on power, Mohamed Ali began his grand modernization projects, starting with the army, industry, and agriculture. His son, Ibrahim, founded an agricultural school in Nabaroh where the Armenian Yussuf Effendi developed a variant of tangerine that still bears his name. With an avid passion for horticulture, by 1835, Ibrahim Pasha had planted more than half a million trees bearing 41 kinds of fruit in his palace gardens. Economic reports tell us that by the 1840s new crops such as potatoes, guavas, and strawberries were cultivated successfully in Egypt, while others like the pineapple did not take. At that time, the tomato, also a relatively recent introduction, was already widely cultivated, quickly becoming ubiquitous in Egyptian dishes.

As the Egyptian economy flourished, enterprising immigrants of various ethnicities began to settle in Egypt. Waves of Syrio-Lebanese migration began in the nineteenth century, particularly with the persecution of Christians in Ottoman Syria. Greeks and Italians came seeking economic opportunities, followed by a large influx of Armenians fleeing the genocide at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Cities turned into cosmopolitan hubs with people of multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds living together in the same buildings. The Egyptian family would send over a plate of ‘ashoura, kahk, or bisara, and likely get back some Greek fasolada, or perhaps artichokes with fava beans (recipe p.xx) a popular dish during Jewish Passover or Coptic Lent.

Although Levantine, Greek, and Italian cultures interacted more with that of regular Egyptians, French culture was to have the greater effect on the Turko-Circassian ruling class and Egyptian notables. The strong French influence on the upper classes can be best exemplified in the menu of Khedive Ismail’s historic Suez Canal inaugural ceremony. The banquet table of this momentous Egyptian occasion, quite surprisingly, served a purely French feast.

Back at Abdin Palace, the menu was much more varied. A cookbook left us by Usta Ahmed Ibrahim, Khedive Ismail’s cook, the self-styled ‘Food Philsospher’, includes a dazzling array of recipes from different cultures, religious groups, and regions, ranging from Italian spaghetti and an American rice milk pudding to Ottoman bughasha (recipe p.xx) and babaz yakhni (recipe p.xx). There, we also find classics still enjoyed today such as Um Ali and mahshi.

The European-Ottoman influence would continue to dominate the Egyptian urban diet well into the twentieth century, when Egypt, along with the rest of the world underwent the drastic changes brought about by the modern age.



(Fish Stew)

Source: Nasihat al-Anam fi Hosn al-Ta’am (Advice for the People on Fine Eating)

Date: 19th century

Developed by Nermin Amin (original recipe by Ahmed bin Ibrahim)

When Khedive Ismail’s palace chef retired, he shared his rich repertoire of recipes in a book, first published in 1898 then reprinted at least five times. At the end, he signs off with ‘Ahmed bin Ibrahim, cook of the former Khedive, food philosopher’.


  • 1 kg filleted white fish
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 head of garlic (half fried with skin on, half minced)
  • 1 chopped/minced onion
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • ½ cup tomato purée
  • salt and pepper
  • sprig of rosemary
  • yellow lemon, finely sliced

Babaz Yakhni Armani (alternative)

  • onion diced; whole garlic cloves; and 1 tbsp sugar


Prepare the fish by cutting into even pieces and frying in olive oil. Remove from oil and drain. In the same pan, fry the unpeeled cloves from half the head of garlic. When they begin to colour, remove and drain. Peel the cloves and arrange on the bottom of a casserole dish. Layer the fried fish evenly on top of the fried garlic.

Strain the oil into another pot and fry the remaining minced garlic and the chopped onion.* As the onion begins to turn a translucent yellow, add the flour and continue to fry until it begins to colour, but not cook through. At this point, add the vinegar and the tomato purée, mix well, and pour over the fish in the casserole. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top the casserole with rosemary and finely sliced lemon. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, allowing the flavours to meld. Serve immediately.

*For Babaz Yakhni Armani: Add diced onions and fry with whole, peeled cloves of garlic. Add the flour, vinegar, and sugar, stir until the flour starts to change colour, then add the tomatoes as in the above recipe. Pour over the casserole and bake for 20 minutes.



(Sweet or Savoury Pastry)

Source: Nasihat al-Anam fi Hosn al-Ta’am (Advice for the People on Fine Eating)

Date: 19th century

Developed by: Nermin Amin (original recipe by Ahmed bin Ibrahim)

A fine, thin layered pastry evocative of the Ottoman era, its name often used as an adjective to describe all things delicate and beautiful.



  • 6 cups of flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • 5 tbsp ghee
  • Extra ghee for coating layers and hands
  • Melted ghee for coating the worktable

Savoury stuffing variations

  • Cheese (feta or white cheese with fresh mint and pepper)
  • Cooked, minced spinach with pomegranate molasses, salt, and pepper
  • Minced meat with sumac, minced onion, salt, pepper, and parsley
  • Cooked pumpkin with thyme, salt, and pepper

Sweet stuffing variations:

  • Cooked pumpkin with cinnamon and brown sugar
  • Crushed hazelnuts, cinnamon, and sugar


In a bowl, mix flour, eggs, warm water, and ghee. Knead for about 10 minutes until smooth; rest for 20 minutes. Cut dough into five even parts and roll into balls. Prepare a bowl of ghee for your hands and spread melted ghee on the worktable. Begin with the first ball: flatten into a disk the size of a pita loaf, coat with ghee, and roll out until paper thin using a rolling pin.

Coat your hands in ghee and grab the edges (loosening the dough from the worktable). This is the difficult part: turn the dough by flipping your left hand over your right hand (slightly pushing your right hand to the left and under, so the dough turns (like pizza dough). Repeat this several times. Each time the circumference of the dough will expand a little. Then fold it over twice (to get four layers) into a roughly square shape. Set aside

Take the second ball of dough and repeat the process until you reach the paper-thin stage. Place the first folded piece of dough in the centre of the rolled out second one and fold the second over it (almost like an envelope). Place the folded dough to one side.

Roll out the third ball of dough to the paper-thin stage. Place the previously folded dough in the centre and place the stuffing on the edge of the dough squares and fold the third piece of rolled out dough over the central dough/stuffing assembly to cover it. Flatten the entire dough package and roll (like a large Swiss roll).

Take the fourth ball, roll it out into a large thin disk, coat in ghee, and place the rolled dough package (containing the stuffing) in the centre. Trim the edges, fold in the sides, and beginning with the stuffed side, again roll as you would a Swiss roll. Repeat this last step with the fifth ball—the overall aim is to get as many layers as possible.

After rolling the stuffed dough, flatten it out into a rectangular shape, coat in ghee and place in the oven 10 minutes before you intend to serve. It must be served piping hot, or else it becomes leathery.



(Lemon Pudding)

Source: Nasihat al-Anam fi Hosn al-Ta’am (Advice for the People on Fine Eating)

Date: 19th century

Developed by Nermin Amin (original recipe by Ahmed bin Ibrahim)

Not to be confused with kishk almazeyya (a savoury dish), this recipe, developed by Khedive Ismail’s chef,  is a variation of a delicious dessert named after diamonds.


  • 125g/ ½ cup gelatin
  • ½ cup water + 1 cup
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp lemon +1 tbsp
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1×1 m gauze for straining or a fine metal strainer
  • optional for dondorma: ¼ cup strained beet juice, ¼ cup peeled & skinned pistachios, ¼ cup qishta or clotted cream, a bunch of fresh parsley


Stir gelatin in ½ cup of water over low heat until thoroughly dissolved. In a bowl, pour 1 cup of water, break the 5 eggs into the water and whisk until foamy. Add sugar and vanilla; mix well and add to the gelatin solution, stirring thoroughly to combine. Add salt and 2 tbsp lemon juice. Mix together over medium heat and bring to a boil (approximately 15 minutes). At this point, pour the remaining lemon juice along the edge of the pot and let cook on low heat for 5 more minutes, covered. Remove from heat and uncover. The mix should appear to be the colour of diamonds (translucent).

Prepare a serving dish with deep sides. Strain the almazeyya through the gauze (or fine metal strainer) onto the dish.

For dondorma: Divide the almazeyya mixture in four different bowls to create 4 distinct colours which will be layered in the serving dish. To create a red layer, add the strained juice of a beet to one bowl and mix well. Grind pistachios into a paste using a mortar and pestle and mix into the second plate. Add qishta (clotted cream) to the third and mix evenly. For the fourth plate, pound a bunch of parsley and strain out the liquid through gauze; this will give the mixture a pleasant green colour. Pour the first of the mixes into the deep serving tray and place in the freezer. Once it sets (approximately 5–10 minutes), repeat with the remaining layers. Release from the tray onto a clean surface and slice into cubes. Serve.

This article was first published in print in RAWI's ISSUE 10, 2019