Bellies En-Route: Egypt’s Culinary Tourism Startup

Bellies En-Route introduces tourists to local culture through food.
Bellies En-Route: Egypt’s Culinary Tourism Startup
Laila Hassaballa and Mariam Nezar founded Bellies En-Route in 2016.

Discovering the smells and tastes of a new country is just as important as visiting its ancient monuments. Learning how people present, cook and eat their food is a gateway into foreign cultures.

“Mariam and I love to travel and to get to know the culture of other countries through eating the locals’ favorite foods, and not just the food sold to tourists, so we wanted to provide service to tourists in Egypt.” Laila Hassaballa, Co-Founder, Bellies En-Route

Laila Hassaballa and Mariam Nezar met while studying graphic design at the German University in Cairo (GUC). They bonded over their love of travel and culinary tourism. When they graduated they decided to start their own business. Hassaballa and Nezar founded their startup Bellies En-Route in 2016. “Mariam and I love to travel and to get to know the culture of other countries through eating the locals’ favorite foods, and not just the food sold to tourists, so we wanted to provide service to tourists in Egypt,” Hassaballa tells WAYA.

“We take travelers on food tours because we believe that there’s more to food than just eating.” Laila Hassaballa, Co-Founder, Bellies En-Route

The co-founders chose to work in culinary tourism since it is very popular abroad. However, no one was providing this kind of experience in Egypt, despite the richness of Egyptian cuisine. This gap prompted them to start offering tours to tourists to introduce them to the popular Egyptian food. “Tourists want to know more about Egypt, other than the pyramids and historic sites, like the locals’ lifestyle, culture, and food,” Mariam says.

Culture and Cuisine

Bellies En-Route offers two tours, in Downtown Cairo and Heliopolis. The tours last for four to five hours, during which tourists are taken to eight places that make koshari, falafel and Egyptian sausage, other popular dishes, coffee and juices. Tourists taste small amounts of food so that they can try as many different Egyptian foods throughout the tour. Additionally, tourists can walk in the local market, where they are shown how the food is prepared in some restaurants. Hassaballa says “We take travelers on food tours because we believe that there’s more to food than just eating”. Bellies En-Route introduces tourists to local culture through food.

The Startup has organized nearly 800 tours with over 1,500 people from 50 nationalities. “We organized tours with a famous American music band, and chefs that own a chain of restaurants in the UK”, Hassaballa says. The company relies on TripAdvisor reviews, social media and their website. Reservations and payments are made online through the company’s website.

Unchartered Territories

According to Nezar, there were several obstacles that they faced. The co-founders lacked experience in the tourism industry. Additionally, there was no information about culinary tourism in Egypt so they had to experiment. They also had to check the quality of the restaurants themselves.

Despite these obstacles, the co-founders have expressed their willingness to expand beyond Cairo. They want to provide tours in other parts of Egypt such as Alexandria, Port Said, Siwa and Aswan. They also want to make tours that are designed for Egyptians. The co-founders also plan on providing cooking classes so people can learn to cook Egyptian dishes.

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If you see something out of place or would like to contribute to this story, check out our Ethics and Policy section.