Traditional cuisine has been strongly influenced by Middle Eastern cooking as well as some dishes from Ethiopia. Southern cuisine is more characteristic of African dishes found in Uganda and Kenya, as well as some that have worked there way over from Eritrea.
Beans and wheat form the staple diet of Sudan, in both the North and the South. The most popular dish in the North is known as fuul and consists of beans fried in sesame oil and usually sprinkled with white cheese.
The Sudanese are great lovers of meat, too, with lamb and mutton being the particular favourites. Chicken and beef are also easy to find. Camel meat is widely available but pork is not. Pig meat is forbidden according to Islamic teachings and so imports are banned.
Both tea and coffee are popular in Sudan, and are available very cheaply from local roadside cafés. Spices, such as ginger and cardamom, are often added to the drinks.
Karkaday, helomour and camel milk are widely drunk. Fresh fruit juice is popular in both North and South Sudan.
In towns and cities you will often find large earthenware pots by the side of the road. This is a particularly neat idea. The slightly porous pots have been ingeniously developed to keep water cool, allowing passers-by to refresh themselves as they feel the need to. Unfortunately, such communal pots aren't always very good at fending off the odd bug, and you might feel that it is safer to stick to the bottled filtered water that is widely available at most shops, costing between 1.50 and 2 SDG.
The purchase and consumption of alcohol has been illegal in Sudan since 1983. This ban has simply pushed the industry underground and there is now a thriving trade in bootlegged liquor. Much of this illicit drink comes from the Nuba Mountains, which are mostly populated by non-Muslim tribes.
In Khartoum, the influx of foreign workers has led to an explosion of international restaurants. Pizzerias have become particularly popular, patronized by both the Sudanese and foreigners in equal measure. The pizzas, of course, are nothing compared to what you might find in Italy, and come with a unique range of toppings — such as the hotdog or sweet and sour pizza.
With the influx of Chinese and Indians into Sudan, it is unsurprising that Asian restaurants are also on the rise. Again, they tend to be nothing special and don’t match the variety and quality that you might be used to in other major cities of the world.
Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurants are extremely popular. Syrian food is also gaining headway.
- Ades: a popular staple dish of the North. Made with lentils and onions, and scooped up with bread, it is thoroughly delicious.
- Agashay: a meat dish from Darfur. The meat, usually lamb or beef, is flavoured with spices and threaded onto skewers. These skewers are then stuck in the ground around a burning fire and slowly roasted — perfect for cooking in the desert, which is why the dish has become so popular in the remoter parts of North Sudan.
- Asida: a sticky kind of dough, primarily made from wheat flour and water. It is usually served with a hole in the middle, into which is spooned some sort of sauce. Mullah — made with tomatoes, onion, meat and spices — is one of the most common types of sauce to have with asida.
- Damaa: a popular meat stew, containing onions and other vegetables.
- Fatira: an Egyptian-style pizza that is very popular in Sudan. The dough of the pizza is extremely thin, folded a few times and filled with various ingredients. It is cooked in a big wooden oven for several minutes. A sweet version of the fatira is also popular, typically containing cream, nuts and golden syrup.
- Fatoush: a Middle Eastern salad that is becoming very popular in North Sudan. It is usually made with feta cheese, fried pieces of pita bread, olives and other vegetables.
- Fuul: crushed up beans fried in sesame oil. A of the Sudanese diet. There are a number of different fuul dishes — some served with grated cheese on the top, others cooked in spicy oil. Fuul is widely available in local Sudanese shops and eateries.
- Gurrasa: a type of Sudanese bread, made with flour and water.
- Kisra: the Sudanese adaptation of a type of sour flatbread widely eaten in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it is known as injera. It is typically made with yeast and teff flour (teff being a particular type of African grass). The usual way of serving it is to drape it over a plate, a little like a large serviette, and then ladle quantities of food on top. The bread is used to scoop up the food and mop up the juices. The version served in Sudan tends to be browner, thinner and cooked for longer.
- Sha’urma: the Sudanese equivalent of the Turkish doner kebab. Strips of chicken or lamb are sliced from a roasting spit and either stuffed into a baguette or rolled up in a fatira wrap.
- Sherri’a: a very thin and sweet type of pasta, served as dessert.
- Tah'niya: a sweet cake made from sesame seeds, often eaten for breakfast.
- Tameeya: the Sudanese version of falafel, made with spiced chickpeas and served in baguettes or fatira wraps, often with humus or chilli sauce on the top.
- Zalabia: balls of dough that are deep fried, coated in sugar and eaten with Sudanese tea or coffee. They are often served by local tea ladies.
- Champion: the latest craze in North Sudanese soft drinks. Coming in a variety of different flavours, it tastes a little like shandy, although it is obviously non-alcoholic. When it first arrived in the country, people couldn't get enough of it. The fervour has since died down, but it remains astonishingly popular.
- Gongleze: a refreshing white drink made from the fruit of the tabaldi (baobab) tree. It is a little sour, but sugar can be added according to tastes. It is an especially popular drink in the Nuba Mountains.
- Helomour: another popular drink taken in the North during Ramadan. The name is derived from two Arabic words: ‘helo’, meaning ‘sweet’ and ‘mour’ meaning ‘sour’. Combining syrupy sweetness with a unique blend of spices, the drink is a little difficult to adjust to. But, after the first few tentative sips, the taste becomes more enjoyable.
- Jabana: the Sudanese variety of coffee, similar to that served in Turkey. Thick and strong, it is sometimes flavoured with cardamom or ginger and is guaranteed to keep you awake at night.
- Karkaday: made from the hibiscus plant and is particularly popular in the North during Ramadan. It can be drunk as a sweetened cold drink, a little like grenadine, or as a hot tea. Hibiscus contains particularly high levels of vitamin C, which helps to strengthen the immune system. Hibiscus also helps to regulate blood pressure, which is one of the reasons why it is such a good drink to have during fasting.
- Sahlab: a thick and creamy hot drink, tasting a little like rice pudding. It is made from a white powder obtained from the dried tubers of a particular type of wild orchid. Sahlab is a popular winter drink in Egypt, but is also available in a number of the more established Sudanese cafés.