|The Gilded Serpent
Eating in Cairo (Part 2)
I endeavoured to help the weary traveller expand their Cairo
culinary circle beyond the ever-so-repetitive hotel spread. I
shared all of my favourite Egyptian haunts, enabling you, Gentle
Reader, to eat like a king, or at least a local, on the budget
of a pauper.
So now you've been in Cairo for a bit. You splash da'a on your koshary like
a real Egyptian. Perhaps you've even learned how to pronounce da'a.
You've had fuul for breakfast and laughed in the face of many an expensive
buffet. But all the feelings of superiority aside, you're beginning to feel
the need for something, well, different. Something with, well, you know, spice.
No offense to the local gastronomy, but the local cuisine can get a trifle
bland at times.
Time to venture
further afield. Nobody, or at least nobody who reads Gilded
Serpent, comes to Egypt in search of McDonald's, but that
doesn't mean you have to eat fuul and taamiyya every
If you're ready
for a bit of spice, there's always Korean food. Right downtown,
just across Midan Tahriir from the Nile Hilton is a decidedly
downmarket, government-run dump of a hotel called the Cleopatra.
The kind of place where when you switch on the light, the roaches
look up at you and want to know what you're doing in their room.
Don't stay there.
But, just off the ground floor lobby (the rooms are actually
on only a few floors at the top of the building-far away from
the restaurant) you'll find
Kowloon, which despite the name is more Korean than Chinese. It's clean,
reasonably priced (LE 30-60 per person depending on your gluttony
level and drinking habits-they
stock not unreasonable local beer and wine and expensive imported spirits)
and pretty darn good. I haven't found it in any of the English guidebooks,
but judging from the Japanese tourists standing outside comparing the façade
with the photo in their guidebook, it has been recommended in some languages.
The menu, and this seems to go for all of the Korean restaurants in town, can
take a little deciphering. Things are not always quite what they sound like,
and if your favourite dish isn't listed, try asking for it. The ever popular bi
bim bob is listed unassumingly as "Rice with Vegetables in Stone Pot".
Other favourites include the deep fried chicken with peanuts, which involves
lots of carmelized sugar, and the cold shrimp in garlic sauce, which involves
more garlic than you might have thought possible-be sure to share. Whatever
you order you'll be brought an assortment of kimchi to start.
Also in the
Asian vein is Thailandia. Cairo boasts a few Thai restaurants,
but most are either in five-star hotels
or not very conveniently located in the distant southern suburb
of Maadi. Thailandia is relatively easy to get to, reasonably
priced, and besides, I haven't actually tried any of the others.
Thailandia is located the same large building at 3 Gameyat el-Dawal
el-Arabiya in Mohandiseen as Kandahar, an excellent, but pricey,
Indian restaurant run by the same people who run the Mena House
hotel beside the pyramids. Kandahar and its sister Lebanese restaurant
have their own, exclusive, posh elevator with a helpful doorman
waiting to push the button for you. For Thailandia, take the
doesn't quite live up to the promise on it's menu and advertising
of "The touch of classy Thai cuisine." In fact, it's
about as seedy a dive as I've been in in Cairo, but hey, the
food's good and you're adventurous, right? As you step through
the door into a windowless, shabbily decorated (and sometime
ago at that) room, the music is quickly switched from the monotonous
Egyptian pop (I mean really, surely there must be something other
than habibi to sing about) to equally monotonous Thai versions
of pop songs you'll recognise. At least, despite the reminiscent
décor, you won't mistake the setting for a Cairo taxi.
As you peruse the menu (try the spicy seafood soup with coconut, that'll give
you your spice fix!) you'll notice that though there are other patrons, none
of them seem to be eating. They all seem to be drinking Stella and smoking shisha.
And all the women have on too much make-up. Even for Egypt. Don't get me wrong,
I haven't actually seen anything untoward happening there, but the women did
move from table to table, pouring the Stella, sharing a shisha, and
laughing at all the men's jokes.
As you pay your bill the music switches back to the habibi music that you heard
as you arrived. It is clearly time for you to go, but hey, you've had a decent
Thai meal for less than LE40 per person. If you'd wanted wholesome, you could
have gone to Mc Donald's!
just a few doors down you'll find the perfect wholesome antidote
unclean feeling you have after slinking out
of Thailandia. Yes, this is the Big Boy of your childhood,
complete with that perky advertisement for feeding your children
of everything. The Big Boy food leaves a bit to be desired,
the burgers are dry, the onion rings mediocre, but they make
of a milkshake. Real, hard ice cream, a real milkshake maker
with stainless steel tumblers. Mmmm.
It's clean, it's brightly lit, and everyone is so perky. As
you leave someone will hold the door for you and let loose
you for choosing Big Boy today."
Just the memory of it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
OK, I have
to admit that this is an Egyptian restaurant-but no lowly fuul and taamiyya joint
this! Fish, fish and more fish. Tucked away on a quiet side street
of Shairia Ahmed Orabi in Mohandiseen, Samakmak can be a bit
tricky to find the first time. If you get a taxi to drop you
at the Omar Effendi shop in Mohandiseen (a major taxi landmark)
and continue walking against the traffic one more block you'll
see a friendly little place with red and white checked tablecloths
off to the left.Tables are set up outside in all weather and,
except in the midst of winter, are perfect. Sit down, order a
drink (beer and wine are served) and relax, but don't wait for
There's an open ice chest along one side, go on over, pick something out and
discuss with the captain how you'd like it cooked. Clams make a nice start,
steamed open with plenty of garlic. Prawns are good, but will add to your bill
considerably. A house speciality is a whole fish grilled open with tomatoes
and green pepper. Whatever you choose it's hard to go wrong. Ask for the assortment
of salads to start your meal (they make a mean babaganough and their
potato salad is spectacular) and maybe an order of rice with shrimps and your
on your way to a fantastic meal for around LE50-80 per person.
As long as
we're back, food-wise, in the region, why not try a little Lebanese?
Similar to Egyptian and other Middle Eastern cuisine, but with
a bit more style. An easy trek from the Dokki metro stop on Midan
el-Misaha, Scoozi serves up a vast array of Lebanese mezze in
a casual, if somewhat dineresque setting. Stay away from the
main courses and the unappealing buffet. The menu lists more
than 30 different hot and cold mezze ranging in price
from LE4-9, so pick a few that sound good and feast away. The
stuffed vine leaves are especially good, as are the various incarnations
of sambousek, a savoury stuffed pastry, and for the rest
are too many for me to keep them all straight in my head. But,
I've never gone too wrong and with mezze there's always
something else on the table!
There. Now you have no excuse for paying too much for bad hotel food. I've
done my good deed for the day.
more from Fred-
in Cairo, part 1
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