Editing by Jennifer
Layout, graphics by Lynette

Cooked dish of pasta, rice and lentils to which, onions, chillis and tomato paste are added

Slow-cooked mash of brown beans and red lentils, dressed with lemon, olive oil and cumin


advertise on Gilded Serpent
The Gilded Serpent presents...
Eating in Cairo (Part 2)

by Fred Glick

Sometime back 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 meal.

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 stairs.Thailandia 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!

Big Boy
Actually, just a few doors down you'll find the perfect wholesome antidote to the slightly…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 too much of everything. The Big Boy food leaves a bit to be desired, the burgers are dry, the onion rings mediocre, but they make a hell 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 a carefully practised, "Thank 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 a menu.

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…there 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.

Ready for more?
more from Fred-

Dining in Cairo, part 1
One of the wonderful things about Egyptian food is that there is something for everyone.

2-26-01 The Fourth Annual IAMED Awards of Belly Dance by Marula
Seldom does one see a bellydance production as professionally staged and presented

Our newest additions to North Beach Memories-Yasmeen and the North Beach of Yore An interview with Gail by Meredith McGuire Find more names and faces you have known or heard about!

Coming soon!
Living in Yemen, by Jalilah
Book review of "Sacred Dance"
Dunia's response to review of Desert Dance Festival 2000

Crone dance by Mimi Albert

The Gilded Serpent

 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines