Cairenes love sweets, and consequently there are a plethora of famous bakeries and dessert venues in Downtown Cairo. Your average Cairene frequents the usual places like El Abd in order to satisfy his/her insatiable sweet tooth, yet the locals and true dessert aficionados opt for the longer journey to El Karnak to devour a secret called ‘the bomb’.

El Karnak is located on Magles El Shaab Street across from Souk El Etneen, and a narrow alleyway separates the storefront from a small seating area. Three or four tables furnish the extremely bare area, but no one visits El Karnak for its décor. Rather, any passerby will immediately recognize this local favourite by the masses slowly pushing into the small storefront with receipts in hand.

The majority of El Karnak’s patrons make the trip through Downtown’s labyrinth of backstreets for one reason: El Karnak’s infamous qonbola, or ‘the bomb’ in English. A healthy helping of konafa serves as a base upon which a medley of bananas, apples, and basbousa soak in strawberry and mango juice, honey, and milk cream. Finally, a dollop of custard sits upon this culinary delight, which, despite its local popularity, remains one of Downtown’s best-kept secrets. For just 10LE, this original dessert is served in a hexagonal deep-dish take-out container and has enough sugar to trigger early onset diabetes. It serves as both a challenge for those who wish to tackle the deep dish alone and as a great communal dessert to be shared among friends.

Though the bomb is El Karnak’s most sought-after dessert, you can also find yogurt (1LE), fruit salad (8LE), and konafa in milk (4.50LE). If you want to take some tasty treats home, El Karnak also sells kilos of basbousa (12LE) and konafa (12LE). For another 10LE, you can add custard cream to your kilo of desired sweets. This reviewer sampled the rice pudding (3LE) and would recommend it as a side dish, but by no means a substitute for the bomb. El Karnak’s menu is only offered in Arabic; so be sure that someone in your group can read Arabic if you want to experiment with different sweets.

Although El Karnak may not be the prettiest venue in Cairo, it is certainly worth visiting to satisfy your sweet tooth. Its signature dessert, the bomb, is a rite of passage for anyone who frequents or lives in the area.