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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Taka’eeba: Downtown Street Ahwa with Artistic Flair
Downtown Cairo is filled with many ahwas that seem as trapped in time as the buildings that surround them. One such ahwa is none other than long-time street café legend, Taka’eeba. Located directly outside of the Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Taka’eeba is a popular hangout for locals, artists and musicians who have been drinking tea and smoking shisha there for decades.
Ahwa Taka’eeba is mostly about soaking up the Downtown street café atmosphere. Their products aren’t Cairo’s finest, but there is a very charming feel about Taka’eeba that keeps customers coming back for more. Fresh juices like mango, strawberry and guava juices are available.There are also other cold drinks like karkadeh and yogurt drinks, which can also be sweetened with honey. Warm drinks include cinnamon milk, Nescafé and black tea.
The shisha is a hit-or-miss case; sometimes it’s bearable and other times it’s just terrible. It’s never great; so hope for the best, but don’t be disappointed if it burns quickly and doesn’t taste good after ten minutes. The only shisha flavours available are apple and meassel.
If you’re interested in learning backgammon, make some friends at Taka’eeba. There are some great backgammon players that are refined in all four ways to play the game. In fact, many an afternoon is spent by players wholly absorbed in backgammon competitions.
During the afternoon, the ahwa has a quiet, relaxing environment with only a few customers nursing their shishas, reading books or taking notes. At night, and during exhibit openings at Townhouse, it can become especially crowded. And if that’s the case, prepare for the service to be awful. There are simply too many people for their humble staff to attend to.
Taka’eeba is one of the least expensive ahwas in Downtown Cairo. It’s nearly impossible for one person to spend over 10LE: tea is 1.50LE, shisha is 2LE and juices cost between 3LE to 5LE.
If you’re walking down Champollion Street away from Tahrir Square, take the right before the kofta store Abu Khaled. The smell of roasting meat should give you a hint. And on the right, you’ll find a few dozen colourful plastic chairs laid out just waiting to receive you.
Cafés in Cairo are a dime a dozen, and competition is pretty brutal. That usually translates into some rather strange themes and gimmicks across the capital. In Mohandiseen, Bon Bini follows suit with a kitschy jazz vibe.
With two floors and an outdoor seating area, the café is spacious with a peculiar variety of seating areas,making the whole place interestingly asymmetrical. Although the furniture seems dated and worn, the running jazz theme creates a charming, nostalgic feel. Jazz band statues and antique books give a purposefully vintage edge to the venue.
The polite and courteous staff are well versed in the menu. Akin to the typical Cairene café scene, the menu is awash with a wide variety of sandwiches, pizzas and entrees, along with a shisha section.
For appetisers, we ordered tomato soup (17.95LE) and a fried Texas platter (18.95LE) – fries with chilli cheese sauce. For our mains we ordered one Verona pizza (49.95LE) topped with chicken, roast beef slices, olives, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, alongside a chef filet (74.95LE) which transpired to be a beef strip stuffed with mushrooms and roast beef, topped with a butter sauce.
First on our table came the extraordinarily hot soup and fries; so hot in fact, that we had to let both dishes cool off for a few minutes. Served with crispy croutons and a thick dollop of cream, the generously-sized soup was full of flavour. Despite being topped with a thick layer of cheese, the fries were well-cooked and surprisingly light.
Later, both the pizza and filet proved to be even better. The pizza was large enough to satisfy two, and boasted a thick, fluffy base. The fillet was cooked to perfection, without sacrificing the meat’s tenderness, and laced with a rich, flavourful butter sauce. The sides of fresh vegetables and smooth mashed potatoes were a welcome addition to the meal.
For dessert, we enjoyed a cold fruit crepe (19.95LE), made with apples and bananas and topped with Nutella. Unlike the conventional serving of crepes, our crepe was laid flat – as opposed to folded - topped with the fresh, ripe ingredients.
Although the quirky decor and unusual ambience may not suit everyone’s taste, Bon Bini is a great venue for casual outings – and the kitchen certainly delivers.