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Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
Ahwet Samah: Sub-Par Nasr City Shisha
Operating out of a small shop in one of Nasr City’s souks, Ahwet Samah is a little less than what you expect from a baladi shisha place. The ahwa has its regulars, but these are mostly groups of young men less interested in the quality of shisha, and more interested in comparing bicep sizes. Masochism, it would appear, is a prerequisite for becoming a regular here.
The ample parking is probably the highlight of this ahwa; once you leave your car, your table will be right on the street next to it. At least you don’t have to worry about car theft. It takes a few minutes for the gentlemen working there to notice a new customer, and while they are affable enough, we had to repeat our order several times for it to stick.
The odour wafting in from the nearby kebdagy (read: street liver sandwiches) sets off the 'Yummy!' button, when it should be setting off the 'Hell no!' button. For 2LE per sandwich, meat does not get cheaper than this. It’s exactly what you would expect from a street stall selling liver and sausage sandwiches. Other than gawk at the primordial stew simmering in rusted pots, there isn’t much else to do.
Hopes for a sanctioned game of Tarneeb were dashed to the ground when the staff explained that since we’re sitting on the street, card playing is illegal. How about a game of dominos? Nope, that too is apparently illegal.
The shisha arrives pre-burnt, so you’re 100% guaranteed to inhale burning coal into your pink lungs, rather than tobacco. A comedic episode transpires when you realize they’ve given you one of those sissy ’medical’ pipes; It’s an image that is incongruous with the machismo associated with smoking shisha, so even that simple pleasure is extracted from the experience.
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.