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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Egyptian Gamers Association: Gaming with a Difference in Maadi
How many times have you visited an internet/gaming café in Cairo and felt uneasy sitting in a room filled with stale cigarette smoke and young boisterous teenagers with wandering eyes. All you want is to sit and play a game without having to worry about being hassled or leaving with your clothes smelling of an ashtray. This is where the new gaming venue known as the Egyptian Gamers Association (EGA) comes in.
Located on a quiet street just off Maadi Grand Mall, once you walk into the bright interior, you’re seduced by the minimal white decor, comfy black sofas and long tables complete with gigantic, sleek flat-screen TVs. It's like entering a slick bachelor’s pad, only without the dirty laundry.
At 35LE for an hour’s playtime, gamers are invited to use the Playstation or Xbox upstairs, or for more privacy there are three secluded rooms located downstairs – these come with a telephone so that the staff can be easily reached while you continue your game from the comfort of the sofa.
A vivid poster sends a warning that you are entering a gamers’ area as you wander down the stairs into an airy basement hallway. We were ushered into a spacious private room with the same interior and fixtures as the upstairs and of course the colossal flat-screen TV. A menu sits on the table listing a variety of drinks and sandwiches; everything you would need to keep yourself refuelled during a long game.
EGA is not only a place for gaming fanatics, it also caters to those who would like to watch a film with friends (they have a large selection of DVDs), surf the internet or hold a work meeting in one of the rooms.
At the beginning we experienced some difficulty in getting the Playstation joy pad to work, which required us to leave the room and yell upstairs for an employee. He was listening to music at a deafening level and in the middle of a game himself, so it took a few calls to get his attention. After the problem was fixed though, we settled into playing Call of Duty 3: Modern Warfare, switching to Street Fighter and then NBA Street Basketball.
EGA boast that they are ‘the new and ultimate gaming experience’ and endeavour to make the centre more open; attracting crowds that wouldn't normally visit gaming venues – especially females. Although the centre offers privacy and top of the range facilities we felt that it lacked the first class service you would expect from such a place.
Tucked away in a shady little street, not far from the Marriott hotel – and on the premises of the All Saint’s Cathedral – Marhaba is a tranquil oasis in the midst of our ever-chaotic city. The inconspicuous little café serves tasty Lebanese and Egyptian food and is usually far from crowded, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a go. We actually found it to be a refreshing change from the busier and more bustling Zamalek cafés.
Despite the specific focus of the cuisine at Marhaba, we were impressed by the range of choice. We ordered the hummus (18LE), baba ghanough (19LE), taameya (15LE), manakeesh with zaatar (15LE) and vine leaves (27LE) as starters – all of which were excellent. The manakeesh were particularly delicious, not at all dry and flavourless as many venues tend to serve them. There were, moreover, a variety of topping choices on offer, including plain labnah, labnah with zaatar, halloumi cheese and minced meat. In terms of drinks, we most enjoyed the fruit juices, especially the cocktail (22LE).
Despite defining itself as a café, Marhaba also serves restaurant-worthy mains. Our main course consisted of molokheya with rice and chicken (60LE) and a mixed grill (75LE), which was served with two sides – French fries and rice. The portions were perfect, and both meals were delicious, although the chicken that came with the molokheya was a little dry, and on the whole, a little less satisfying than the mixed grill.
To top off our meal on a nice and traditional note, we ordered the Om Ali (24LE), which proved to be an excellent choice: nutty, creamy, and bursting with flavour.
Our overall experience at Marhaba was extremely positive. We were especially impressed with the efficient and friendly service and the great value for money; we also enjoyed the fact that the BBC news was playing quietly in the background; the atmosphere of the place is certainly distinct from that of the ordinary Zamalek café. But being low-key and so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, it would perhaps be a good place to get some work done – efficiently, for a change.