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Sayeda Zeinab, Cairo, Egypt.
Kebabgy Zein El Abdin Abu Ramy: Forgotten Kabab Glory
Ask most Egyptians in the know who the best kabab house in Cairo is, and Abu Ramy in El Madbah will make it onto several lists. Fifteen years ago, when the Children’s Cancer Hospital was barely a gleam in a developer’s eye, Abu Ramy straddled the unpaved sidewalk with plastic covered tables and a ten-meter-long trough full of hot coals and topped with cooked flesh. The smell of raw meat mingled with seared flesh filled the nostrils of the grease-lipped patrons, who came from all around to feast on the ambrosia on offer.
Those were the good old days. Today, no longer are we offered an honest street-side table amidst the parked BMWs and Mercedes. Instead, Abu Ramy now occupies a large building overlooking the hospital with a cavernous hall capable of feeding over a hundred diners. Even with the new digs, it was disconcerting to see that the bathroom had not been updated and still elicited uncomfortable odours.
Immediately noticeable is the absence of any poultry on the menu; here, only cow and lamb are served. In addition to your grill house staples of minced beef kofta, grilled kabab and ribs, there is also a slow-cooked roast of lamb in onions and vegetables (60LE). It is this last option that provides the stand-out gustatory experience of the evening, since the ever-so-tender meat is literally smothered in sweet onions and carrots, and swimming in a wonderful broth boosted by the drippings from the bone marrow from the length of hollow bone still in the clay pot.
The other options and the salads sadly fall short of the high bar set by the lamb dish, offering only a fleeting sense of satisfaction. We are used to being served well-done kabab, yet the marinade is what usually keeps it tender and juicy. However, at Abu Ramy, this reviewer found the kabab to be tough, chewy and lacking a substantial grilled beef flavour.
In typical fashion, prices are quoted according to weight, and a kilogram of mixed grill meats will cost about 140LE, with each individual salad costing just 2LE. In the end, the entire experience left us wishing that we had gone to try some of the other options, and we discover that it wasn’t just the area that had changed; Abu Ramy itself has changed for the worse.
With plenty of new restaurants opening as fast as lightning and raising the bar for fine dining in Cairo, the interest in fast food venues is waning – even burger and pizza places are putting more focus on being gourmet. But, located on Zamalek’s busy 26th of July Street, roasted chicken specialist, Chick Shack, proves that the fast food concept is still popular in Cairo.
Not to be confused in any way with popular American chain, Shake Shack, the eatery’s name attracted some negative attention, but it all played into its publicity. The name is where the similarities end, though; Chick Shack stands out with a unique interior and playful vibe of its own. Some of its standout features include its ringed chandelier, an interesting choice of cold colours and a wall made of A-Treat soda boxes, not to mention the quirky staff uniforms made-up of buttoned-to-the-top shirts, grey trousers, suspenders and hats that Michael Jackson would have been proud of.
The menu is quite simple, with roasted chicken as the main attraction, though other items include Lasagna (34LE), Potato Wedges (8LE), or Tropical Salad (18LE) and can work as side dishes.
We started our meal with Shack Salad (28.50LE) as an appetiser, and as our mains, we went with Half Chicken Meal (55LE) and Chicken Cannelloni (27LE).
A mixture of grilled chicken, green apple cubes, corn, bell pepper, pomegranate and mayo dressing, the Shack Salad was an interesting concoction. We loved the tart taste from the green apple which worked well with the pomegranate and the sweet-corn, but the chicken itself was overcooked and very tough.
Now, let's move to what we actually came for: roasted chicken. Served with sautéed vegetables which had a remarkable garlicky flavour and possibly the best spicy basmati rice, which was cooked to perfection and bursting with Mexican spices, the roasted chicken was well-marinated and had a zesty flavour which popped in every single bite. However, the chicken itself was a little bit undercooked but definitely not raw, and even though it was very tasty, the skin wasn’t as crispy as we would've hoped.
We were worried about the ready-to-serve Chicken Cannelloni, but it was surprisingly tasty. Stuffed with chicken and peppers which had flavours similar to fajitas, the cannelloni was well-cooked and had a generous amount of cream parmesan cheese sauce. Sloppy presentation aside, the cannelloni made for a great vehicle for the chicken.
Overall, there was little to complain about at Chick Shack. The venue stands out as one of the healthier fast food places in Cairo; one that also boasts fantastic service, great staff and a friendly atmosphere. The only downside is that there are no desserts to speak of – but with the concept built on a ready-to-serve approach, maybe a soft serve ice cream machine would be a perfect fit. But that’s just us.