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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Elamana: Cheap, Homemade Egyptian Cuisine in Zamalek
There is no shortage of restaurants serving Egyptian cuisine in Cairo, but not all of them prepare food like an Egyptian mama would. Despite a profusion of international restaurants on the island of Zamalek, there are limited options serving authentic Egyptian cuisine.
Elamana is a tiny dining venue located on Sayed Bakry Street, just round the corner from 26th of July Street. Serving up homemade Egyptian cuisine, the venue’s space barely fits its kitchen; so its four tables are arranged along the pavement outside.
Upon arriving at Elaman,a you can immediately take a peek into the clean open kitchen. The menu is promptly presented and lists all the classic Egyptian dishes like molokheya, pigeon, shish tawouk, kofta and chicken as well as a variety of rice and macaroni dishes. The food arrives within five minutes of placing your order. They give you water with the meal; but bear in mind that it is tap water. There are no other drinks available, but upon request they have no qualms in getting you any kind of soft drinks from the supermarket next door.
The molokheya is tasty with a great texture and comes very close to the homemade version. You can tell by its taste that it is made fresh and was not boiled for too long. The chicken is very well-prepared; it’s neither dry nor over-spiced, and the best part is its crispy skin. You can order the chicken by the whole, half or quarter. If you only take a quarter, you can specify which part you want, such as the thigh or breast. The chicken here is so delicious, that you’ll be left wondering why this restaurant isn’t famous all over Cairo.
You can have any macaroni dish served with either béchamel or tomato sauce. Although our portion of the macaroni dish was generous, it didn’t have enough sauce, which made the dish a little dry. Of course, all meals are served with bread and you can order a side dish of rice, baked potatoes or French fries. The downside is that the food at Elamana is served warm but not piping hot. Since you are seated outside, it tends to cool down quite quickly.
The menu is only available in Arabic, and although the waiter is happy to try and translate, his English is limited. At the time of this reviewer’s visit, certain dishes like dolma and sambousak were not available. The food is very cheap: our meal of molokheya, chicken and macaroni came to only 28LE.Elamana is a good stop for a quick and cheap Egyptian meal. If you prefer more comfortable seating, it is recommended that you ask for take away or delivery.
Despite the increasing number of foreign cuisines that can be found across the Cairo dining scene, there’s just something about the variety of strong, quite eccentric , flavours of Egyptian food that trumps all. Sometimes, all one wants is to please one’s taste buds with some classics and Zooba is the perfect place for serving up exactly what we have been craving.
The third branch of the popular chain is located in the Mosaic food court in City Stars and is easy to spot from a distance, with its big, colourful, bright sign and overall unique appearance. Designed much like a contemporary street food eatery, the restaurant has no doors or walls separating it from the walkway. Adequately-sized, with quite a few tables to offer, worrying about not finding a seat there is rather unnecessary.
We took our seats and immediately made our way to the refreshments fridge to quench our thirst, opting for a bottle of Lemon Mint juice (13LE), which was quite zesty and refreshing. With a chalk board having all the dishes offered scribbled on it hanging over the kitchen and an open fridge showcasing a handful of dips, salads, desserts and drinks, the place feels quite homey and cosy like its other branches, despite its mall location. A stand holding multi-coloured loaves of Baladi Bread definitely caught our eye and added an exquisite touch to the already interesting place.
We made our way back to our table and our waiter immediately came by to take our order. For those that may not be familiar with Zooba, the menu offers all the Egyptian street food items you can think of; from Foul and Taamia to Koshari (and its healthy alternative) to Hawashi, sausages and liver options. From the array of dips, we opted for Beetroot Besara (21LLE), alongside small portions of Wholegrain Koshari (15.50LE) and Classic Koshari (13LE), Hawashi (18 LE) and a small plate of Spiced Sausages (21LE).
Our food literally took just a few minutes to arrive, much to our delight, and we began to dig in. The Beetroot Besara came in a moderately sized container, accompanied by a Baladi breadbasket and tasted quite delicious and dense. The Classic Koshari left us quite disappointed as it was, at best, average-tasting and lacked any oomph. Made with brown pasta and rice, the Wholegrain Koshari, was surprisingly delicious.
The Hawashi was the biggest let down of all the dishes; it was oily and small in size, unlike the the Spiced Sausages which came in an adequate portion and were bursting with flavour.
Zooba has become a staple for those that don’t dare to delve into the more traditional purveyors of Egyptian street food, offering quick bites in a lovely setting. The whole feel of the place, with its funky design and choice of background music (we heard a few songs by indie Arab bands), helped set the mood and the dishes, with a few exceptions, tasted as delightful as they sounded.