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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.
Since opening its first branch in Sheikh Zayed’s Arkan Mall, Baladina has come to foster a reputation for serving truly authentic Egyptian dishes – a reputation that is made all the more impressive when you consider the number of restaurants in Cairo that claim likewise.
The restaurant’s success has led to the opening of additional branches, including one in Maadi’s the Platform, with the most recent finding a home in Beverly Hill’s Westown Hub. The new branch replicates the restaurant’s rural Egyptian aesthetic to a tee; the waiters donning traditional galabeyas is the most striking of the eatery’s trademarks. As a venue, Baladina offers both indoor and outdoor seating as per all of the venues in Westown Hub and as soon as we were seated, we received two menus – one for food and the other for drinks, with the latter offering everything from teas and coffees, to juices, smoothies and even traditional Oriental drinks such as hibiscus, tamarind, et al.
As for the food menu, the set-up is as you’d expect – hot and cold appetisers, salads and soups are available, though the grill and tajin sections are where things get interesting – but let’s rewind.
To begin our meal, we ordered a basic vegetable soup (20LE) – we visited on a particularly chilly day – and rokak with meat (45LE). The soup was, by all intents and purposes, fine; there was nothing to be offended by, but there was absolutely nothing that would pull us to order it again – it was just a very simple, homely soup, though the portion was pleasingly large. The same can be said of the portion size of the rokak; the difference, however, was that we couldn’t enough of it. To those unfamiliar with rokak, it’s essentially a pastry, usually stuffed with minced meat and baked. Said minced meat was seasoned perfectly; it was full of flavour, though if there was one criticism – and it’s a strange one – it’s that there was too much meat and the whole thing was a bit messy to eat, subsequently.
Moving onto the mains, we ordered Circassian chicken (72LE) and a moussaka tajin (35LE), which comes with a side of rice. The former is a dish that uses walnut sauce was nothing short of delicious; the walnut sauce itself was rich and flavourful, while the strips of chicken were cooked to a perfect tenderness. We had few complaints about the mossaka, too; filled with slices of aubergine, onion and pepper, there was a enticing sweetness to the dish as a whole and, even though the onion and pepper outnumbered the aubergine, it was great when mixed with the rice.
Of the desserts, we went for a classic: Om Ali (30LE). The combination of puff pastry, milk and nuts was perfect, with the crunch of the nuts against the softened pastry adding a great textural contrast and it wasn’t blindingly sweet as can be the case among Cairo restaurants.
Washing our meal down with a glass of doum juice (20LE) – made of ginger palm root – we were full, satisfied and actually welcoming that feeling of being anchored down by your food, unable to move in any real way. Baladina’s new branch proved to be as authentic as its others and it should do well in a place like Westown Hub .