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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.
Abou El Sid has established itself amongst the greats when talking about authentic Egyptian cuisine in Cairo. With branches all over the city and beyond, we were excited to see what special fetar program they had to offer this Ramadan, so we headed on over to the Maadi branch with high hopes and empty stomachs.
We arrived thirty minutes before Fetar, as was required, even though we had placed our orders over the phone earlier that morning. The outdoor area was quiet and quaint in the light of the setting sun, with stern-faced waiters gathered around the door getting ready for what seemed to be a Battle Royale Fetar to end all fetars. But this quiet proved to be the calm before the storm; staff members wearing every colour uniform imaginable were running around in circles trying to get everything ready in the minutes before the call to prayer.
Right before Fetar, we were offered the restaurant’s Ramadan drink selection and opted for karkade (Hibiscus) and amar el din (Apricot) (18LE each). The karkade was tart and refreshing – not too sweet like what many venues tend to offer. The amar el din, meanwhile, is an acquired taste at the best of times and lacked the classic apricot taste and sweetness.
As for the soup and appetisers, they all suffered one fatal flaw: they were cold. In the fetar rush, the show-runners at Abou El Sid neglected that, though setting down the starters a full ten minutes before fetar is time efficient, it isn’t very enjoyable for the guests. The Chicken Orzo soup (22LE) tasted quite nice, but other than its temperature, its lack of chicken was disappointing. For appetisers, we had Lamb kofta (42LE), kobeba (36LE) and stuffed vine leaves (28LE) with baba ghanoug and cucumber yoghurt salad (15LE each). There isn’t much to say about both the kofta and the kobeba – they were both cold, dry and overall unappetising. The Vine Leaves fared better – without being spectacular – especially when paired with the cucumber yoghurt which, like the baba ghanoug, tasted pleasantly homemade.
For our main course, we chose the Veal Chunk Tajin (68LE) and the Circassian Chicken (62LE). The tajin was delectable and perfectly cooked, with the rich and inviting veal served in a bed of equally delicious vermicelli. The Circassian Chicken was a different story, however. The classic walnut sauce was clumpy and hardly enough for the bed of bland rice that lied beneath it. Though the chicken itself was good, the dish as a whole was a letdown.
After we finished eating, we became uncomfortably aware of how loud and chaotic the surroundings were. With waiters shouting orders, big groups of people and electric fans that did more to irritate than to keep us cool, it was only the nostalgic sounds of Om Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez that maintained any trace of atmosphere.
Pondering the idea of dessert, we were a bit confused as to who to ask for the menu – there seemed to be new faces and uniforms every couple of minutes. After asking for the menu three times, we discovered that, to get anything done, we had to ask the, assumed, Head Waiter, and after finally getting a hold of him, he took his sweet time with it.
We’d almost forgotten about dessert when they set down the Om Ali and Mohalabeya (25LE each). The Om Ali, though pleasantly warm, had no milk, which was quite unfortunate, because it actually tasted good. The Mohalabeya on the other hand, was heavenly with delicate vanilla flavours and roasted nuts sprinkled on top.
Overall, we were disappointed and left wishing for a do-over. The evening’s execution had not gone as planned and the food and the overall atmosphere had suffered. From the chaos of service, to the mess-ups with the food, it was a poor reflection of a giant in the dining scene.