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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.
Ramadan in Cairo has always revolved around the same customs; big family gatherings, late-night, post-sohour shisha, et al.
When it comes to sohour, foul, eggs, and white cheese are an instinctive go-to – easy, filling, no nonsense.
Despite ongoing objections at a perceived extortion with food that can be bought for a fraction of the price at any local eatery, Zooba has maintained a loyal following since its opening thanks to some of its creative takes on traditional Egyptian street food.
This Ramadan is no different, with the quirky restaurant serving up some special sohour items.
We opted for a Foul Ramadan Special sandwich (5LE), Egg and Barameely Cheese Hawawshy (10.50LE), Besara Hawawshy (9LE), and, for dessert, a jar of Mahalabeya with dates (12LE).
The Foul Ramadan Special uses diced tomatoes, pickled onions and cumin and while there was nothing particularly distinctive about the sandwich – other than a few too many pickled onions – it ticked the box of being hearty and filling.
The Egg Barameely Hawawshy, meanwhile, suffered similar problems. Essentially a sandwich, it was packed with eggs but was a little light on the cheese and overall under seasoned.
Besara, a lesser enjoyed Middle Eastern dish, is traditionally used as a dip of sorts – which is the route of the problem for the Besara Hawawshy. The ground fava bean concoction as pretty one-dimensional in flavour and was crying out for some sort of textural contrast.
As mentioned earlier, both the hawawshi options are rather misleading by name – but that may actually be a good thing. The bread tasted freshly baked and delicious, but had nothing in common with the greasy, charred characteristics of the traditional hawawshi.
Served in a small jar, Zooba’s Dates Mehalabeya was more impressive in packaging than in taste. While the Mehalabeya itself was creamy and surprisingly light, the taste was rather uneven in the sense that the taste of dates registered on the palate in varying degrees. The unevenness extended to the otherwise pleasant texture, too, with some spoonfuls being grainier than others.
The kitchen at Zooba should be commended for its unrelenting drive in pushing the boundaries of Egyptian food, no matter how subtly. Unfortunately, this year’s Ramadan specials are rather uninspiring.