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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.
There’s a divide between Cairenes when it comes to eating traditional Egyptian cart/street food in more upscale restaurants. Some feel the cart food should be reserved for the cart, where it is delicious and cheap but questionable in nutrition and, well, cleanliness, while others prefer paying a little extra for a watered down, but more, let’s say, hygienic, version of the same dish.
The grey area in between the two is one that left many restaurants out of business. Generally because the upper scale restaurants just can’t get the likes of liver and hawawshi to taste as good.
Working to change this perception, however, is Baladi. Expanding from its original branch on El Marghany Street in Heliopolis, Baladi now operates in the Cilantro Garden on Road 9 in Maadi. The garden itself is a comfortable open courtyard with metal tables and chairs.
As we found ourselves a vacant table, the waiter greeted us with the menu. Said menu is simple and straightforward, offering Alexandrian Liver and Grilled Liver, Sogok, Hawawshi and Herring sandwiches. The menu also functions as a checklist, which you mark and then hand it back to the waiter.
We opted for Hawawshi (15LE), Alexandrian Sogok (10LE) and Alexandrian Liver (9LE).
Our food was served very promptly and with the diluted versions of these dishes having disappointed us at ‘balady-chic’ restaurants in more upscale neighbourhoods before, we feared the worst. Luckily, and gladly, we were proven, though.
The Hawawshi, a full loaf of baladi bread stuffed with spiced minced meat and bell peppers, was the biggest surprise; with a decent meat-to-bread ration, well-seasoned meat an just the right amount of moist, the loaf was generally very satisfying in both flavour and portion size.
The Alexandrian Liver was also a success. Similarly decent in size and spiced and seasoned well – and complimented with chilli and pepper – the Liver passed in the flavour department as well.
The disappointment was the Alexandrian Sogok, primarily because it was cut up hotdogs and not actually the sogok – or what some might call Oriental sausage. This couldn’t have been a mistake, though, as none of the items on the menu feature hotdogs, and although it was once again seasoned well, it just wasn’t what was advertised in the menu.
Despite, this we were generally pleased with what came out of the kitchen at Baladi. The food was both tasty and clean, which seldom occurs with this kind ‘cuisine.’ The waiters were all-around pleasant and the prices are decent for the quality.