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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Felfela: Traditional and Tasty Egyptian
If you’re looking for a flavourful, traditional several-course Egyptian meal that won’t cost you an arm and a leg but is nonetheless a step above most hole-in-the-wall eateries in the area, Felfela’s sit-down restaurant is the place to go. The perfect spot for those that appreciate a diverse menu in a casual atmosphere, Felfela is often dismissed as a tourist haunt by many but nothing beats its quality food and very reasonable prices.
Step inside away from the hustle and bustle of Downtown Cairo and you’re bound to start chanting ‘Serenity Now’ like it’s your mantra. The interior has bubbling fish tanks on one side of the entrance, and a comfortable dining area made of dark wood and an ornately carved wooden ceiling. Large, potted hanging plants are arranged throughout the venue, and for some odd reason a life-size wooden statue greets visitors at the door; it seems a bit silly but still makes for a charming atmosphere.
It’s best to stick to the basics at Felfela. Ordering any combination of oriental salads is a great way to whet your appetite; and the baba ghanoug and tehina dishes are especially delicious. Different kinds of bread tend to be served on each visit; so it’s recommended that you request your preferred kind, whether it’s soft pita, baladi or toast. The waiters are happy to warm the dipping bread for you if you ask.
In general, the service is good; though it slows to a near halt whenever the restaurant traffic gets heavy.
If you want to play it safe, hamburgers and some pasta dishes are available but undoubtedly the best dishes are the foul Eskanderani (Alexandria-style fava beans), kebda Eskanderani (Alexandria-style liver) and last, but certainly not least, the molokheya or ‘green mallow stew’, as the menu reads. The latter is thick, slightly sticky and compliments a simple plate of rice, French fries or chicken. The tagine dishes are also worth trying; they’re more Egyptian than Moroccan cuisine but nonetheless tasty. Beware of the foul with tehina, though; previous diners have found that the tehina drowns the foul’s flavour. A small selection of beer and wine is also available with your meal.
It may be known as a tourist attraction, but Felfela does offer a solid meal and a nice option for some sit-down foul and taameya.
Despite the emergence of specialist eateries around the city, we are very much a carnivorous nation – something that the majority of restaurants in Cairo have no problem catering too. One of the main elements of local cuisine is traditional grilled meats and can be found everywhere from Cairo’s hotels, to small winding streets of the city.
Al Araby is a time-tested grill in Agouza, known by locals and tourists alike for providing quality Egyptian food. Donning a traditional ambience, the eatery boasts Oriental decor and a spacious seating area. Stepping in, we were greeted by a courteous, suited manager, before being seated, handed the menus and assigned a waiter.
The menu includes an array of Egyptian dishes including mouza fattah (50LE), mombar (13LE), rice stuffed pigeons (29LE) and many more traditional options. Grilled choices include kebab (140LE per kilo), kofta (118LE per kilo) and tarb (118LE per kilo) along with beef or lamb ribs (150LE per kilo) amongst others.
As an appetiser, we ordered a plate of mahshi (13LE) as well as green and eggplant salads, and dips of tahina and baba ghanough. With so many tempting meat dishes, we opted for half a kilo of kabab and kofta (65LE), a quarter kilo of tarb (29.5LE) and a quarter of beef ribs (29.5LE) for our mains.
A bread basket was soon brought to the table to be enjoyed with the salads and dips, but it was disappointingly cold. Furthermore, the eggplant salad was unpleasant, lacking the signature bitterness, oil or garlic seasoning. On the other hand, the smooth tehina tasted delicious, while the green salad was made with fresh cuts of cucumber, tomato onions and parsley and tasted zesty with the dash of vinegar dressing.
Although we were expecting it to be served as an appetiser, the mahshi was served alongside the meat dishes. Our beef was served on grand, stainless steel trays covered with a bed of shredded parsley; unfortunately, while the beef tasted fabulous, it had been over-grilled to a dry, chewy texture. The kofta sported a soft feel and smoky, aromatic flavour whilst the ribs were served on the bone, grilled to perfection and full of flavour.
We were slightly concerned over the potential fattiness of the tarb – a sheet of lamb fat stuffed with minced meat before being grilled – but to our surprise, Al Araby’s version of the dish was lean, without sacrificing the flavour or texture.
Desserts at Al Araby include cream caramel and mahalabeya – milk with starch and sugar (3.50LE each). With generous portions when compared to their price, the cream caramel was brought on a plate whilst the mahalabeya was served in a small plastic container; both were charmingly chilled and tasted fantastic.
With satisfying traditional food, welcoming staff along with reasonable prices, Al Araby possesses a cosiness that is rarely found in Cairo and is one of those places you’d take an out-of-towner for a quintessential, basic Egyptian dining experience.