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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.
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.