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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.
It’s seems almost commonplace now, but when the Cairo dining scene was introduced to the likes of Zooba and Cairo Kitchen, there was mixed reactions to this new take on traditional Egyptian street food. Many bemoaned the prices of the kind of food you can get for a couple of LE, although the aforementioned restaurants found a market; the kind of diner that wouldn’t eat from a cart.
The trend went on to give birth to many other similar concept, one of which is the amusingly named Beef Fi Re3’eef. Taking this new approach to liver and sogok (Oriental sausages) and liver sandwiches and the like, the Mohandiseen eatery has quickly come to be popular – some even claiming that it offers the best hawawshi in Cairo. At the time of our visit, however, all the praise flattered to decieve.
The venue’s decor is quite simple. Three or four steps above sidewalk level, the first thing that grabbed our attention was the rustic blue floor tiling, which matched the brown and turquoise colour scheme. On your left and right are small foldable wooden tables decorated with a cactus plant pot. The back wall behind the counter is decorated with wooden shelves and more plant pots.
The menu is quite limited and all the sandwiches are the same size. We opted for Alexandrian Liver (7.50LE) and Turkish Sogok (7.50LE). We also opted for a Sogok Hawawshi (18.5LE) and fries (6LE). From the desserts, we landed on the Sakalans (9.50LE).
Straight off the bat, if your beef costs less than your chocolate and honey, there’s something very wrong. All the sandwiches, minus the Hawawshi, are served in fino bread – the same basic fino bread you can buy at any supermarket.
The Turkish Sogok was our favourite, but that’s not a testament to how good it is. With hardly any Sogok to be found in the sandwich, most of what we could taste was just bread, seasoning and onions.
The Alexandrian Liver was slightly more generous portion-wise, but in the flavour department, it was less than average, suffering the same faults as the sogok. As for the Sogok Hawawshi – the supposed highlight of the night – was gravely disappointing. The bread was burnt and the sogok stuffing was, somehow, lacking in flavour.
Maybe the Sakalans could salvage the situation. Nope. Differing only from the traditional cream, honey and halawa combination with the addition of Nutella, all you can taste is the bread – which is quite a feat considering the overload of sweetness in the filling.
That leaves only the fries, which, in fairness, were cooked to a pretty nice outer crisp and soft centre.
While the overall aesthetic quality of Beef Fi Re3’eef ticks all the boxes of the balady-modern trend, there’s very little here to keep someone coming back. Beef Fi Re3’eef is stuck floating in no man’s land between the cheap cart food and the restaurants that have made a success of the concept.