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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.
Abou El Sid has established itself amongst the greats when talking about authentic Egyptian cuisine in Cairo. With branches all over the city and beyond, we were excited to see what special fetar program they had to offer this Ramadan, so we headed on over to the Maadi branch with high hopes and empty stomachs.
We arrived thirty minutes before Fetar, as was required, even though we had placed our orders over the phone earlier that morning. The outdoor area was quiet and quaint in the light of the setting sun, with stern-faced waiters gathered around the door getting ready for what seemed to be a Battle Royale Fetar to end all fetars. But this quiet proved to be the calm before the storm; staff members wearing every colour uniform imaginable were running around in circles trying to get everything ready in the minutes before the call to prayer.
Right before Fetar, we were offered the restaurant’s Ramadan drink selection and opted for karkade (Hibiscus) and amar el din (Apricot) (18LE each). The karkade was tart and refreshing – not too sweet like what many venues tend to offer. The amar el din, meanwhile, is an acquired taste at the best of times and lacked the classic apricot taste and sweetness.
As for the soup and appetisers, they all suffered one fatal flaw: they were cold. In the fetar rush, the show-runners at Abou El Sid neglected that, though setting down the starters a full ten minutes before fetar is time efficient, it isn’t very enjoyable for the guests. The Chicken Orzo soup (22LE) tasted quite nice, but other than its temperature, its lack of chicken was disappointing. For appetisers, we had Lamb kofta (42LE), kobeba (36LE) and stuffed vine leaves (28LE) with baba ghanoug and cucumber yoghurt salad (15LE each). There isn’t much to say about both the kofta and the kobeba – they were both cold, dry and overall unappetising. The Vine Leaves fared better – without being spectacular – especially when paired with the cucumber yoghurt which, like the baba ghanoug, tasted pleasantly homemade.
For our main course, we chose the Veal Chunk Tajin (68LE) and the Circassian Chicken (62LE). The tajin was delectable and perfectly cooked, with the rich and inviting veal served in a bed of equally delicious vermicelli. The Circassian Chicken was a different story, however. The classic walnut sauce was clumpy and hardly enough for the bed of bland rice that lied beneath it. Though the chicken itself was good, the dish as a whole was a letdown.
After we finished eating, we became uncomfortably aware of how loud and chaotic the surroundings were. With waiters shouting orders, big groups of people and electric fans that did more to irritate than to keep us cool, it was only the nostalgic sounds of Om Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez that maintained any trace of atmosphere.
Pondering the idea of dessert, we were a bit confused as to who to ask for the menu – there seemed to be new faces and uniforms every couple of minutes. After asking for the menu three times, we discovered that, to get anything done, we had to ask the, assumed, Head Waiter, and after finally getting a hold of him, he took his sweet time with it.
We’d almost forgotten about dessert when they set down the Om Ali and Mohalabeya (25LE each). The Om Ali, though pleasantly warm, had no milk, which was quite unfortunate, because it actually tasted good. The Mohalabeya on the other hand, was heavenly with delicate vanilla flavours and roasted nuts sprinkled on top.
Overall, we were disappointed and left wishing for a do-over. The evening’s execution had not gone as planned and the food and the overall atmosphere had suffered. From the chaos of service, to the mess-ups with the food, it was a poor reflection of a giant in the dining scene.