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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.
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.