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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.
Since opening its first branch in Sheikh Zayed’s Arkan Mall, Baladina has come to foster a reputation for serving truly authentic Egyptian dishes – a reputation that is made all the more impressive when you consider the number of restaurants in Cairo that claim likewise.
The restaurant’s success has led to the opening of additional branches, including one in Maadi’s the Platform, with the most recent finding a home in Beverly Hill’s Westown Hub. The new branch replicates the restaurant’s rural Egyptian aesthetic to a tee; the waiters donning traditional galabeyas is the most striking of the eatery’s trademarks. As a venue, Baladina offers both indoor and outdoor seating as per all of the venues in Westown Hub and as soon as we were seated, we received two menus – one for food and the other for drinks, with the latter offering everything from teas and coffees, to juices, smoothies and even traditional Oriental drinks such as hibiscus, tamarind, et al.
As for the food menu, the set-up is as you’d expect – hot and cold appetisers, salads and soups are available, though the grill and tajin sections are where things get interesting – but let’s rewind.
To begin our meal, we ordered a basic vegetable soup (20LE) – we visited on a particularly chilly day – and rokak with meat (45LE). The soup was, by all intents and purposes, fine; there was nothing to be offended by, but there was absolutely nothing that would pull us to order it again – it was just a very simple, homely soup, though the portion was pleasingly large. The same can be said of the portion size of the rokak; the difference, however, was that we couldn’t enough of it. To those unfamiliar with rokak, it’s essentially a pastry, usually stuffed with minced meat and baked. Said minced meat was seasoned perfectly; it was full of flavour, though if there was one criticism – and it’s a strange one – it’s that there was too much meat and the whole thing was a bit messy to eat, subsequently.
Moving onto the mains, we ordered Circassian chicken (72LE) and a moussaka tajin (35LE), which comes with a side of rice. The former is a dish that uses walnut sauce was nothing short of delicious; the walnut sauce itself was rich and flavourful, while the strips of chicken were cooked to a perfect tenderness. We had few complaints about the mossaka, too; filled with slices of aubergine, onion and pepper, there was a enticing sweetness to the dish as a whole and, even though the onion and pepper outnumbered the aubergine, it was great when mixed with the rice.
Of the desserts, we went for a classic: Om Ali (30LE). The combination of puff pastry, milk and nuts was perfect, with the crunch of the nuts against the softened pastry adding a great textural contrast and it wasn’t blindingly sweet as can be the case among Cairo restaurants.
Washing our meal down with a glass of doum juice (20LE) – made of ginger palm root – we were full, satisfied and actually welcoming that feeling of being anchored down by your food, unable to move in any real way. Baladina’s new branch proved to be as authentic as its others and it should do well in a place like Westown Hub .