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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 nothing quite like the warmth of an authentic Egyptian dinner brewing in a kitchen. It’s a complex, almost ethereal, equation that many Cairo restaurants have tried to replicate and the latest to do so is La Fandi in Maadi.
The small venue is located in the dining complex, the Courtyard, houses a total of ten tables and has found its home in a cosy corner, where it’s managed to cultivate an even cosier atmosphere, drawing on 1960s Egypt for inspiration. Small touches like an old-timey radio, mason jars of pickled vegetables and old-school wooden chairs, tables and chairs hit the spot.
Like all cafes and restaurants at the Courtyard, La Fandi has outdoor and indoor seating arrangements, separated by the restaurant’s glass front.
At the time of our visit, two staff members were holding the fort, both of whom were more than welcoming. The menu is a little more intricate than one might assume, offering breakfast (till 11AM), a rather enticing selections of appetisers – referred to as na2na2a, or ‘snacking’ – as well as traditional Egyptian sandwiches and some creative hawawshi variations.
From the appetisers, we ordered some potato wedges with a special ‘Egyptian seasoning’ (10LE), an Alexandrian liver sandwich in saj bread (33LE), a roasted eggplant, tomato and arugula sandwich (15LE) and, most interestingly of all, hawawshi with pickled lemon (30LE).
The food took no less than 30 minutes to arrive, which is a little on get than you’d expect when considering the straightforward build of the each item; however, the staff assured us that the long waiting time is down to the fact that everything is made from scratch – including the bread.
Everything arrived wrapped nicely – fast-food style – and labelled. We dived into the potato wedges first, which were crispy and golden on the outside, soft and smooth on the inside, the special seasoning was more of a dressing, made up of tehina and sesame seeds, which all came together perfectly.
The hawawshi was next on our radar and it too was a little different to the traditional hawawshi you get elsewhere. The meat was noticeably fresh, lean and with next-to-no-fat, leaving the pickled lemon to still the proverbial show. The Alexandrian liver sandwich was just as successful, meanwhile; the liver was noticeably fresh and, unlike many similar sandwiches that see the peppers and the seasoning dominate the overall flavour, it was full of flavour. Not everything was perfect, though; the roasted eggplant was rather off. The eggplant itself was devoid of any flavour – to the extent that we opened up to sandwich to make sure – to find one slice of it, with the addition of mozzarella cheese. Though we welcome all and any creativity in food, the tomatoes clashed with the rest of the ingredients and, overall, it was really under-seasoned.
The modern spin on classic Egyptian food has been done many times over the last few years to mixed success; La Fandi follows suit to a certain extent, but largely plays within the box of the country’s traditional foods. This is both its greatest strength and its biggest weakness, but overall, we’d have no qualms in returning for a quick na2na2a, so to speak.