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Mohandiseen, Cairo, Egypt.
Abo Ammar El Soury: Addicitive Syrian Food in Mohandiseen
In a country where satisfaction through food is paramount and laziness often suppresses the desire to cook, we –like many other Cairenes- are hard to please. It’s no coincidence that restaurants frequent the Cairo 360 pages more than any other type of venue; we just love to eat. We’re proud of Cairo’s eclectic pallet, but we never thought that a modest Syrian place in Mohandiseen called Abo Ammar El Soury would have us on such a leash.
Split into two, the shop front is recognisable on Syria Street -of all places- by disorderly queues of people waving their receipts at the shawerma guy who, rather than reading said receipts, asks each and every person the same question: beef or chicken? At 12LE, this reviewer has no qualms in proclaiming, and would dare anyone to question, that Abo Ammar El Soury makes the best shawerma anywhere in Cairo. The tightly-wrapped warm, fresh bread must be the key here, because we can’t see anything special going on with the preparation. In saying that, the meat and trimmings must be laced with something addictive.
Equally as addictive is the shop’s kobeba (3LE) and sambousak (2.50LE), the latter of which of course comes in both cheese and meat varieties. Both are invitingly crunchy on the outside and satisfyingly soft on the inside.
We could wax lyrical all day about those three most basic of items, but the real magic happens in Abo Ammar’s restaurant upstairs. Don’t be fooled by the humble Downtown koshary shop-like surroundings; some fantastic dishes come out of the kitchen, including the chicken shawerma fatta (19LE). Though seemingly simple in its make-up, the three elements of the dish work together in some kind of heavenly accord; bold, flavoursome rice, pleasingly plain yoghurt and the mind-boggling Abo Ammar chicken shawerma.
We also gave one of the restaurant’s signature dishes a go; the Abo Ammar veal meat (35LE). This dish comes with one kobeba, a few fingers of dolma, small side salad, servings of hommos and tomeya and helping of rice topped with the pièce de résistance: pieces of roughly cut but enticing veal meat, which have a tender melt-in-your-mouth quality about them. Apart from needing salt, the rice and meat were both prepared perfectly, and the best praise we could give it is to say that we just wanted more.
The service at the Abo Ammar might be questionable, but the staff does its best not to be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of hungry patrons, and are generally very polite and enjoy a little banter. This is only a minor footnote in the story of Abo Ammar El Soury. Of all the food we’ve had, we’ve yet to find fault; a more than valid excuse to keep returning and ploughing our way down the list of dishes.
With an ever-increasing Syrian population in Egypt, Cairo has witnessed a rise in the number of restaurants and fast food venues offering dishes from the Levant. Craving some authentic Syrian eats for breakfast, we headed over to Al Jinani, a restaurant in the Syrian district in 6th of October city.
Taking a stroll right across from El Hussary Mosque, we entered said Syrian District a busy area boasting dozens of restaurants and fast food venues with typical Syrian choices on the menu, including shawerma, fattah and kebab halabi amongst others.
At every corner of the district, there are grocery shops selling Syrian goods including cheese, nuts and olive oil, not to mention dozens of confectionaries offering Syrian desserts including Konafa Nabulsiya and Halwa Al Jibn.
Like most of the restaurants in the district, Al Jinani has a simple outdoorsy setting on the sidewalk. We sat down to enjoy the sun and the cool morning breeze.
After the friendly waiter’s recommendation, we opted for a platter of regular Syrian foul (8LE), foul with milk (8LE), falafel (5LE), Tase’yee (10LE) and Mosabaha (7LE) – Syrian hummus – which were all served with a side of pickles.
Cooked with chickpeas, chopped tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil, our foul was quite flavourful with the garlic, parsley and lemon giving it just the right punch. The foul with milk had essentially the same ingredients as the regular foul, only with the addition of yoghurt and tehina and was even more flavourful than the first, with the tehina yoghurt twist perfectly complementing its components.
Unlike the Egyptian version, Syrian falafel is made out of chickpeas instead of fava beans, which gave it a lighter green colour and it was hot, crunchy and as delicious as any you’ll find in Cairo. With a texture similar to the tehina paste, our Mosabaha made with chickpeas was light, creamy and overall quite enjoyable.
The coup de grace, however, was the Tase’yee. Served with essentially the same ingredients we tasted in our foul – chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley and tehina – but without the foul and with the addition of fried bread pieces and margarine on top; though it was quite heavy, it was by far the highlight of our breakfast and we couldn’t get enough of it.
All in all, our breakfast experience at Al Jinani was quite delightful and as much as we think nothing can beat our good old Egyptian foul medames, we really enjoyed the distinctive Syrian flavours introduced in Al Jinani’s dishes. It’s an experience you’re likely to repeat more than once, especially if you’re a fan of Syrian cuisine.