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Abbasiya, Cairo, Egypt.
Al Azhar Chinese Restaurant: Authentic Chinese Cuisine, Uyghur Style
True foodies are forever exasperated at the fact that most Chinese restaurants in Cairo serve a westernised version of the cuisine. Some Chinese students at Al Azhar University came to the same conclusion and opened up their own restaurant close to their dorms, where one can experience traditional Chinese food for great value.
The students are of Uyghur decent, a populace that is predominantly Muslim and therefore the food is ‘halal’ and pork-free. Al Azhar Chinese restaurant is very small and typifies its, ‘hole in the wall’ nickname. Finding it is quite difficult but if you follow our instructions you should be fine. Take Saleh Salem Road in the direction of Al Azhar Park leaving Heliopolis. Don’t take the flyover but stay underneath it. Halfway underneath the bridge and close to the tunnel, take a right. This street leads up to the Taki Mattress building. At the building, take a left into the street right across from it. Then, within two minutes, you will find the restaurant on your right hand side. It is identifiable by the Chinese characters on the signage.
Apart from not having an official name, it also lacks a toilet so make sure to go beforehand. The staff hardly speak English; they only speak a bit of traditional Arabic , as well as Chinese of course. The menu is made up of a Pharaonic photo album featuring pictures of the dishes; we have no idea about the actual names.
We opted for a random mix of the options, most of which were priced between 10LE and 20LE each, and ended up with beef, fish, chicken and tofu. In addition we also ordered several soups (also 10-20LE each). The soups were the biggest we’ve ever encountered in our lives and easily make for a meal on their own. The extremely spicy noodle soup with beef was particularly filling. The noodles were succulent and obviously homemade. The noodle soup is not for the fainthearted; it was super spicy and had us tearing up a bit. We also tried the beef broth which was very good although a bit on the salty side, resulting in a thirst that could only be cured by their delicious green tea.
The absolute best dish we tasted was the beef with garlic in a spicy tomato sauce. The meat was succulent and the flavours were fresh and well balanced. The fish was also prepared well and was covered with cumin – a popular herb in the Uyghur cuisine. The winning dish, however, was the tofu. It came prepared in a tomato based sauce and seduced even the strongest carnivore in our group.
In the end, we paid 249LE for a group of seven people. This price includes a few soft-drinks and tea. Overall, the restaurant is definitely worth a visit as it is quite the experience.
The general appraoch adopted by restaurants in Cairo is 'bigger is better'. However, it’s important to remember that good things come in small packages. Modest eatery, Six Bites in Mohandiseen, specialise in producing fresh finger-foods.
This curiously small, glass fronted venue is easy to miss. Despite giving the impression of being a catering company, the two fridges at the back of the shop contain a selection of both savoury and sweet pieces, ready to take away. In the instances of pre-ordering – which should be done a few days in advance – the menu boasts a wide variety of mini sandwiches and sweet desserts to choose from, whilst in person, we were able to point out which ones appeared most appetising. Prices are either per kg (100LE-200LE), per piece (2.5LE-5LE) or per ready-mixed platter (140LE-180LE).
Perfectly sized and attractively presented for party food platters, we ordered a variety of mini buns; from the straightforward chicken and cheese types, to the more adventurous seafood combinations. Made fresh daily, each bun-base was deliciously soft and fluffy, supporting the generous, flavourful fillings.
Our favourite had to be the creamy mozzarella and tangy dried tomato (2.5LE) combination, which tasted remarkably like a tiny pizza. Another delicious bite was the more unusual labna and thyme (2.5LE), which was both smooth and delectable. The smoked salmon was also thoroughly enjoyable, complete with a creamy filling, crunchy salad pieces and a small slice of lemon. Unfortunately, the blue cheese and walnut combination – although made with good quality cheese – was slightly too potent for our tastes, as was the adventurous white cheese sharkasia (2.5LE). Although assured of its freshness by the shop assistant, due to a slight greying of the meat, we were too nervous to try the roast beef bacon and lettuce (3LE) sandwich.
As for the desserts, each one was more scrumptious than the other. The chocolate tart was piled high with chocolate chips, while the inside was filled with a rich, creamy, chocolate paste. The blueberry pastry was filled with sweet cream, as were the seasonal fruit creations. The bitesized caramel and strawberry cheesecakes were exceptional and were wonderfully sweet, thick and creamy.
Despite occupying such a modest venue, Six Bites offer exceedingly good finger foods at more than reasonable prices, making them an excellent catering choice for any occasion.