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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.
While new restaurants in Cairo are largely gunning for your tastebuds with new cuisines, Swiss food is rarely given the appreciation it deserves. However, Swiss Cottage in Maadi is one eatery that aims to provide it at its best.
Dimly lit and intimate, the restaurant is comfortably sized and the walls are adorned with decorations reminiscent of Switzerland. Taking our seats on padded chairs tucked underneath red clothed wooden tables, we were surprised to see New Year and Christmas decorations still hanging, even though it was the end of January.
In true European fashion, the welcoming staff are well dressed in black uniform; we were hastily brought menus by a bubbly waitress who advised us on its selections. The menu includes a pleasant variety that neither confuses, nor restricts.
As a staple of Swiss Cuisine, cheese fondue is served in four varieties; plain (125LE), tomato (130LE), cottage (140LE) and Swiss mushroom (150LE). There are also salads; green (15LE), Greek (20LE) and cottage potato (20LE).
The restaurant also naturally offers raclette; a native Swiss dish consisting of freshly melted cheese over potatoes accompanied with tomatoes, onions and pickles. Customers have the option of adding a dash of Swiss herbs and the dish comes as full (130LE) and half (70LE) portions.
We opted to share a Swiss cheese and Mushroom Fondue (150LE), before our appetiser of a Cottage Mix (45LE), and our main course of the mix table grill (95LE).
The cottage mix consisted of slices of smoked turkey, air dried beef Grison and salami; all of the quality cold cuts were fresh, flavourful and smoky.
The fondue was served atop a lit flame and we were brought a basket filled with cubes of white bread, made to be smothered in the bubbling mushroom cheese concoction using elongated forks. The Swiss cheese and mushroom combination was delicious; it was pleasingly bitter, but enhanced by the presence of fresh mushroom slices.
For our mixed grill, we were brought our own personal electric grill. After a plate filled with raw cuts of marinated beef, chicken, sausages and organic potatoes was laid in front of us, we clumsily began cooking. Our inexperience was quickly exposed when a piece of chicken went flying across our table - it was left on the heat until it got stuck.
Goofy cooking antics aside, the mixed grill tasted fabulous. The beef, chicken and smoky sausages were fantastic when combined with the selection of house sauces – garlic, curry, thousand islands and salsa. Full control of the cooking meant we could have our meat perfectly cooked to our own preferences; a novelty experience in Cairo.
The Swiss Cottage is an ideal spot for a romantic date or casual – but expensive – dining; it’s fun, cosy and the food is delicious.