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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.
Recently opened, Lettuceat in Zamalek is already proving itself to be a real contender in the realm of healthy eating in Cairo. Banishing the notions of bland salads, Lettuceat aims to combine succulent meats to fresh greens and delectable vinaigrettes, creating masterpiece meals from fresh ingredients.
The small restaurant’s sparkling glass front shows off the white, sterile interior while a single dining table invites patrons to eat in –although take-away or delivery may be the preferred option.
An open-fronted refrigerator shows off Lettuceat’s own brand of healthy spreads, ready-mixed vinaigrettes (15LE-22LE) and fresh, sweetened juices. Perfect as either dips or sandwich spreads, the potted flavours include tomato bruscetta (20LE), tuna paste (30LE), foie de volaille – or chicken liver pate (35LE) - baba ghanouj (20LE) and more. A range of unusual fresh loaves of bread are also available; from standard white French baguettes to multigrain loaves (8LE-11LE) as well as different types of olive bread (3.5LE-13LE).
Using fresh ingredients, the juices include strawberry, mango, guava and orange (8LE-8.5LE). We went for one bottle of strawberry and one guava juice, both of which were delicious, perfectly sweetened and sporting real fruit pieces without the drink being too thick.
The menu is a colourful representation of their exotic salad dishes. As well as an ‘authentic’ Greek Salad and both chicken and shrimp variations of the Caesar salad (46LE-54LE) there are also some more unusual concoctions, such as the smoked duck treat (57LE) and a 'rich tuna' Nicoise (52LE). They even offer a pasta salad –Italy's Finest (38LE).
After much deliberation, we opted for one Delish Tuscan (49LE) – a salad of watercress, cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, parmesan and cashews, topped with balsamic dressing. We also chose a tomato, cucumber and lettuce based Mexican Delight (49LE); a tropical-sounding mixture of marinated grilled chicken, carrot, onion, sweet corn, red kidney beans, cheddar cheese and red peppers with a zesty ‘Mehico’ dressing.
Expecting a small side-dish of sorts, we were pleasantly surprised at the generously sized salads we were presented with moments later. Each one was presented with a personal sized loaf of flavourful, wholemeal bread which were crispy and covered with seeds on the outside but brilliantly soft on the inside. The Delish Tuscan was served with a side of crispy croutons whilst the Mexican Delight came with a small handful of crunchy tortilla chips.
As Lettuceat’s slogan suggests; both our salads were fresh and ‘delish’. The interesting choice of ingredients complimented one another perfectly and presented a palette of different flavours whilst the vinaigrettes remained delicious but subtle, so as not to overpower the salads themselves. The balsamico dressing was a perfect blend of oil and vinegar, seasoned with a small amount of herbs and although we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was in the ‘Zesty Mehico’ dressing, it was surprisingly sweet and tangy, just as it’s name inferred. The sliced chicken chunks in the Mexican salad were generous, well-sized, moist and excellently cooked; delicately flavoured by the tikka-style marinade.
Not wanting to ruin our healthy meal, we had difficulty not ordering one of their delicious-looking pavlovas (21LE) or smooth granola desire (25LE) complete with fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola. If their salads were anything to go by, we’d dare to suggest that either of these desserts would be equally as - if not more - scrumptious.