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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.
You know those days when you just don’t feel like leaving the house? You know, when all you want to do is binge-watch while binge-eating? Well yours truly had one of those days recently, but instead of going for the usual fast-food options, we looked for somewhere with a little something extra – that’s when we decided to revisit Gringo’s Burrito.
Though not a dine-in restaurant, of course, Gringo’s Burrito has two deliver-only branches in Maadi and Mohandiseen, with plenty to choose from— from tacos, chips and dips to quesadillas and burrito bowls. Unfortunately, we received the order 30 minutes after the already indicated 60 minute delivery time –fast food? Not so much.
Nevertheless, we started our meal on a positive note with some Cheese and Black Beans Nacho (24LE); essentially crispy corn chips topped with decent amount of cheese, pico de gallo, and black beans – you have to option flour tortilla chips instead.
Flavour wise, the cheese sauce was delicious and the touch of coriander in the pico de gallo was on-point, but sadly, the crispy corn chips were very soggy due to the packing while the presentation wasn’t appealing at all.
We couldn’t order Gringo’s without trying their main specialty, the burritos, so we picked their Grilled Steak Nacho Burrito (58LE), which brought together pieces of grilled steak, crumbled corn chips, shredded cheese, black beans, cilantro-lime rice, pico de gallo, sour cream and a ‘special sauce’ wrapped in flour tortilla.
The steak itself was perfectly cooked and the rice had a perfect texture, but cilantro-lime flavours were undetectable and the corn chips and cheese were scarce, while the special sauce was lost against the overpowering sour cream. Overall, it was a good burrito, but we expected more from the flavours.
What’s a Mexican fiesta without Chili Con Carne tacos? Three crispy corn tortilla shells filled with chilli con carne, pico de gallo and melted cheese (45LE); the perfectly seasoned chilli con carne was bursting with Mexican spices.
Unfortunately, adding a layer of chilli con carne at the bottom made the taco shells soggy and broke it in no time – adding some melted cheese first or a bed of lettuce would’ve probably saved the day.
The last savoury item we tried was the Tinga Shredded Chicken Enchilada (55LE). Served with fluffy Mexican rice mixed with peas and a bold tomato flavour, the chicken enchilada turned out to be the Machaca Beef enchilada. Yes, we received a wrong order and it was quite dry and not as saucy or cheesy as enchiladas are supposed to be, despite the beef faving great flavours.
Rounding off the rather hit-and-miss experience, the Nutella Empanada (22LE) saved the day. The fried dough with crispy exterior and soft interior was very similar to donuts, was filled with a generous amount of Nutella and was quite delicious and simple.
As a Mexican cuisine specialist Gringo’s has always split opinion since it opened and our experience this time round brought up similar criticisms from previous experiences; the menu promises much in terms of bold flavours, but the packaging and the execution were quite sloppy and didn’t do the dishes justice – especially the tacos and nachos. Plus, nobody likes to receive their food an hour and half late.