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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.
Having been used as a shooting location in TV series, I Want a Man, one would expect high-end Italian restaurant, Gabriel, to be something special. However, after a visit to its second branch on Heliopolis’ El Nozha Street, we’re not so sure.
With a spacious outdoor area comprised of colourful classical upholstered chairs and sofas (which are the exact replica of the aesthetic of Oriental restaurant, Waraa Enab, which is located inside of Gabriel’s Mohandiseen branch) and a two storey indoor area with the exact same black and gold themed décor of the first branch, Gabriel El Nozha certainly catches the eye.
Gabriel’s menu boasts a varied selection of dishes covering soups, pasta, steak, pizza and sandwiches. Skipping the starters, we decided to go straight for the mains, opting for Riagtoni Shrimp pasta (57.90LE) and Grilled chicken with curry sauce (69.90LE) served with two sides of our choosing from sautéed vegetables, fries, pasta or rice.
Twenty minutes after placing the order, our mains arrived hot out of the oven. Smothered in a smooth and silky curry sauce with a spot-on consistency, the chicken dish was comprised of three medium-sized pieces of tender to the touch and well-seasoned grilled chicken breasts. The only mishap to the toothsome dish was the two sides of undercooked sautéed vegetables and white rice.
Stuffed with plenty of seasoned shrimps and crispy fried calamari rings, the Rigatoni shrimp pasta was cooked al dente and covered with rich in flavour tomato cream sauce with a hint of garlic, basil and parmesan cheese that perfectly complemented the taste.
Craving something sweet after our dinner, we were disappointed that the only available dessert at the time of our visit was the chocolate brownie, which took one of the staff members over ten minutes to check its availability.
Already turned off by it being the only available option, the brownie cake came cold with a bland taste and no chocolate sauce. The only perk of this overall tasteless dish was the big scoop of vanilla ice cream topping the cake, which also wasn’t covered with any sauce.
We washed down the average meal with mango-kiwi flavoured shisha (40LE), the flavours of which perfectly mingled together; however, the ‘shisha guy’ didn’t tend to it promptly which almost burned the tobacco and lead to a loss in flavours after a short period of time.
We expected a lot more from Gabriel than what we found and, even though some items were well-executed, the mishaps we encountered during our visit overrode the positives.