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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.
Asian cuisine has found itself a comfortable place in the hearts of many Cairenes. There’s hardly a mall or a food court without either a Chinese, Thai, Indian or even a Korean restaurant, not to mention surge of Sushi restaurants across the capital that are now almost as common as kabab and kofta.
Naturally, these Asian restaurants have managed to flourish, and some chose to expand beyond malls and food courts, as with our latest example Asian Corner.
Located in Ismailiya Square in Heliopolis behind the Salam Shopping Centre, small road signs will guide you into a quiet back road. The restaurant has a chic glass facade and its interiors are nothing like its other branches. Modern decor with light wood, ambient lighting, different seating areas with chairs and couches and bar stools make for a pleasant and warm atmosphere, far from the bustle of malls and food courts.
The menu consists of a check list where you choose your dishes and hand it back to the waiter. With options including everything from fish to duck to desserts, and a separate sushi menu, we were set.
The food started arriving about 15 minutes after we ordered. From the appetisers, we opted for Shrimp Konafa (39LE) served with garlic and coriander. From the main courses, we chose the Yaki Tori (44LE) and Spicy Beef with Potatoes (45LE) accompanied by Vegetable Noodles (20LE) and Nasi Goreng (32LE).
The beef was thinly sliced and topped with bell peppers, onions, cabbage, soy sauce and potato cubes. It was mildly spicy, but the beef was slightly undercooked.
The Yaki Tori, a chicken teriyaki dish, was delicious and executed brilliantly. The chicken breasts are thick-cut and made with honey, sesame seeds and sweet soy. Unless you specifically dislike sweet and sour, the Yaki Tori is the dish for you.
The Nasi Goreng – fried rice with shrimps, eggs and vegetables – is one of the best dishes on the menu, simply because of its huge portion and generous amounts of toppings. The vegetable noodles are decent in portion and made with bell peppers and cabbage. Our order was lightly low on salt, but that’s intended for you to adjust salt to taste.
We enjoyed our experience, and enjoyed the portions and great service, but we would like to see ready meals in the menu as many customers were confused by assembling the meal, and each entry having its own price.