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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.
There’s an intangible charm in simply walking through the roads and winding alleys of Downtown and Old Cairo that many simply become smitten with. It’s a charm that is becoming rarer and rarer around Egypt’s capital, but one that Cairenes have also become more appreciative of in the last few years. In Maadi, hidden restaurant, Harah 9, uses that as an inspiration and tries to recreate the feel of 1930s Cairo.
As soon as you step in, you will find the decoration of boxes engraved with stones, colourful carpets and antique wooden furniture will take you back to an Egyptian cafe from the 1930’s complete with a courtyard as well as two floors of indoor seating.
The interior reflects this mood using colourful carpets and antique – possibly faux antique – wooden furniture.
The menu is primarily built on classic Egyptian dishes and offers the likes of Kabab, Kofta, Tarb, Fattah and Molokhiya. We opted for Sambousak (25LE) from the appetisers as well as well as a Moza with Rice Casserole (85LE) and an order of Kofta and Veal Chops (100LE) for our mains.
We began our culinary exploration with a couple of drinks; a classic Lemon and Mint (20LE), a basic Orange Juice (22LE) and a slightly more peculiar Lemon and Kiwi (22LE). All three were noticeably fresh, with the lemon and kiwi being a particularly tasty combination.
Moving onto the food, we found the Sambousak to be fresh, hot and quite tasty, retaining just the right amount of crunch you would want it to. The Moza Casserole featured delicious seasoned rice, although you can have Fattah instead; unfortunately, the meat was cooked a little unevenly and left us in a game of Russian roulette.
The Kofta and Veal Chops, meanwhile, are served with your choice of rice, fries or vegetables. The Kofta was fantastic; cooked and seasoned to perfection, there was little to complain about. However, the Veal Chops didn not fare as well; they were extremely fatty and, essentially, difficult to eat.
For dessert, we wanted to try the Crème Brûlée, but we were told it was unavailable. Shelving our disappointment at testing the kitchen’s mettle at what is a notoriously tricky dish to pull off, we instead opted the gluttonous-sounding Sweet Potato with Caramel Sauce (30LE). Served in a cup with whipped cream, the dessert was hot and every bit as sweet and delicious as you’d expect. In fact, it was just as good when it became cold.
Harah 9’s staff were incredibly friendly – and patient to our indecisions and questions – and despite some faults with the foods, we left feeling satisfied with the dishes. As a whole, though, Harah 9’s decor and ambiance lends it better to being a cafe or hang-out spot..