Sign in using your account with
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.
When it comes to restaurants and cafes, there’s certainly no shortage of either. One of the latest to catch the collective Cairo 360 eye, is PepperS, which, located in the Almaza area, does a good job of standing out – largely thanks to its colourful exterior.
Surrounded by luminous greens and cosy outdoorsy tables, Peppers has an inviting atmosphere with a spacious indoor interior, various colourful pepper motifs on the walls and a huge blackboard for guests to show off their talents or leave a comment – as well as a made-to-order pasta station.
As soon as we were seated and handed the menus, we felt comfortable right away thanks to the excellent staff, who were consistently friendly, helpful and all-round cheery. After some thinking, we went for Beef Shawerma with hummus (18LE) from the starters section and Grilled Kofta (66LE) and Chicken Shawerma (46LE) for our mains. What’s interesting is that we had originally ordered the Beef Knuckle Fattah (69LE), but were advised to go for something else by the chef, who admitted that the beef knuckles he had in the kitchen at the time of our visit were not fresh – a sign of a committed chef.
Served with quarters of crunchy pita bread brushed with olive oil, the shawerma was well-spiced, tender and surrounded by hummus which was smooth, creamy yet thick enough to hold its texture. The entire ensemble was sprinkled with a couple of mint leaves as a nice finishing touch.
Moving onto the mains, the roasted kofta was extremely satisfying, coming as four thick juicy pieces of well-seasoned lamb kofta and a serving of steamed sautéed vegetables and French fries – which were a little over-fried, but not so much as to ruin what was an excellent serving of classic Oriental food. Topped with fresh red and green peppers and served ‘open face’ on a baked pita, the grilled chicken shawerma chunks tasted more like chicken fajita, though they were seasoned well and moist, with a serving of creamy and slightly lumpy mashed potatoes and some short-grain steamed white rice which was perfectly spiced.
Skimming the dessert section, which has some classics including Om Ali (36LE), Brownies with Ice Cream (39LE) and Cream Caramel (32LE), we opted for the latter. Covered with fresh whipped cream, caramel sauce and topped with fresh strawberries, the cream caramel had a golden colour and a creamy succulent sweet taste, though the serving was rather small.
We washed our meals with some refreshing lemon mint juice (18LE), which was quickly followed by kiwi and a blueberry-flavoured shishas (40LE and 35LE) which were tended to well.
On paper, PepperS doesn’t offer anything particularly innovative with its dishes, save for little touches like the open face shawerma. However, as common as many of their dishes are, they sure execute them well, which in itself is something to shout about.