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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.
The great thing about Lebanese cuisine is that it hits the spot. It strikes a fine balance of meats and carbs versus very tasty salads and appetisers, all se bursting with aromatic seasoning. With that in mind, we decided to stop by Olives in Downtown Katameya Mall for a quick lunch.
Having previously visited Olives way back when Downtown Katameya Mall was but centre of empty shop spaces, New Cairo as an area has grown tenfold in terms of popularity and, by extension, traffic. We wanted to see how the restaurant would handle itself with the added pressure, and if it could have possibly improved in that time as well.
The small indoor area is a little uninviting, so we decided to sit outside in the terrace. The maroon colour scheme, accented with orange wood coloured chairs, glass tables and the few plants lying around does well to break the grey monotony that the mall seems to have embraced.
A waiter greeted us when we approached the restaurant and showed us to our seat. He placed two menus on the table and then retreated giving us space to browse. The menu consists of all the usual Lebanese classics, from cold and warm mezzas and salads to the manakeesh and grill items. It also features some international items like pizzas and burgers, but we weren’t interested in those.
We opted for some Chicken Liver (25.85LE) from the appetisers, Boneless Chicken - Mesahab - (48.5LE) and a Mix Grill (64.85LE) from the main courses with sides of French fries and sautéed vegetables.
The Chicken Liver appetiser was served quite promptly. With a tasty and tangy sauce, were assuming contains molasses, the Liver was a definite success and had us eagerly awaiting the main courses, which were served very shortly afterwards.
The Mesahab dish was considerably large. The chicken was marinated and cooked well, and managed to retain a lot of juiciness. Additionally, the French fries were at a perfect crisp, but the sautéed vegetables were regrettably bland.
The Mix Grill, similarly, was decent in portion. Containing kofta, kebab and shish tawook, we were particularly fond of the kofta which was very flavourful. The kebab, while also marinated well, was a little overcooked and felt more chewy than needed. The shish tawook didn’t stand out.
With an all around good experience, we figured we’d try their dessert menu and went for an Oriental classic: Konafa with Cheese (23.85LE). While the layer of cheese and syrup was tasty but a little on the sweet side, the konafa was drenched and failed to maintain a decent crisp, ruining the texture ratio of the dish.
We enjoyed our experience at Olives, but be aware when sitting outside in a mall that it gets pretty loud. Besides that, it serves as a great spot to have a decently priced filling breakfast, lunch or dinner.