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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.
Ever since its opening in Maadi, the Tap has been close to a phenomenon in Cairo, setting new standards for nightlife as a watering hole that serves great bar food and one that has also emerged as a great live music venue. In capitalizing on the Tap’s popularity, founder, Galal El Kerdani, revealed in March that the Tap East would be putting more of the focus onto the food, with a brand new, expanded menu – something we were eager to try.
Located in New Cairo’s Mohamed Naguib Street, inside Stella di Mare Compound, the Tap East is a large, colourful cosmopolitan venue with red brick walls, a large island-bar in the centre and a stage on one corner, with high tables, arcade games and a fantastic retro mural of the iconic Audrey Hepburn and rock star Jim Morrison adding the kinds of casual, playful touches that have become a trademark of the Tap.
One of the most talked about features of the Tap East, however, is the outdoor area, which is as close to a traditional beer garden as you’ll find in Cairo, boasting something close to a lively, schoolyard atmosphere, with wooden benches, dim lit red parasols and its own bar.
Unlike the Tap in Maadi, whose most popular dishes include bar-friendly eats such burgers, nachos and the all important wings, the Tap East’s menu is closer to that of a full-out restaurant, but still closer to gastropub food than that of fine-dining. We kicked things off with Fried Cheese Balls (54LE) as a starter to our meal, while opting for Provolone Chicken (84LE and Filet Black Angus (145 LE) as our main dishes.
Served in a small rectangular plate, our starter came as five small balls of hot, melted, gooey cheese, with a lovely crunchy breaded exterior, all perfectly complimented by the accompanying sweet chilli sauce.
Meanwhile, the provolone chicken dish was a little different from the traditional version, with the chicken being deep fried. The dish came in the form of two chicken breasts topped with mushrooms, provolone cheese, and served on a wooden cutting board with mashed potatoes and sautéed vegetables. The chicken was fried to perfection and well-seasoned, while the provolone cheese had a mildly sharp taste which complimented the chicken rather than overpower it.
The mashed potatoes side had a melt-in-your-mouth texture, though the sautéed vegetables were pretty insignificant as they were hidden under the chicken and were more like a garnish rather than an actual side dish.
Cooked medium well and served on the same signature cutting board as the chicken dish with the same sides, the 200 gm black angus steak had beautiful black grill marks and was perfectly juicy, delicious and boasted a deep smokey taste. It was a delicious piece of meat which was even greater with the accompanying brown mushroom sauce.
Our last stop before we went on our way was to try one of the Tap East’s signature burgers – a decision made when we were told that desserts weren’t available during the time of our visit. Served with perfectly seasoned and crunchy French fries and some chips, The Western Burger (68LE) came in brioche bread and was topped with beef bacon, lettuce, onions, melted cheese and BBQ sauce.Though the burger was fairly juicy and had all the right ingredients to be a great burger, the patty itself was closer to kofta, suggesting that there wasn’t as much fat as there should have been in the meat and that the patty itself was a little too compressed, not allowing what fat there was to trickle in and around it.
Despite the disappointment of the burger, the Tap East is by far the best venue of its kind in New Cairo; it takes the best features of the original branch of the Tap – live entertainment most nights, a great atmosphere as both a bar and a casual dining restaurant – and adds an elevated menu to the mix.