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Dokki, Cairo, Egypt.
Arij: Cheap & Delicious Sudanese Food in Dokki
For weeks we’d heard rumours about an elusive Sudanese-Ethiopian restaurant somewhere in Dokki that serves delicious food. We immediately took to the streets asking every possible soul if they had ever heard of it. It was almost like treasure hunting. Naturally though, the best part comes when you find your treasure and are eagerly awaiting your dishes.
Arij is an Eastern-Sundanese restaurant located close to the Dokki Metro station on the tiny El Nagar Street which is easily locatable by Hassona. Geography buffs will of course know that Sudan shares a border on the east with Ethiopia, and so culture and cuisine has inevitably seeped over the borders. It’s a typical no frills, hole-in-the-wall type of place with plastic chairs, randomly placed tables and a television on high volume. When we asked the waiter for a menu he instead brought us Om Mohamed who is their version of a menu, as well as the master chef. We made some haphazard requests and were promised something special.
It took a while for the food to arrive which is always a good sign because it probably means it’s freshly prepared. When Om Mohamed finally returned with our plates, we were on cloud number nine. We were crazy about the rigla, which is a spinach dish; it was a little spicy and the fresh spinach was well prepared. We also devoured the salata aswad, which had eggplant and sesame seeds. It tasted like something in between tehina and baba ghanoush. We got a taste of Ethiopian cuisine with the zeghni. It was beef in a spicy sauce with a touch of tomato. Even if you are not a fan of spicy food you should try this. We also had the faneya patatas; a potato and minced meat dish. The potatoes were deliciously flavoured and boiled to perfection – where their consistency was neither too mushy nor too hard. Just when we thought we had all the best dishes, Om Mohamed came out with a plate of sheya lamb. It was hands down the best grilled lamb we had in a long time. Eat your heart out France, Italy and all other countries famous for their lamb dishes. The Sudanese know how to rock lamb. The best part though, was that the food was presented on pancake-like bread; it was very light with a nice tanginess to it. The bread functions as a plate, so essentially, you are eating your plate.
Although we had to hunt it down, our visit to Arij was absolutely worth it, especially as we ended up paying just 120LE for all the food we listed above. We also received side dishes with green salad and lots of bread. Paying 120LE for a group of five for all this delicious food is absolutely a unique experience in this city.
When Zamalek institution, La Bodega, closed down at the beginning of 2014, it left a hole in many a heart. While a beachside iteration has since popped up on the North Coast during Sahel Season, its closure has certainly left a gap that not even its replacement, the phenomenal U Bistro, has been able to quite replace in the same way.
But remnants still remain in the form of sister venue, Aperitivo, located on the same floor of the same building. It’s by no means similar in appearance or, one could argue, atmosphere, but La Bodega regulars have adopted it as a replacement and the spirit is very much cut from the same cloth. For those not familiar with Aperitivo, the bar and restaurant maintains a classic element in its décor and design (think wood and glass cabinets displaying various piece of crockery and ornaments) while also using various more modern pieces (the chandeliers are very cool).
Divided into two sections – the bar and the restaurant proper – there isn’t a lot that will jump out at you in its appearance; but that’s the best way to be for a venue of this standing – demure and unpretentious.
There’s been something of a revolution happening at Aperitivo as of late, including the launch of a new menu; one that walks the line between high-end culinary delicacy and the kind of wholesomeness you get with bistro food.
The concise but varied menu covers soups, salads, meat and poultry dishes, as well as pastas and seafood, which is where we began our evening.
We rarely give up the opportunity to try a dish with scallops in it – not only because it’s a rare commodity in Cairo, but because it’s also often mishandled, which felt like the case with Aperitivo’s seared scallop starter (155LE). While it was a creative and enticing dish, the scallops were slightly overcooked, the accompanying black truffle was too little, though the spiced apple puree that also accompanies the dish gave a pleasant sweetness to every bite despite tasting more like a beetroot puree. Meanwhile, four sticks of asparagus were cooked and seasoned perfectly, while a faint balsamic reduction did little to elevate the rest of the ingredients.
Among the menu’s salads, we were seduced by the camembert salad, which brought together generous chunks of deep-fried camembert cheese together with mixed greens, roasted pears, sundried tomatoes and walnuts. The greens were fresh, the sundried tomatoes added a sweet acidity to thick, pungent cheese and the walnuts gave the whole dish an earthy touch. However, the pears were undetectable, which is a real shame as it could have been the ingredient that brought everything together.
While various mains are included in the new menu, we decided to test the kitchen’s mettle with meats. Despite being served with far too much uncooked fat, a medium-cooked sirloin steak (150LE) was full of flavour and served in a very big portion, alongside some perfectly made oven baked vegetables. Our second dish, the roast veal fillet, was also of a noticeably good quality and served in a large portion, though it was unevenly cooked, meaning some pieces were a little tough and others had a perfect pink interior.
Unfortunately, there was not much else to talk about with the mains, despite the menu promising more; the veal dish, for example, should come with roast pumpkin ad soft polenta, but both were missing from the plate, as was the roasted garlic on the steak dish.
This, actually, defined our meal; what we were served was well-made, but with so much missing from both mains – as well as the missing pear from the salad – severely dwindling what promised to be a fine evening of fine dining. Would we go again? Absolutely – the new menu reads fantastically; but maybe the kitchen needs a little more time to perfect it.