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Zooba: New Zamalek Restaurant Making Egyptian Food Trendy
Your daily doses of foul, taameya and koshary are found on pretty much every street corner in the city; in Zamalek though, they are a bit more difficult to come across because of all the sushi restaurants, cupcake shops and whatnot taking over. But there is good news for all out there who are craving typical, wholesome, Egyptian food in Zamalek. Newly opened Zooba, located on 26th of July Street, is possibly the hippest local food outlet ever.
Zooba, right next to Café Mex, is easy to spot with its bright blue doors and lovely display of flowers and plants. Zooba’s logo has two birds sitting together underneath an umbrella and can even be found on the tree in front of the shop. The restaurant has the coolest design we have seen in a long time –best described as ‘balady chic’. There is a self-serve fridge to the left as soon as you enter; in true Egyptian style Zooba only has water and fresh juices. Juice wise, you can choose from exciting mixes such as strawberry basil (12LE) and mango rosemary (13LE) that are packaged in delightful bottles. In the fridge there are also salads in shakers, such as lentil salad (13LE), or pick up some foul sprouts (5.50LE) or termis (5.50LE) to go. You can also pick up jars of olive labna (22LE), coriander besara (16LE) or tomato besara (16LE). At the other end of the shop is a counter with a selection of koshary, roasted sweet potato and soup. There are cute baskets you can use to collect your goodies in and while Zooba is essentially a take away place, you are welcome to take a seat at the community table if you prefer to eat there.
All the food at Zooba is prepared fresh and right in front of you. Feeling excited, we decided to go all out and try the beef kibda (28LE), hawashi (14LE), a large koshary (17LE), taameya (17LE), foul with tahina (15.50LE), lentil soup (11LE) and fried potatoes (4.50LE). All the food comes in funky coloured packaging with the name written in Arabic and English. The lentil soup came with baladi bread croutons and was deliciously creamy and tasted fresh and homemade. The koshary was delicious too and we managed to finish the entire bowl even though it was huge. The foul with tehina was tasty with a rich consistency; it was enjoyable but we did feel the tehina flavour was a bit lost. The taameya was very impressive; they weren’t over fried and the inside was soft and perfectly moist. The best thing though, without a doubt, was the hawashi. The meat was excellently grilled with perfect seasoning; the bread around the meat had the right amount of grease and we couldn’t help but order a second portion. The fried potatoes came in a newspaper cone, just like they have them in any local market.
The bread at Zooba is also worthy of a mention; apart from the regular bread they also have some that is baked with spinach or beetroot, giving each a green or red colour, respectively. We ended our dinner with roasted sweet potato that comes filled with equally roasted marshmallows (6LE) and as we expected, you can’t go wrong anything that contains marshmallows.
Everything about Zooba charmed us; the food is great, the staff is friendly and helpful, even the bathroom design is appealing with hilarious bucket-shaped sink and a mirrored wall inside the toilet. There is also good news for people with allergies, as the menus specify whether a meal contains dairy or nuts. Every detail at Zooba has been taken care of and we absolutely love them for that. Bravo!
It’s seems almost commonplace now, but when the Cairo dining scene was introduced to the likes of Zooba and Cairo Kitchen, there was mixed reactions to this new take on traditional Egyptian street food. Many bemoaned the prices of the kind of food you can get for a couple of LE, although the aforementioned restaurants found a market; the kind of diner that wouldn’t eat from a cart.
The trend went on to give birth to many other similar concept, one of which is the amusingly named Beef Fi Re3’eef. Taking this new approach to liver and sogok (Oriental sausages) and liver sandwiches and the like, the Mohandiseen eatery has quickly come to be popular – some even claiming that it offers the best hawawshi in Cairo. At the time of our visit, however, all the praise flattered to decieve.
The venue’s decor is quite simple. Three or four steps above sidewalk level, the first thing that grabbed our attention was the rustic blue floor tiling, which matched the brown and turquoise colour scheme. On your left and right are small foldable wooden tables decorated with a cactus plant pot. The back wall behind the counter is decorated with wooden shelves and more plant pots.
The menu is quite limited and all the sandwiches are the same size. We opted for Alexandrian Liver (7.50LE) and Turkish Sogok (7.50LE). We also opted for a Sogok Hawawshi (18.5LE) and fries (6LE). From the desserts, we landed on the Sakalans (9.50LE).
Straight off the bat, if your beef costs less than your chocolate and honey, there’s something very wrong. All the sandwiches, minus the Hawawshi, are served in fino bread – the same basic fino bread you can buy at any supermarket.
The Turkish Sogok was our favourite, but that’s not a testament to how good it is. With hardly any Sogok to be found in the sandwich, most of what we could taste was just bread, seasoning and onions.
The Alexandrian Liver was slightly more generous portion-wise, but in the flavour department, it was less than average, suffering the same faults as the sogok. As for the Sogok Hawawshi – the supposed highlight of the night – was gravely disappointing. The bread was burnt and the sogok stuffing was, somehow, lacking in flavour.
Maybe the Sakalans could salvage the situation. Nope. Differing only from the traditional cream, honey and halawa combination with the addition of Nutella, all you can taste is the bread – which is quite a feat considering the overload of sweetness in the filling.
That leaves only the fries, which, in fairness, were cooked to a pretty nice outer crisp and soft centre.
While the overall aesthetic quality of Beef Fi Re3’eef ticks all the boxes of the balady-modern trend, there’s very little here to keep someone coming back. Beef Fi Re3’eef is stuck floating in no man’s land between the cheap cart food and the restaurants that have made a success of the concept.