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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!
Ramadan in Cairo has always revolved around the same customs; big family gatherings, late-night, post-sohour shisha, et al.
When it comes to sohour, foul, eggs, and white cheese are an instinctive go-to – easy, filling, no nonsense.
Despite ongoing objections at a perceived extortion with food that can be bought for a fraction of the price at any local eatery, Zooba has maintained a loyal following since its opening thanks to some of its creative takes on traditional Egyptian street food.
This Ramadan is no different, with the quirky restaurant serving up some special sohour items.
We opted for a Foul Ramadan Special sandwich (5LE), Egg and Barameely Cheese Hawawshy (10.50LE), Besara Hawawshy (9LE), and, for dessert, a jar of Mahalabeya with dates (12LE).
The Foul Ramadan Special uses diced tomatoes, pickled onions and cumin and while there was nothing particularly distinctive about the sandwich – other than a few too many pickled onions – it ticked the box of being hearty and filling.
The Egg Barameely Hawawshy, meanwhile, suffered similar problems. Essentially a sandwich, it was packed with eggs but was a little light on the cheese and overall under seasoned.
Besara, a lesser enjoyed Middle Eastern dish, is traditionally used as a dip of sorts – which is the route of the problem for the Besara Hawawshy. The ground fava bean concoction as pretty one-dimensional in flavour and was crying out for some sort of textural contrast.
As mentioned earlier, both the hawawshi options are rather misleading by name – but that may actually be a good thing. The bread tasted freshly baked and delicious, but had nothing in common with the greasy, charred characteristics of the traditional hawawshi.
Served in a small jar, Zooba’s Dates Mehalabeya was more impressive in packaging than in taste. While the Mehalabeya itself was creamy and surprisingly light, the taste was rather uneven in the sense that the taste of dates registered on the palate in varying degrees. The unevenness extended to the otherwise pleasant texture, too, with some spoonfuls being grainier than others.
The kitchen at Zooba should be commended for its unrelenting drive in pushing the boundaries of Egyptian food, no matter how subtly. Unfortunately, this year’s Ramadan specials are rather uninspiring.