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Dokki, Cairo, Egypt.
The Yemen Restaurant: Waning Taste of Sana'a in Dokki
Located on a sleepy street in Dokki, the aptly named Yemen Restaurant has been a cult favourite on Cairo’s casual-dining scene for quite some time. Having closed down and renovated, we decided to check out if said cult following is still warranted. Now looking like a large cafeteria, the shiny tiled floor, metal seating and straight-to-the-point name is by no means a sign of laziness, but more a sign of economy – a theme that runs deep throughout the whole dining experience.
Small bowls of soup were rushed to the table almost as soon as we’d sat down; bowls that would traditionally be drank out of. Fortunately, the restaurant provides you with spoons. The meat stock soup, though pleasantly unassuming in taste, suffered the occasional slither of fat; a defect that is not for the weak stomached.
Ready to dig into something of more substance, we were informed that only a handful of the dishes on the menu were still available. Legend had warned us that we’d need to arrive early to be privy to all the dishes, but an 8PM dinner isn’t late by any stretch of the imagination in a city like Cairo.
We received a veritable smorgasbord of everything that was still available. First to arrive at the table were two large portions of Yemeni bread (3LE per one piece). Served hot, the bread isn’t too dissimilar to feteer or naan bread but was in no way greasy and held together pretty nicely.
Plates of liver (15LE), chopped meat (10LE), beans with eggs (6LE), vegetables (5LE) and salta (10LE) were served up as promptly as the soup was. Both the liver and chopped meat were cooked and/or served with the same mix of sliced vegetables, with the meat faring better than the liver, which was tasteless in comparison to Egyptian-made liver dishes. The meat was a little dry, but the accompanying fried peppers, carrots and other unidentifiable vegetables provided a much needed tenderness to the dish. The salta – also a mix of meat and vegetables – only differed in that it was drenched in a brown, meat stock sauce. It tasted no different.
Said vegetables also make up the mixed vegetables dish, with the only addition being slices of soggy potato. Just for the fact that they didn’t contain the same mix of vegetables as the other dishes, the beans with eggs stood out as the highlight. Served sizzling hot in a generous portion, the dish uses the beans as a mix of foul and a bean casserole. Although basically a mush of beans, tomato and boiled egg, the hearty dish was full of flavour and made for a great impromptu sandwich with the bread.
Though the staff members at the restaurant are quick as bunnies, they have no clue what the dishes are and are only able to repeat the ingredients of a dish when asked about them. The fact that there was only one variable ingredient between three of the dishes left us feeling a little short changed. Apart from the bread, we left the restaurant none the wiser to what Yemeni cuisine actually is.
Fast food restaurants in Cairo are aplenty, drawing in crowds of hungry customers. As a world-wide franchise, Chipstix have found success from offering various, fried fast food snacks; including their signature Chipstix skewers (10LE) – deep fried potato chips, spiralled and skewered on a stick.
In addition to their branch at Zamalek’s El Gezirah Club, one of their bright orange kiosks has recently joined the ranks at New Cairo’s Downtown Katameya Mall, offering shoppers carb-heavy goodies while they’re on the go. Set amidst the abundance of casual eateries, with no seating, takeaway is encouraged; eating while walking around a shopping mall struck as a little impractical, whilst sloppy packaging makes it difficult to carry home, should you wish to do so.
The member of staff serving us was unfortunately quite surly and unenthusiastic, taking his time to prepare our order. Notably, the staff were kitted out with disposable gloves, though neither the grills nor the deep fat fryers looked particularly clean.
According to their paper menus, the seeds for the potatoes used in their Chipstix skewers and fries are imported from Holland, negate the oil-absorption, therefore making them less greasy than usual potatoes after frying. Also on their menu is corn on the cob (12LE), fried chicken (14LE) or beef (11LE) corn dogs, and sweet options of baked chocolate (12LE) or waffle stix (11LE). Drinks are limited to sodas (3.50LE) and water (3LE).
The Chipstix skewers come in sixteen unusual savoury flavours, including seafood, Portuguese peri-peri and Worcester sauce. We opted for a more regular salt and pepper flavour (10LE), and watched as the staff liberally sprinkled the powder mix over our potato skewer. Fried with the skin left on, the potato was well-cooked to a golden brown with a strong salt and pepper taste. Promises aside – given the cooking method – a predictable amount of oil could still be tasted.
We also ordered a portion of crispy, thin-cut Chipstix fries (8LE) and delicious, fresh corn on the cob (12LE) doused in butter. Due to the unavailability of baked chocolate, we went for a waffle stix; prepared with a thick batter, the lashing of Nutella created a tasty, but unremarkable, sweet treat.
If you’re really hungry and need a quick, cheap snack, Chipstix offers an interesting, but unexceptional, twist on usual fried potato products.