Sign in using your account with
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.
Some restaurants in Cairo have developed a following of families who dine at the establishment every Friday – like a family ritual of sorts. The thing with these restaurants is, since the people keep coming back, it leaves room for the quality of food to fall.
One such case is Chili’s in Maadi; seemingly a pioneer in overcooked steaks. You’ll find it packed with families every Friday, despite its location in the terrible Bandar mall, and it has somehow managed to survive the economic crash and the uproar in Egypt, all while serving subpar food.
The venue itself has the usual cluttered Tex-Mex diner feel, with an additional outdoor area that’s far too hot in the summer. Seating will take you quite a while if it’s the weekend, and you can also expect long serving times.
Much to our dismay, we sat down after waiting for fifteen minutes. We dived straight into the menu to shorten our waiting time. From the appetisers we opted for a Fajitas Trio (82.99LE).
Arriving on a sizzling hot plate with onions and bell peppers, the dish contained beef, chicken and shrimp, accompanied with small tortilla wraps, sour cream and pico de gallo. Fresh off the bat, the chicken and the beef were so over cooked you couldn’t bite through them; the shrimp, on the other hand, tasted like it had been defrosted and, similarly, hard to chew.
From the main courses, we opted for a Southwest Ribeye (114.99LE) and Crispy Honey-Chipotle Chicken (52.99LE). Served with mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon bits, as well as sautéed vegetables, the Southwest Ribeye is said to have southwest seasoning and topped with seasoned butter. The steak was ordered medium rare, but what we got was a good two stages past well-done. So well-done, in fact, that you could taste neither the seasoning nor the butter; just charred, terrible tasting meat.
The chicken, however, was much better. Served with French fries and the honey chipotle sauce, it too was overcooked, though in a roundabout way, it worked to the dishes favour. The chicken had pleasing crisp to it, albeit a little too chewy, and the sauce was very tasty.
To top off a sad experience, we hoped a dessert could salvage the situation. We were wrong.
We ordered the Brownie Sundae hoping to get to some cold vanilla ice cream melting over chocolaty goodness. Instead, we got a stale, barely warm brownie. The vanilla ice cream wasn’t bad though; don’t be alarmed by its yellow colour though; that’s just the egg whites in the French vanilla recipe.
One can understand the appeal of Chili’s; a big menu of unfussy, filling food. But how it continues to enjoy such a level of popularity, unaffected by the country’s economic woes, is a mystery.