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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
Café Riche: Historically Rich, Real Cappuccino
Built in 1908, Café Riche boasts a casual atmosphere laden with nostalgia and deeply entrenched with Egyptian historical significance. Long-time patrons have said that back in its bustling beginning, the café was quite the happening place for intellectuals and artists alike; mulling over endless cups of coffee as they discussed life’s philosophies and politics. Rumour also has it that in 1952, Café Riche was where Abdel Nasser’s regime planned their coup that would soon overthrow King Farouk’s rule.
With history in tow, the café itself is a historical landmark among many in the area, located between Tahrir Square and Talaat Harb Square on Talaat Harb Street. Once you scurry off the busy street and slide through its humble entrance, you’re quickly greeted by friendly staff dressed in traditional garb. Enjoy the café’s eclectic mix of patrons engaging in different activities like reading books, holding meetings, or catching up with friends.
In the narrow main corridor, local artwork lines the walls while the charming table arrangements are composed of the ever-common tiny wooden chairs, checked red and white tablecloths, and as a plus, high quality cloth napkins. Simple, glossy flower vases grace the centre top, complete with one single, fresh flower; tying in a cosy, personal touch. While an adjacent room is just next door, its green fluorescent lighting gives off a strange feel.
They offer a full-scale menu including a variety of espressos, coffees and fresh juices. While the lemon juice (10LE) wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, the cappuccino (12LE) was satisfying with a surprisingly sufficient amount of foam. The mint tea (8LE) came as a sweet arrangement of your own kettle, providing enough water for a few cups. If mint is your thing, you should be pleased; as the mint literally filled the kettle with freshness and a powerful punch of flavour. Beers are also offered, which is rare for a café, with both Stella and Heineken available for 13LE.
Salads, including your traditional Greek, run around 7LE. Chicken platters including shish tawook and similar dishes are offered.
From its historical and convenient location to the tasty, decently priced drinks, Café Riche is definitely the place to go for a relaxing drink or two with friends, or an afternoon spent reading that book you’ve been dying to finish.
There’s a copycat phenomena in Egypt when it comes to restaurants. Where the origin comes from is unknown, but for some absurd reason, half the shawerma vendors in Egypt are called Abu Mazen, and the other half are called Abu—insert random male name here.
Shawerma isn’t the only type of food that suffers from this phenomenon, Mandi, the Yemeni equivalent of Fatta, made from chicken or lamb suspended in a special kind of oven and served with rice, is originally from the Yemeni city of Hadramout, and so it has been doomed for the rest of existence that any restaurant ever to serve Mandi in Egypt will call itself Hadramout—even though Mandi is also common in Sana’a, but whatever.
In Maadi, one of the many replicas is called Hadramout El Horreya, located near El Horreya Square. The menus in these restaurants are identical, there are chicken, lamb and ties options and they can be cooked either with the Mandi method—steaming the meat and rice with spices, nuts, and fruits— or the regular grilled method called Mazbi.
The restaurants themselves are usually either take-out or offer a very unimpressive dine-in experience. This was no exception; the small venue is decorated with unsettling pink wallpaper.
We opted for a Half Mandi Chicken (27LE) and Kabsa with Meat (52LE). Serving time was rather slow, but seeing as how it’s slow cooked food, we weren’t bothered. The seasoning usually gives Chicken Mandi a pinkish hue, so if you’re trying Mandi for the first time, don’t be alarmed. The problem wasn’t the colour but rather the flavour, or lack thereof.
The tasty yellow basmati rice lacked any dried fruit or nuts, which was disappointing, but it was served with a spicy mixture of tomatoes, pepper and onions (think pico de gallo put in a blender) that gives the rice a whole new dimension of flavour.
The Meat Kabsa was a different story, made with flavorsome lamb meat that when cooked slowly takes away the chewiness of lamb that most find unappealing. The meat ended up tender and bursting with flavour, while the basmati rice with the kabsa featured raisins and the same spicy tomato mixture.
All in all, the experience was decent food wise, but unimpressive dining wise. The staff is friendly but no amount of good service can make up for an unpleasant venue. The prices, on the other hand, are very affordable which makes a decent meal of real food a reality in a region of Cairo that focuses more on exotic and quirky cuisines. They also offer to cook lamb, turkey and ties for you, as is customary with all the other Hadramouts.