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Zooba: Homemade Fetar in Zamalek
Zooba’s head owner and executive chef Moustafa Elrefaey says he’s tired of fetar feasts that sell out on quality for quantity and lack attention to flavours and pairings. “You end up so full, you don’t know what you just ate,” he says. So in designing the special menu, the chefs at Zooba—all part owners involved in every aspect of the restaurant including its service, as Elrefaey proudly points out—focused less on variety and more on the comforts that make breaking fast a familial and communal affair.
The fetar meal (110LE excluding tax) is served buffet style, ladled by the chefs themselves, and consists of the day’s selection of soup, main dish, vegetables, rice, sides, salad, dessert, and beverage.
Our sampling started off with a tall mug of spinach soup enriched by hummus and lentils, a fresh farmer’s salad of coarsely sectioned tomatoes and onions spruced up with sprigs of cilantro and dill, and a new found favourite: a summer salad of watermelon and arugula tossed in with morsels of barameeli cheese. The salty, creamy white cheese marries well with the sweet, crisp cubes of melon and is consummated with the slightly bitter bite of arugula leaf.
Egyptian mainstays of pure comfort like chicken and molokheyya (the traditional, slimy green-leafed soup), sha’reya (snippets of vermicelli strewn in rice), and roqaq (minced meat layered between sheets of puff pastry) left us lining up for seconds. The chicken was braised in a tangy, red sauce, whose recipe Chef Yasser Ramadan was hesitant to divulge. “There’s vegetable stock, spices, you know, the usual stuff. But what makes it special is the love we put into making it,” he says.
Love or cayenne—whatever it is—the meat was tender through and through, and its sauce, delectable over mounds of perfectly cooked sha’reyya and ‘Zooba rice,’ an original concoction of cilantro-infused rice. Homemade potato and beetroot chips, not too oily and not too chewy, add a crunchy texture and the necessary dash of salt.
Tin cups of pure hibiscus or amar eldine (apricot) juice washed down our savory fare. On other days, renditions of other baladi drinks like kharroub, sobya, dom and tamr hindi are offered.
For sweets, Zooba maintains its local mandate, elevating the conventional Ramadan treats of konafa, baklava, and katayef. Made in house, the bite-sized pastries are delicate but intact; sweet but not cloying; and simply ambrosial. Our top toothsome picks are the date-filled konafa and all four variations of baklava: peanut butter, caramel nuts, subia and dried fruits. Boxes of assorted desserts are available, as well as painted bucket gift sets
of Zooba's artisan products.
Luckily during Ramadan, the narrow corridor extends outside to sidewalk tables, allowing more patrons to join the communal meal. But reservations are highly recommended. Set al fresco and lit by the warm, incandescent bulbs from the cafe’s distinctive sign, Zooba’s fetar keeps its promise: a festive spread of home-grown dishes in a chic, casual setting that compels us to break fast, but relish in piecemeal.
With plenty of new restaurants opening as fast as lightning and raising the bar for fine dining in Cairo, the interest in fast food venues is waning – even burger and pizza places are putting more focus on being gourmet. But, located on Zamalek’s busy 26th of July Street, roasted chicken specialist, Chick Shack, proves that the fast food concept is still popular in Cairo.
Not to be confused in any way with popular American chain, Shake Shack, the eatery’s name attracted some negative attention, but it all played into its publicity. The name is where the similarities end, though; Chick Shack stands out with a unique interior and playful vibe of its own. Some of its standout features include its ringed chandelier, an interesting choice of cold colours and a wall made of A-Treat soda boxes, not to mention the quirky staff uniforms made-up of buttoned-to-the-top shirts, grey trousers, suspenders and hats that Michael Jackson would have been proud of.
The menu is quite simple, with roasted chicken as the main attraction, though other items include Lasagna (34LE), Potato Wedges (8LE), or Tropical Salad (18LE) and can work as side dishes.
We started our meal with Shack Salad (28.50LE) as an appetiser, and as our mains, we went with Half Chicken Meal (55LE) and Chicken Cannelloni (27LE).
A mixture of grilled chicken, green apple cubes, corn, bell pepper, pomegranate and mayo dressing, the Shack Salad was an interesting concoction. We loved the tart taste from the green apple which worked well with the pomegranate and the sweet-corn, but the chicken itself was overcooked and very tough.
Now, let's move to what we actually came for: roasted chicken. Served with sautéed vegetables which had a remarkable garlicky flavour and possibly the best spicy basmati rice, which was cooked to perfection and bursting with Mexican spices, the roasted chicken was well-marinated and had a zesty flavour which popped in every single bite. However, the chicken itself was a little bit undercooked but definitely not raw, and even though it was very tasty, the skin wasn’t as crispy as we would've hoped.
We were worried about the ready-to-serve Chicken Cannelloni, but it was surprisingly tasty. Stuffed with chicken and peppers which had flavours similar to fajitas, the cannelloni was well-cooked and had a generous amount of cream parmesan cheese sauce. Sloppy presentation aside, the cannelloni made for a great vehicle for the chicken.
Overall, there was little to complain about at Chick Shack. The venue stands out as one of the healthier fast food places in Cairo; one that also boasts fantastic service, great staff and a friendly atmosphere. The only downside is that there are no desserts to speak of – but with the concept built on a ready-to-serve approach, maybe a soft serve ice cream machine would be a perfect fit. But that’s just us.