Sign in using your account with
Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
El Owda: Palestinian Restaurant in Nasr City
Traditional Palestinian dishes are not easy to come by in Cairo restaurants, but El Owda – a family business run by Gazans – serves up the region's specialties with meticulous attention to detail and gracious service.
Nestled on a quiet street in Nasr City, the restaurant has a modestly elegant and clean outdoor dining area framed by green plants and trees, and a logo featuring Jerusalem's gold-topped Dome of the Rock Mosque. There are a few tables inside, but the outdoor area is much more spacious, with half a dozen tables that are set far enough from each other and from the street to ensure comfort and privacy. Traffic is quiet and the atmosphere is relaxed.
We came for the delicious falafel sandwiches (1.50LE), which were made the Levantine way, with chickpeas instead of the fava beans, as used in the Egyptian version. We stayed to order a smorgasbord of various dishes we couldn't resist.
"Whatever your eye desires", the Palestinian waiter told us after taking the order.
The falafel sandwiches were crisp and slightly lighter and tangier than the Egyptian taameya. The sausage sandwiches (3LE) were made with finely-minced beef that is so soft that it melts in your mouth and the spinach sambousek (2.50LE) were crunchy on the outside with a chewy and hearty filling. Other options on the menu included minced meat, oregano and cheese sambousak, at 3LE each.
The side dishes at El Owda are the stars of the menu, rather than an afterthought to a meal. The green salad, which looked like an unassuming pile of tomatoes, cucumbers and spring onions, was spectacular. A vinaigrette dressing with a hefty dose of garlic and a hint of cumin brought out the freshness of the vegetables and gave them an extra kick.
Good hummus isn't easy to come by, and we are mostly forced to buy it in cans from a supermarket and mix it at home. At El Owda, however, we ordered two different delicious varieties to eat with pita bread (baked off-site) and satisfy our craving. At 7LE each, the regular hummus was creamy with a dash of olive oil, while the misabahah version was chunkier with a slightly fuller flavour.
After the meal, we could hardly move, but got up anyways to buy a jar of Sinai olives, said to have a similar flavour to the world-famous Palestinian olives. Pickled vegetables were also available to take-away from the sparklingly-clean kitchen. They ranged in price from assorted pickled vegetables for 5LE, to pickled eggplant stuffed with nuts or makdous, for 40LE.
El Owda, or "the return" in Arabic, is named after the principle that says Palestinian refugees and their descendants have a right to return to what is now Israel. Although that possibility might seem like a pipe-dream to many, this little restaurant in Cairo is sure to bring back at least a taste of home to the refugees who know its flavours and introduce many Egyptians to this tasty cuisine.
Levantine restaurants have blown up over the past few years in Cairo, but finding a good one isn’t always easy; there are so many, including local ones, which end up being a pale imitation at best.
Abu Youssef, on the other hand, is a pure Syrian restaurant, starting from the management to the chefs both inside the kitchen and on the shawerma grill outside, only leaving the waiters as locals. Hidden in Hegaz St in Mohandiseen, the venue is almost always full and even a few celebrities have been spotted dining there.
After taking our seats in the indoor dining area, we looked into the menu and ordered the Taboula (10LE) and Mesabaha (Syrian Hummus paste) (10LE) as our cold appetisers, alongside the Grilled Kobeba meal (35LE),the Shawerma Extra (40LE), Large Tawook meal (45LE), and half grilled chicken (40LE) for our main dishes.
About Twenty minutes later, we saw our waiter coming with almost all of our main dishes, as well as the grilled kobiba which came with fries, tomeyah and pickles, while the grilled chicken came with an extra mesabaha and a green salad.
After being overwhelmed with the number of plates in front of us, we started with the cold appetisers first; the mesabaha, which is basically a hummus paste, was drizzled with some olive oil keeping it light and smooth, while bursting with rich flavour which made us hurry for the next bite.
The taboula, meanwhile, was a green sensation; rich with a zesty and refreshing flavour, the salad had a good mix of parsley, mint, bulgur and onion with some chopped tomatoes topped with lemon juice and olive oil giving it a flavourful taste.
The Grilled Kobeba Meal came as four burger bun-sized pieces with fries alongside some green salad and pickles. The kobiba itself was very well cooked with a slightly crunchy outer shell and juicy minced beef filled interior, which was bursting with flavour, with a light spiciness that gave it an extra kick.
The Shawerma Extra meal comes with a plate of pickles, tomeya and fries, with the tomeya having a great garlicky taste and smooth texture that worked well with almost everything on the table. The fries, too, had a unique homemade seasoning that gave them the push they needed.
As for the Shawerma itself, it was in a rectangular form cut into six pieces; what makes this sandwich unique, however, is the addition of mozzarella and mushroom – the ‘extra’ part – which works strangely well considering it’s almost unheard of here.
The large Shish Tawook meal came with fries, tomeya and pickles similar to the previous plates, but had the addition of bread covered with chopped arugula and a salsa-like sauce which gave the bread an extra punch.
Coming on three skewers and cut into five medium sized pieces, the well-spiced shish tawook is made of chicken breasts rather than thighs, which gave them more flavour. The only downside, however, is that it was a bit dry, though that was easily solved with the pickles and the toumeya.
The Half a chicken grilled, on the other hand came, with almost everything mentioned before, the bread, salad, mesabaha, tomeyah, pickles and fries (with the option to change it to rice if required).
Grilled on coal, the chicken was tender and had an earthy flavour to it with smoky aftertaste; it was cooked well yet remained juicy, while the restaurant’s in-house spices gave it a unique edge over traditional Egyptian grilled chicken.
Although the staff were either hard to find or overwhelmed by the amount of diners, in the end the experience was a great one for one simple reason: great food that left us stuffed and struggling to make our way to the exit.