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Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
Hamam We Sman: Traditional Egyptian Restaurant in Heliopolis
With so many restaurants in Cairo elaborately expanding their menus to adapt to fads and trends, it's often refreshing to come across the simpler, more traditional eateries. One such place is Hamam we Sman in Heliopolis, who, with the exception of a few vegetable and poultry tagines, offer pigeon and quail dishes. The restaurant is elegantly decorated and modestly sized and exudes a vibe reminiscent of restaurants around the Al Hussein area.
Upon arrival, we were happily welcomed by the staff, who guided us to one of the few tables in the restaurant. Our first impression was one of concern; being the only customers and with limited staff, the restaurant felt deserted.
The menu is pleasantly varied without deviating far from the restaurant's specialties. Soups such as pigeon, creamy chicken and orzo were available, with prices spanning from 5LE to 20LE. Main courses, such as rice-stuffed pigeon or quail, range from 50LE to 68LE. Amongst other options, tagines include okra with meat (25LE), molokheya (15LE) and cow-tail (65LE). A variety of sides include stuffed vine leaves (20LE), hawawshi (20LE), samosas (20LE) or rice mix (6LE), while oriental salads such as tomato salad, baba ghanoug and tahina (5LE each) were also available.
When it came time to order, we opted for stuffed pigeon and grilled chicken (50LE) with a plate of rice and nuts (6LE) and a plethora of salads. Around ten minutes after placing our order, we were served with complimentary dishes of molokheya made with pigeon soup and some flavoursome stuffed vine leaves. Both dishes were delicious, instantly and completely diminishing any doubts we might have had on account of how empty the restaurant was. Perfect for dipping, the salads were also flawless.
The stuffed pigeon mains were incredible; from the outstanding marinade to the peppery stuffing, which managed to avoid the usual sloppy texture. Though a pair of pigeons here are expensive, the cleanliness and the skill of the chef certainly makes them worth the money. In comparison with the rest of the food, the chicken dish was acceptable, but no more than mediocre.
Our only complaint was directed towards the waiter who insisted on standing too close to our table throughout the meal; this made us feel uncomfortable and overly attended to whilst we got stuck into a very messy meal.
Despite poor first impressions, the quality of food and hospitality from the staff at Hamam we Sman left us feeling like we'd had a fabulous home cooked meal.
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.