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Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
Badawiya: Authentic Bedouin Cuisine at Citystars
Large, international chains on Cairo's restaurant scene generally take precedence over the slightly more unusual and traditional cuisines. However, with a huge marketing effort behind it, Badaweya – the Bedouin restaurant on the fourth floor of Citystars – has been causing quite a stir.
The restaurant has found itself a wealth of space, offering both indoor and outdoor seating areas. The charming decor is traditional, complete with ornaments, hanging rugs and impressive landscape photographs. Thankfully, uncomfortable floor arrangements and giant copper trays are nowhere to be seen, but instead, the solid wooden tables and deep chairs are both grand and comfortable. Furthermore, staff members are dressed in traditional Bedouin attire as they greet patrons with Arabian coffee and dates.
Unfortunately, we had to contend with TV screens showing Rotana Gulf, which snapped us back into reality every few minutes.
The menu includes a wide variety of rice, biryani, mandy, kabsa, maqlooba and fatta dishes. The meat section boasts lamb cut grills, as well as pigeon stuffed with freek and okra, molokheya and potatoes. Guests also have the option of creating their own meals by ordering meat or chicken by the kilo. Where desserts are limited to konafa with cream, drinks include rayeb milk, goat or camel milk and a selection of fresh fruit juices.
For special occasions, a separate menu offers whole lambs, with a selection of sides.
After an informative chat with a waiter well versed in Bedouin cuisine, he recommended we order an ouzi (calf) with biryani rice (99LE), with the addition of nuts and pine nuts (15LE) and a shrimp kabsa (99LE). We also ordered a tagine of molokheya (19LE) on the side, along with tahina, yoghurt and daqous – tomatoes with garlic and spices (5LE/each).
We came to learn the differences between rice cooking styles: biryani is yellow basmati rice with vegetables, whilst mandy is white rice with fried yellow rice added in, and Kabsa is made of red rice with black pepper.
Each dish was generously portioned and wonderfully cooked. Our grilled ouzi transpired to be tastefully lean calf meat, with flavourful, aromatic Bedouin spices. The kabsa, served with jumbo shrimp, had an incredible, unique flavour. Made with chicken soup, the molokheya tasted better than even the finest homemade versions.
Known for aiding digestion, we enjoyed a cold glass of slightly salty camel milk. Despite being the only dessert on offer, the konafa with cream tasted delicious.
With its reputation preceding it, Badawiya not only offers great service, but also delicious, high quality food derived from a largely unexplored sub-culture of food.
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.