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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
El Dessouki: Quick Egyptian Meals in Zamalek
When it comes to dining in Cairo, Zamalek is the go to hub of restaurants. With so many of the newer restaurants aiming to bring something new to the market, good local cuisine is becoming harder to find. However, unswayed by the contemporary shift, the long-standing El Dessouki continues to serve Egyptian food as it has done for the past 70years.
Tucked away in a quiet alleyway behind Sufi, the outdoor seating area is strangely cosy, with basic plastic chairs and table-clothed tables.
Shortly after being seated, we were approached by a waiter with a profuse sense of typical Egyptian humour. When asked for a menu, he jokingly insisted that he was so well versed in the restaurants dishes that there was no need. He then proceeded to list everything they offer in quick succession.
Traditional Egyptian dishes are available including rice akawy with kidneys, molokheya (7LE), torley (7LE) – a vegetable mix with salsa – pan fried chicken (48LE), beef (30LE), black eyed peas (7LE), pasta béchamel (7LE), spaghetti (6LE), penne (5LE) and mooza (30LE) – tender, fatty thigh meat – amongst many more choices. Balady salad, baba ghnaoug and tehina are also on offer (2LE each).
We ordered one dish of rice, black-eyed beans, salad and dips along with pasta béchamel, half a pan fried chicken (24LE) and a plate of kabab hala (30LE), or pan cooked meat. Everything is pre-prepared and in no time we were enjoying Egyptian cuisine at its best. The pasta béchamel was a generous portion of penne pasta, prepared with a thick layer of cream and topped with flavourful salsa. The rice and black-eyed peas were a delicious combination, especially with the thick salsa sauce covering the beans. The salads were delectable, fresh and crunchy; the balady salad consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and, much to our delight, plenty of onions. While the tehina was smooth and topped with a decent shot of vinegar, the baba ghnaough had a strong eggplant flavour and was surprisingly spicy.
Unfortunately, Dessouki don't offer grilled chicken – strictly fried. None the less, the juicy chicken was served hot, and peeling its crunchy skin made it all the more palatable. Slightly bland in comparison to the chicken, the beef was served in soft chunks, topped with a light gravy. Aside from the salads, everything served here is both greasy and a little too salty.
Grease aside, Dessouki offers a great, no-frills, traditional dining experience at moderately low prices, in arguably the most expensive neighbourhood in the city.
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.