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Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt.
Zooba: Adding Colour & Character to Citystars
Despite the increasing number of foreign cuisines that can be found across the Cairo dining scene, there's just something about the variety of strong, quite eccentric , flavours of Egyptian food that trumps all. Sometimes, all one wants is to please one's taste buds with some classics and Zooba is the perfect place for serving up exactly what we have been craving.
The third branch of the popular chain is located in the Mosaic food court in City Stars and is easy to spot from a distance, with its big, colourful, bright sign and overall unique appearance. Designed much like a contemporary street food eatery, the restaurant has no doors or walls separating it from the walkway. Adequately-sized, with quite a few tables to offer, worrying about not finding a seat there is rather unnecessary.
We took our seats and immediately made our way to the refreshments fridge to quench our thirst, opting for a bottle of Lemon Mint juice (13LE), which was quite zesty and refreshing. With a chalk board having all the dishes offered scribbled on it hanging over the kitchen and an open fridge showcasing a handful of dips, salads, desserts and drinks, the place feels quite homey and cosy like its other branches, despite its mall location. A stand holding multi-coloured loaves of Baladi Bread definitely caught our eye and added an exquisite touch to the already interesting place.
We made our way back to our table and our waiter immediately came by to take our order. For those that may not be familiar with Zooba, the menu offers all the Egyptian street food items you can think of; from Foul and Taamia to Koshari (and its healthy alternative) to Hawashi, sausages and liver options. From the array of dips, we opted for Beetroot Besara (21LLE), alongside small portions of Wholegrain Koshari (15.50LE) and Classic Koshari (13LE), Hawashi (18 LE) and a small plate of Spiced Sausages (21LE).
Our food literally took just a few minutes to arrive, much to our delight, and we began to dig in. The Beetroot Besara came in a moderately sized container, accompanied by a Baladi breadbasket and tasted quite delicious and dense. The Classic Koshari left us quite disappointed as it was, at best, average-tasting and lacked any oomph. Made with brown pasta and rice, the Wholegrain Koshari, was surprisingly delicious.
The Hawashi was the biggest let down of all the dishes; it was oily and small in size, unlike the the Spiced Sausages which came in an adequate portion and were bursting with flavour.
Zooba has become a staple for those that don't dare to delve into the more traditional purveyors of Egyptian street food, offering quick bites in a lovely setting. The whole feel of the place, with its funky design and choice of background music (we heard a few songs by indie Arab bands), helped set the mood and the dishes, with a few exceptions, tasted as delightful as they sounded.
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.