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Mohandiseen, Cairo, Egypt.
Beef Fi Re3'eef: Traditional Egyptian Street-Food in Mohandisseen
It's seems almost commonplace now, but when the Cairo dining scene was introduced to the likes of Zooba and Cairo Kitchen, there was mixed reactions to this new take on traditional Egyptian street food. Many bemoaned the prices of the kind of food you can get for a couple of LE, although the aforementioned restaurants found a market; the kind of diner that wouldn't eat from a cart.
The trend went on to give birth to many other similar concept, one of which is the amusingly named Beef Fi Re3'eef. Taking this new approach to liver and sogok (Oriental sausages) and liver sandwiches and the like, the Mohandiseen eatery has quickly come to be popular – some even claiming that it offers the best hawawshi in Cairo. At the time of our visit, however, all the praise flattered to decieve.
The venue's decor is quite simple. Three or four steps above sidewalk level, the first thing that grabbed our attention was the rustic blue floor tiling, which matched the brown and turquoise colour scheme. On your left and right are small foldable wooden tables decorated with a cactus plant pot. The back wall behind the counter is decorated with wooden shelves and more plant pots.
The menu is quite limited and all the sandwiches are the same size. We opted for Alexandrian Liver (7.50LE) and Turkish Sogok (7.50LE). We also opted for a Sogok Hawawshi (18.5LE) and fries (6LE). From the desserts, we landed on the Sakalans (9.50LE).
Straight off the bat, if your beef costs less than your chocolate and honey, there's something very wrong. All the sandwiches, minus the Hawawshi, are served in fino bread – the same basic fino bread you can buy at any supermarket.
The Turkish Sogok was our favourite, but that's not a testament to how good it is. With hardly any Sogok to be found in the sandwich, most of what we could taste was just bread, seasoning and onions.
The Alexandrian Liver was slightly more generous portion-wise, but in the flavour department, it was less than average, suffering the same faults as the sogok. As for the Sogok Hawawshi – the supposed highlight of the night – was gravely disappointing. The bread was burnt and the sogok stuffing was, somehow, lacking in flavour.
Maybe the Sakalans could salvage the situation. Nope. Differing only from the traditional cream, honey and halawa combination with the addition of Nutella, all you can taste is the bread – which is quite a feat considering the overload of sweetness in the filling.
That leaves only the fries, which, in fairness, were cooked to a pretty nice outer crisp and soft centre.
While the overall aesthetic quality of Beef Fi Re3'eef ticks all the boxes of the balady-modern trend, there's very little here to keep someone coming back. Beef Fi Re3'eef is stuck floating in no man's land between the cheap cart food and the restaurants that have made a success of the concept.
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.