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Downtown, Cairo, Egypt.
El Gahsh Foul: Baladi Food for the Tough Guys
The measure of the average Egyptian man is often his ability to ingest street food. The more baladi your street food of choice; the more street-smart credibility you gain. This explains the popularity of baladi eateries usually run by– and named after– men of questionable repute, like Zizo the Stinker, Abdo Contamination, Hamada International, Saad the Thief (really?) and Foul El Gahsh (Foul of the Mule- we assume this doesn’t refer to the owner).
While women are usually exempt from this test of toughness (based on the belief that the female stomach is too delicate for street food), this reviewer decided to embark onto the crowded streets of Sayeda Zeinab to prove that she too can be street-cool.
Foul El Gahsh & Sons (commonly known as Foul El Gahsh) is one of the best baladi foul places in Cairo. Located on a side-street next to the Mosque of Sayeda Zeinab, it’s literally just a stall on a street corner. No restaurant, no address, no phone number; nothing. Just keep the mosque on your right and walk down Port Said Street till it forks into a small side-street towards the right. El Gahsh will be on the corner of the first side-street on your left.
Don’t expect ambiance or cleanliness; El Gahsh is strictly about the food. Plastic tables and wooden chairs (with the eatery’s name carved into their backs) are laid out on either side of the street; and old newspapers serve as your tablecloths, and later on, as your napkins. Then again, you’re not here for the decor; you’re here for the foul, which comes in three variations: in vegetable oil, cotton oil or with butter.
Less than five minutes after ordering, your table will be served promptly with a tin bowl of foul, accompanied by bowls of onions in vinegar, pickled vegetables, green salad, fried eggplant and green peppers, and gargeer (rocket). A pile of baladi bread, a small bowl of diluted tehina and two plates of salt and chilli will also join the party.
It’s best to make a sandwich out of all the ingredients to mix up the flavours. The rich foul with butter pairs nicely with the green salad, while the gargeer works well as a palate-cleanser. The foul with butter is creamy and delectable, while the slightly healthier foul with oil can border on bland. For an added kick, order their taameya, which comes hot and satisfactorily crunchy on the outside, with a small, soft centre.
One bowl of foul with all its side orders is enough to send you into a happy coma; so bring a friend along if you have a small appetite. Also ask for their fried potato crisps or special potatoes, which are basic and very greasy French fries. Two plates of foul and one plate of taameya with all the trimmings will set you back a very cheap 16LE.
Whether or not you earn your street cred depends entirely on if you can digest this meal. Some tough guys have been coming back for years and would willingly sell their grandmothers for a share in the stall; others may suffer miserably for days after and swear off foul, food and listening to their male friends’ recommendations forever. Whatever your verdict may be, you should definitely try this stall’s creamy, delicious foul.
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.