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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
La Bottega Italiana: Pasta, Pasta, Pasta!
For some cooks, it’s all about authentic and fresh ingredients. If you’re at a loss of where to turn to in Cairo for your kilo of porcini mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella or fresh ricotta, the quaintly-named La Bottega Italiana grocery in Maadi may hold your answers.
Packed with more varieties of pasta than you can count, the grocery also holds imported olive oils, vinegar, canned tuna, biscuits and other specialties from the Italian heartland.
Shelves are stocked to the brim with imported pasta brands from Dececco to Delverde. Nests of Aurea taglietelle al peperoncino, agli spinaci and taglietelle con papanero are available for 14LE per 16 oz. bag, alongside hand-crafted fresh penne and linguine at 22LE per 16 oz. bag. At the time of this review, most varieties of pasta were on special offer for restocking purposes, as the single shop attendant was eager to explain. Del Verde gnocchi was selling for 13LE per 16 oz. bag, Aurea Linea varieties for 10LE, and Daniella pasta for 12LE. the condiments sit across from the dizzying display of linguine, flat rolls of lasagne, corkscrew fusilli, conch-shaped pasta shells, macaroni elbows and delicate angel hair.
Both organic and non-organic honey jars are available in various stages of crystallisation starting at 70LE a jar. Olio Bio olive oil starts at 50LE and Dockers green apple vinegar costs 22LE a bottle. Canisters of tuna are carefully stacked, packed in olive oil and available for 50LE a precious tin. Glass jars of Italian sauerkraut sit beside bags of porcini mushrooms (180LE per kilo).
The deli is flanked with bars upon bars of Toblerone and Animation Chocolates (20LE per bar), Cadbury eggs in various sizes, as well as the standard Galaxy bars. Biscuits and sweets line the back shelves, with supplementary canned cherries, imported marzipan, and metallic tubes of maroon paste stacked near the register like candy, sold at 25LE a pop.
All this and we haven’t talked about the deli counter yet. Behind the display case lies a precious collection of mozzarella, fresh and afloat in its container and yours for 160LE a kilo, handsome wedges of thick-rind parmisiano regiano (180LE per kilo), crumbly Italian gorgonzola (190LE) and tubs of fresh ricotta (70LE per kilo).
The deli also supplies Italian ham and salami (160LE per kilo), select cuts of beef, and horse meat for 250LE per kilo.
We were especially delighted to find all the ingredients for the makings of a classic risotto, with sacs of Arborio rice, imported chicken broth stock and the coveted porcini mushrooms. Throw in some garlic and a few spring onions and you have one happy chef on your hands.
We believe that no matter how strict one’s diet is, there will always be a room for a snack. And though the broad sense of the word suggests many deliciously sinful choices, some of them can be equally delicious and healthy; like nuts.
With ‘Leb we Soudany’ being Cairenes’ all-time favourites, a local roastery can be found at every corner. While many of them have a decent range, only a few take it to the next level in offering more than just the basic form of roasted nuts. One of those few places is Abu Auf, which not only offers nuts in all shapes, forms and flavours, but also has a variety of sweets and health-conscious food products.
Over a year ago, we paid the place a visit in Brazil Street branch; despite being impressed by the quality and the quantity of Abu Auf’s products, we couldn’t help but notice how inconveniently small the branch was. So when we came across the other branch that was recently opened in Taha Hussein Street, we weren’t able to resist getting in to see how it looks from inside.
Once we walked in, we noticed how daylight coming from the two large windows complemented the already-delightful interior, with its white walls and wooden shelves. Well-organised, the shop is divided into two compartments.
The first comprises a fridge for raw nuts, and a display for the roasted selection. Four or five pounds more expensive than the raw nuts, Abu Auf boasts a variety of salted and flavoured roasted nuts, from which we opted for BBQ-flavoured almonds (26LE for 100gm), which were fresh, crisp and full of flavour. Not entirely satisfied by the salted pecans (42LE for 100gm), fresh as they were, they were too salty for our liking.
The other compartment had a variety of health-conscious products, Lebanese sweets and a coffee station. In addition to sage tea (17LE per pack), we found different brands of green coffee -ranging from 25LE to 120LE- which is believed to be a supplement for weight loss. And for those who like to replace rice with quinoa, Abu Auf has both red and white quinoa starting from 56LE per pack.
Moving to the shop’s considerably less healthy items; we couldn’t resist trying Abu Auf’s Lebanese sweets. The pistachio malban was outstanding; pleasantly chewy, with a crunch of pistachio here and there. Equally delicious, we found the marzipan exquisite, especially that they added cardamom to it. The only thing we were not big fans of was their costly price, which is 240LE per Kilo, though you can still buy per piece (10LE).
Saving the best for last, we stood in awe in front of the coffee station, where we asked for some medium roast coffee with spices. The shop assistant suggested their best seller, Gold coffee beans (174LE per kilo), whose powerful aroma enticed us to try it as soon as we got home. We can easily say that Abu Auf has the best coffee in town; spicy, dense and refreshing. Now we know where to turn to when we want freshly-ground coffee -in other words, we acquired another expensive habit.
With prices being the only disadvantage of Abu Auf, we fell for Abu Auf’s plan to empty our pockets with its delicious product – we only wanted to see what the new place looked like.