Why would anyone try something different and completely unknown? You could be risking your time, money, and, in the case of foreign cuisine, your digestive system. The simple answer is that without adventure, life is flavourless. However, taking a gamble on a small Chinese restaurant is not one of those adventures you’ll have to go on because we already did!
Tucked away in the quiet suburbs of Maadi Degla is a hole in the wall that promises an authentic Chinese experience. Ju Feng Yuan wasn’t made for tourists or gawking locals, which you can tell by the fact that all the restaurant’s customers don’t seem to be Egyptian. Of course, we won’t generalise or pretend we could tell what everyone’s origins were, but the general environment suggests that most of the clientele are Asian expats in dire need of an authentic, family-run restaurant in one of Cairo’s oldest neighbourhoods.
As we contemplated our endearingly titled menus, we noticed that there was a semi-screaming match, in what we could only guess to be Chinese, going on in the background. The yelling would carry on to be the unofficial soundtrack for the entire evening, as it switches between being friendly to reprimanding. You might think we mention this as a negative aspect of our experience, but it’s quite the contrary. In fact, the yelling would prove to be exactly what we needed to be transported to a quaint stop on a forgotten Chinese street.
Moving on to the food, we knew we had to order some steamed dumplings, since that’s obviously the simplest metric by which one can measure the quality of food at a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant’s meat-filled dumplings (65 LE) were adequately chewy with juicy, flavourful filling and once dipped into the garlicky sauce, the dumplings transformed to little bites of heaven.
Next up, we decided on Ju Feng Yuan’s Dry Potato Chips (68 LE), which looked intriguing on the menu, to say the least. We were pleasantly surprised with the spicy, pepper and onion filled bowl of chips that landed on our table, with the chips tasting like the perfect dish to curl up with in this weather.
Up until this point, our starters were big enough to feed two or even three people. Even though we had already heard that this place’s portions were large, we weren’t prepared for what an actual main dish looked like. The Spicy Boiled Meat (158 LE) might have never caught my attention if it weren’t for my friend who insisted on risking both our lives (sorry for the hyperbole) for the suspiciously-named dish. However, it ended up being all we needed on a chilly winter night. It also tuned out to be a dish we could have probably shared with two other people.
The broth, ladled into our small white bowls, was rich enough to make our souls feel at home, with the meat being chewy and the cabbage being refreshing and satisfying in every bite. The dish promises an onslaught of spices you might need to prepare yourself for, but the whole Szechuan peppers floating about added a kick that might have been too much at times. In between all these spicy sips and bites, we had our Chinese sweet tea to prepare our palates for whatever came up next.
As we sat in the aftermath of this humble feast, we knew we wouldn’t wait to revisit this intriguingly foreign place as we were eternally grateful to be allowed into this space.