Despite its popularity, authentic Syrian food is hard to find in Cairo. Many restaurants claim to offer Syrian food, but all too often the fare is more like an Egyptianized version of Syrian delicacies. Enter the recently opened Amar El Sham, bringing a true taste of Syria to Cairo’s culinary scene.
Amar El Sham is located on a three-level boat next to Sofitel El Gezira, sharing the venue with a café and open-air shisha lounge on the other floors. The spacious indoor restaurant offers a great hangout for families with a clean, friendly atmosphere and excellent service.
Upon entering the restaurant, you are welcomed by a man baking tasty Syrian bread in a traditional stone oven. Amar El Sham’s friendly staff, headed by a Syrian maitre d’hôtel, ushered my companion and I to a large table with a great Nile view. Before embarking on our culinary tour of Syria, we were offered a welcome drink of a refreshing mix of Sprite and grenadine syrup with a dash of mint syrup.
Amar El Sham’s extensive menu was slightly overwhelming not only because of the plentiful selection, but because they all sounded delicious. Confused, my companion and I opted to try as many dishes as possible. Fair warning for vegetarians or people like myself who only eat beef: Many of the dishes include lamb or mutton, so read the menu carefully.
We kick started our gastronomy marathon with an array of Syrian appetizers, many of which are familiar throughout the region. The tabboulah salad (LE 17) is a delicious specialty made of freshly chopped parsley, tomatoes, lemon juice and bulgur wheat. Our second choice was the hummus (chickpeas) with tahini (LE 14), followed by hummus with meat (LE 29). We rounded out the appetizers with berak with cheese (LE 12), small fried filo-dough pies stuffed with creamy white cheese. Everything was clearly fresh, with the still-warm shami bread taking everything up a notch.
Next on our list were the traditional mana’ish; the thin pizza-like dough topped with thyme and cheese. The thyme man’ousha (LE 12) was rather disappointing with too much thyme giving it a slightly bitter taste. Fortunately, the cheese man’ousha (LE 12) stuffed with halloumi cheese more than made up for it.
Almost immediately following our last bite of mana’ish, the chicken fatta (LE 40) — a last-minute addition to our order — graced our table. Fatta, a Syrian staple, have their own special menu. Our dish was made of crispy pita bread pieces, yogurt spiced with fresh minced garlic, chicken and chickpeas. Upon tasting the fatta, we did not regret adding it to our order as it was perhaps the best main courses on our table.
We were already too stuffed to eat anymore, and we still had two more dishes before us. The ‘shakaf’ beef kabab (LE 65) and shish tawook (LE 60) were served on skewers on a miniature grill. Garnished with tomatoes and parsley, the meats were perfectly grilled and bursting with flavor. Not only were the dishes mouth watering, but each was beautifully presented, highlighting the different colors and textures of the ingredients used in each.
To digest the incredibly rich and larger-than-average portions, we ordered mint-flavored tea. We were offered a complimentary cup of booza, a special Syrian ice cream. Made daily in the kitchen, it tastes of creamy vanilla with hints of pistachio and nuts crumbled on top — definitely a pleasing end to our evening.
Amar El Sham’s service is impeccable and swift, with our food brought to the table so fast that we were slightly overwhelmed with how full our table was. Ideal for a family outing, Amar El Sham is definitely worth a try if you fancy authentic Syrian dining at very reasonable prices with a spectacular view of the Nile.