| No neighborhood is complete without at least two koshary shops, and even protests have their own camp of street carts to power the crowds in their chants and cheers. Street food is fast, filling fuel, but at some of these shops, quality and hygiene can be somewhat suspect. A new restaurant in Zamalek, better known for its cosmopolitan cafés and restaurants, is now bringing new-school standards to old-school Egyptian comfort food.Opened just off of 26th July Street, Cairo Kitchen is a koshary place disguised as an artsy diner. It’s bright, with splashy reds, yellows, blues and greens, and diner-style stools at shiny counters. Mirrors with frosty images of ingredient names in Arabic calligraphy adorn the upper walls, making the narrow space feel larger without distracting you with images of yourself shoveling food into your face. For there is a lot of food to shovel.Opened in April, Cairo Kitchen is set up cafeteria style, meaning you go up to the serving line, tell the servers what you want and they load up a tray for you. And they do not stint.
The menu is straightforward: koshary and a few tagens, including a tagen of the day, plus a salad bar (small plate LE 12, large plate LE 25). Woefully underestimating the portions, our trio ordered one regular Koshary Beity (LE 14), a regular Shrimp Sayadeya tagen (LE 39), and a regular chicken lentil fattah (LE 32) as the tagen of the day, plus some salads. Drinks include fruit juices (LE 7.50) with endless refills, along with sodas and water.
Of the three mains, our favorite, hands down, was the chicken lentil fattah, a gloriously thick lentil soup with chunks of chicken over fried bread pieces. It left me wishing Cairo Kitchen had opened in January just so I could have had this dish during the cold snap. The Shrimp Sayadeya, also called Alexandrian koshary, featured medium-sized shrimp on rice, more risotto than koshary. The house koshary was pretty standard with no gourmet tweaks. I was a bit disappointed, given it is nearly three times the price of a similar portion from my neighborhood koshary shop. Each table had bottles of lemon-garlic sauce and a red sauce too mild to be proper shatta — take it from a shatta wimp.
The restaurant offers a gluten-free, ‘well-being’ koshary that leaves out the pasta, but the servers apparently need more training on special dietary requests. Quizzed about the gluten-free option, a server showed my colleague a box of diet pasta — an ingredient off-limits to people with wheat allergies.According to Managing Director Nadine Beshir, who was flitting about welcoming customers, the salad bar changes daily, with about 15 types offered from a recipe list of 30. The day of our visit, salads included simple favorites such as marinated green beans and picked eggplant, as well as a cinnamon sweet beleela (whole wheat) and a carrot hummus.Lesson learned from our first trip: order family style. Just like dinner at your Egyptian mama’s house, there was way too much food for us, and just like a dinner at mama’s house, I felt guilty not finishing it all. You can, of course, always request takeaway. There are also desserts on offer, but we never made it that far down the line. That is a mission for another day and a much larger group of people.
Cairo Kitchen • 157b, 26th July Street, Zamalek (around the corner from Gomhoreya Pharmacy) • Tel: +2 (010) 0668-9030 • www.cairokitchen.com • Takeout available, but no delivery service yet • Inexpensive