Lebnan Square was all we told the taxi driver. In fact, that was ALL we knew about this restaurant. Plus a vague impression of the plain signboard when Toni’s boss treated them to an extravagant dinner here. Miraculously, we found the shop after circling the block just a couple of times. According to him, it’s the ideal place to bring friends from abroad because the food here is authentic and more importantly, delicious. Diners were visibly local and that’s a good sign. It took us about 20 minutes to get a table, given the high influx of customers. Back home, Chinese restaurants would speedily clear a table by bagging all the utensils and excess food into the often red tablecloth, not unlike folding a tesage bukuro using furoshiki. Here, instead of the red material, a massive piece of durable, transparent plastic sheet is used. Ordering was fun, albeit a challenging one. I can’t tell if the expressionless wait staff was humoured or annoyed by our inability to converse in Arabic but in the end, we managed to have all our dishes served correctly on the table.
It was here that I had my first local flatbread, which would become part of my every meal in the next 7 days. Same goes to the infamous dip of hummus, something that I’d often overlooked back home. Like butter melting on hot buns, a chilled hummus spread on warm bread is simply wonderful. I wouldn’t have known that the warm cup of amuse bouche (well, sort of) was pigeon stock, if not for the explanation from Toni. The flavour reminded me of the brownish chicken gravy served with mashed potatoes, with a twist – a squeeze of lemon juice. It certainly whipped up the appetite for the mains to come. Revising my tour guide, the hamaam mahshi or stuffed pigeon was not mentioned in the list of must-try dishes in Egypt. Well, it should be! It was one of the best things I’ve had here. I’d relate it to a cross between a Chinese rice dumpling and roast pigeon or a reduced stuffed turkey. I’m sure there are many ways to eat this but I attacked the stuffing first. A slit of the skillfully stuffed bird revealed an aromatic filling of perfectly cooked rice, coated only with a good amount of seasoning, fried shallots and cracked black pepper. Complementing the flavoursome rice was the crispy-skinned, juicy pigeon. A simple yet refreshing salad provided a nice cut to the relatively heavy-tasting pigeon, preventing the cloying effect. The usage of a bed of chopped coriander for the roast lamb had the same intent, I believe. As far as I’m concerned, coriander sprigs have never been exploited in this fashion back home. When it comes to fried food or roasts or grills, they are always accompanied by sliced cucumber, tomatoes and lettuce. So, this was new to me. The scent and crunchiness of it worked well with the roast lamb, where the meat remained moist and flaky while the outer layer gave a slight crisp and smokiness. Oh, not forgetting the nice gelatinous part of the joint too. Truly an unforgettable dinner.
The crowd dwindled as the night went on, leaving only a few tables still occupied. It was now much quieter as well. We left after deciding that we couldn’t consume anymore of the constant flow of flatbread and fantastic hummus. Next, we walked around downtown Cairo to catch the Cairenes nightlife that was mostly frenzy shopping and of course, eating. The sight of a bustling bakery really caught my attention. It’s a shame that I couldn’t find time to get some pastries here before leaving the city. The weather changed significantly too, with the winter breeze providing some cool to the streets.
Funny that I couldn’t remember the last time I slept, as I laid in bed that night. It could have been the first few hours on the plane. And that was like…a day ago? I slept soundly with a stomach full of tasty pigeon and fond memories of the pyramids…with my monk bag all packed for the journey to the fabled city of Alexandria the next morning.
Kababgy Al Azhar Farahat
7 El Nile El Abyad St.
Tel: (+20) 33 471 278