Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kababgy Al Azhar Farahat

" unforgettable dinner later that night."

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.
Lebnan Square
El Mohandessin
Cairo, Egypt
Tel: (+20) 33 471 278


Selba said...

I would love to try the pigeon, looks delicious.

Btw, what's all inside your monk bag? *curious* Would you share it with us someday ;)

J said...

Fuyoh. The pigeon looks good! Bursting with goodness in fact... :D

Kenny Mah said...

Monk bag? Is that a hint at the next step of your journey? Or is it just another fashion apparel term ol' unhip me tak tau about? (Probably the latter, haha.)

And bro, your food-and-travel-and-culture-infused narratives are the sort I'd want to read on a lazy afternoon when I'm not working so I can let the words and images that they inspire sink in.

You're like WKW, with more words. And you know, less emo. :)

vialentino said...

wahsei the pigeon looks yummy

choi yen said...

the pity little pigeon seem like no much flesh to eat wor...

HairyBerry said...

selba, i lurve the pigeon! ;D haha, if you ask any of my close friends, they'll tell you that my monk bag is one stinky, ugly bag that no one wants to go near..haha. but it had followed me to many countries and like my dslr, has become a fantastic travel companion. ;D

j, yessshh! bursting! that's the word that i was looking for! aiya, too lazy to change now d. hehehe..thanks for the word, j! ;D

kenny, aiyoh, you are 300% trendier than me lah, dude. my monk bag is that brownish bag you see every time we meet..hehe. wow, thank you very much for the compliment! it's inspiring. ;D but no lah, me not anywhere near wkw lah. he's just too fantastic to be compared to. i'm just happy to understand and appreciate chungking express. i wanna wear a uniform and meet my caesar salad cafeteria girl. :D

vialention, hi, man! thanks for dropping by. :) i lurve the pigeon. if only i can find it here in this region...sigh....

mimi, ahhhh, that's what i thought in the beginning. but when combined with the stuffing, this dish can feed almost 2 people! ok, i'm not sharing! hehehehehe.

Pureglutton said...

Very impressive-looking pigeon! Can't wait for your Alexandria post :-)

Ciki said...

the pigeon looks like it's totally burying its head in the rice.. why? did he think he was an ostrich? mwuahahaha :P

HairyBerry said...

pureglutton, i can't wait to share my alexandria experience too! now, must find some time to write...hehe

cumi & ciki, woah! that's an interesting observation. maybe it was eating it's own filling. gosh, what am i tokking! hehehe.