Eating out in Cairo
V. EATING OUT IN CAIRO
Cairo may not have any of the world's best one hundred restaurants, but it has an increasing number of very good ones. What most people think of as being "Middle Eastern" food is actually Levantine cuisine — the kind of food native to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. Egyptian cuisine is similar to Levantine in many regards.
Real "Egyptian" cuisine can be very filling. The basic element of the diet of most Egyptians is "fuul" — fava beans, which are the basis of a wide variety of dishes, including bean patties ("taamiyya," which in other parts of the Middle East are called "felafil"). But Egyptian cuisine also includes lamb "kebab" (grilled meat) and "kofta" (ground meat); stuffed pigeons and vegetables, with stuffing composed primarily of rice; and the most Egyptian meal of all, "mulukhiyya" — a thick, soup-like substance made from a spinach-like vegetable that is, for most non-Egyptians, very much an acquired taste. Four of the best places in Cairo to try well-prepared Egyptian cuisine are the Mashrabiyya Restaurant (Giza), the Bint El Sultan Restaurant (Mohandiseen), Abu El Sid restaurant in Zamalek and in Maadi in a wonderful setting, and El Sit El Hosneya in Dokki. Besides these four restaurants, we cannot forget the famous chain of Felfela Restaurants. There are many branches; the oldest one established more than 40 years ago, is on Hoda Sharaawi Street, Downtown, just a few blocks from the AUC Tahrir Square.
Good restaurants are usually crowded during the later hours (8:30 pm to 11:00 pm). For the best restaurants it is recommended to call in advance. The magazine Egypt Today carries a selection of recommended restaurants together with phone numbers. You can also find list of restaurants and reviews at the following websites http://www.yallabina.com, Cairo 360, and http://www.almasryalyoum.com.
If you order beer, wine, or liquor in an expensive restaurant, and you are served (whether you asked for it or not) any such drink not produced in Egypt, you will pay an enormous, often unexpected price. There are very heavy import charges added to any imported alcohol.
Expect that a 12 % service charge and a 10% sales tax will be automatically added to your bill almost everywhere. The service charge added to a bill does not normally go to the serving staff, so if you want to reward the service in any direct way you will have to leave a tip, usually 10-15%.
There are locally made beers and wines available in several restaurants and a few stores. Local wines are much, much cheaper than any imported wine that might be available locally. Finally, there are also available some locally-produced liquors, but it is best to avoid these, since some incidents of fatal poisoning have occurred from contaminated locally-made hard liquor.
FOOD ORDERING: The excellent website http://www.otlob.com is very useful for ordering food online from all kind of restaurants in Cairo. You just need to register (for free), and start ordering. If an item in your order is not available, the restaurant will call you. Usually, restaurants deliver within an hour.