Egyptian Restaurant Reviews - Everybody's Fuul

Everybody's Fuul

Juergen Stryjak

As a traveler in Egypt or as a tourist with at least minimal contact with the locals, sooner or later you will get asked by an Egyptian: "Did you eat Fuul and T'aamiyya yet?" Your answer could be vitally important for you, so I would like to use this restaurant column for giving you some necessary information. At first, the basics: As you will have guessed it from the word 'eat', Fuul and T'aamiyya are about food. They are something to eat, but not any sort of a dish, no, they are the basis of the Egyptians' nutrition, a myth, a kind of a religion, with all features of a religion, believers, unbelievers, fanatics and renegades. One can think about Fuul and T'aameyya, what he or she wants, but nobody can ignore these classic elements of the Egyptian diet.

Fuul (pronounced fool), is the famous Arabic fava bean. T'aamiyya is the Egyptian way of making Falafel, little fried balls, but more crisp, more green and fresh than is served in other Arabic cuisine, due to the use of special ingredients such as ground beans, coriander leaves, parsley or other greens refined with sesame, spices and maybe egg - very delicious. Once you have sampled the real T'aamiyya, you will wish you could nibble it at home while watching television, instead of the standard junk food. No hope, there is no real T'aamiyya outside of Egypt, very least of all in the so-called Egyptian restaurants throughout the Western world. I don't know why.

Egyptians have Fuul and T'aamiyya for breakfast and throughout the whole day, on a plate or as a sandwich wrapped into a pita bread - the perfect, versatile, vegetarian food. Whatever you reply to the above mentioned question "Did you eat Fuul and T'aamiyya yet?", your answer can result in only one consequence. If you say no to the inquiring Egyptian, you probably will get invited to his home for having
these dishes. If you say yes, you'll maybe get invited, too, because you have disclosed your identity as a true lover of Egyptian culture, a friend, so to speak.

If you don't have the possibility to accept this invitation, but you want to try Fuul and T'aamiyya on your own at another place, you have three choices. First, a five star hotel restaurant, which is certainly not the authentic atmosphere for trying traditional Egyptian food, although it is readily available and tasty in most of them. Secondly, at those typical Fuul and T'aamiyya snack bars and, lastly, at one of the sidewalk carts, which can be seen catering Fuul and T'aameyya every morning to an estimated three million Egyptians throughout the whole country. It is difficult for me to recommend one of these carts, but as for the snack bar, I have the ultimate recommendation: the Al-Tabei Restaurant in downtown Cairo.

Al-Tabei, founded in 1926, is one of the most popular Fuul and T'aamiyya places among Egyptians. Actually, this fact says it all and I could close my review here with no other evidence for the quality of Al-Tabei's food. Let me only add some further negligible information. The atmosphere there is similar to what you have in Western fast food outlets. Unfortunately, the restaurant's owner replaced half a decade ago the nice wooden chairs and tables by more modern, glaring painted metal furniture. Guest room and toilets are clean and the service is quick. Very quick, not three minutes after you made the order you will have the food placed in front of you. The menu, in English or in Arabic, offers a wide range of all sorts of Fuul and T'aamiyya dishes, as well as French Fries, fried eggplant, lentil soup, omelet plain or with mushrooms or meat, and Shakshooka, a kind of very scrambled eggs with vegetables, very delicious.

T'aamiyya comes as little pieces or as a big one, with tahina (sesame seed paste), hummus (chickpea dip) or egg, as you like, and Fuul is available plain or with chickpea or oil or butter or some other ingredients, futile to mention all the menu offers more than 40 items. But I don't want to miss the chance to recommend my personal favorite: "Fuul be-beid wa basterma", fava beans with egg and pasterma, a spicy Egyptian meat similar to pastrami. It is served in a bowl, coming fresh out of the oven. All dishes are served with pita bread.

If this all is not vegetarian enough, Al-Tabei's salad bar was recently rated by an English language weekly as Cairo's "best baladi salad bar, without any doubt". (Baladi means typically local.) The salad bar is not very large, but contains all necessary things: tahina, babaganoush, lentil salad, beans salad, beets, potato and green salad and Turshi, the Egyptian variation of mixed pickles.

The price for all that? I will not start to list examples, let me tell you only this: You cannot stuff more into yourself, which finally could cost you more than 10 Egyptian Pound (around 3 $), including a soft drink or a tea or a coffee. Unless you are a glutton.

AlTabei's. 31, Ahmed Orabi Street. Downtown, Cairo. Located between Taufiqiyya Square and Ramsis Street, 200 meters/650 feet after Taufiqiyya Street at the right side. Telephone: (202) 575-4291 or 575-4211. Home delivery: 304-1123 or 304-1223. Another Cairo branch in Mohandessin, 17, Gamiat Al-Dowwal Al-Arabiya Street. Telephone: See home delivery!

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June 1st, 2000