Ordering a foul or falafel sandwich at any fast food chain or street vendor in Cairo puts consumers one step closer to triple bypass surgery. This has less to do with the food itself than it does with how it is prepared, since Egyptian cuisine, a fluid, nebulous thing fraught with the influence of so many nations, is often comprised of perfectly healthy ingredients that even vegans can eat, except they’re usually not so fresh and swim in fat.
Now there’s Zööba, a “hip” new restaurant in Zamalek that takes the heart-stopping edge off street food while maintaining both the tradition and the fun. Using mostly seasonal produce and only the freshest ingredients and spices, this tiny concept eatery founded by Chris Khalifa and Moustafa El Refaie offers up wholesome dishes that come with a side of Egyptian pride.
“Zööba is redefining Egyptian street food by producing it with the freshest ingredients available, taking old staid recipes and reworking them to incorporate spices or flavourings that are locally inspired but have never been paired together,” wrote Brownbook magazine.
“Such is the case with the areesh – a kind of cottage cheese – made into a sandwich with cumin, orange zest and honey. The bread comes in its regular form as well as pink or green varieties that have been hand-flavoured with beetroot or spinach and that nestle comfortably in small basket frames of latticed wood.”
A tiny space decorated with colorful tiles, black boards with scribbled notes and menus, welcoming blue doors, and rows of handmade pickled beets, artichokes, tomatoes and other goodness that caters to vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters, the restaurant features only one large table that encourages a sense of camaraderie and community.
Founded by a reformed banker and a chef who had never previously cooked Egyptian food, the place has soared to success already and the duo have employed an army of selective chefs to scout out new locations for more branches.
Potential new dishes are on the horizon too, including an artichoke salad adorned with hibiscus flower and desert wraps with tehina.
Khalifa told Brownbook that part of the challenge so far has been identifying those foods that are authentically Egyptian, but they have incorporated foods that are considered standards in the country. Of course, this varies regionally, which is what allows the team to experiment with such a diverse menu.
There’s hope that this new concept will create a cultural revival, or at the very least divert the attention of Egyptians from imported cuisine to what they can produce with their own, exciting palette of spices, vegetables, salted breads and other drool-inducing morsels.
We’re convinced. How about you?
All photos via Zööba Facebook Page