The Five Dollar Food Challenge: Cairo

Food, Things to Do, Travel Tips — By Pharaonick on June 15, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Cairo has a load of places where you can get a meal for (much) less than $5.

Like rats in London, in Cairo you are never more than a few feet away from a small, baladi restaurant selling any or all of the following:

  • Koshary
  • Fuul
  • Taamiya
  • Shawerma
  • Feteer
  • Spit-roast chicken

All of these will weigh in for less than $5. To be honest, it’s kind of crazy to give recommendations for any of these places, because the best thing to do is dive in to your local restaurant, and see what it’s like. Just make sure to pick somewhere that is doing a brisk business, so the food is freshly cooked.

If you’re squeamish about hygiene, try one of the bigger, more reputable places such as Felfela, Gad, or Abou Tarek.

But for my money, the best cheap meal in Cairo is to be had at Zizo’s, opposite Bab al-Futuh in Islamic Cairo.

Zizo’s has been around since before the time of the Pyramids (well, since the 60’s, at any rate), and is said to serve up the best spicy sogoq sandwiches in Cairo. (Sogoq is a kind of beef sausage.) It’s also famous for its offal, and the liver (kibda) sarnies are very popular.

My less-than-five-dollar feast consisted of one sogoq sarnie and one liver sarnie. Each sandwich actually consists of two fingers of bread, and they can quickly become very filling.

The liver sandwich was juicy, tangy and smothered with tahina. The sogoq was gorgeous: fiery as hell, and drenched in a rich gravy-like sauce.

Best of all, the food comes with complimentary pickles, which are also super-hot. The olives taste like they’ve been injected with essence of chilli-crossed-with-lime, the chillis themselves are nothing short of deadly, and the potatoes are not so much dusted as quilted with a blend of spices, including lots and lots of cumin.

As a nod towards dessert I took another of Zizo’s specialities: an eshta bi-halawa sandwich. Eshta means cream, and halawa is a popular dessert-sweet, a solid block of tahina (sesame seed paste) mixed with sugar. This is the sort of sandwich that starts dissolving your teeth before it’s even reached your mouth, but damn, is it good!

In the spirit of keeping my dentist in business, I added a bottle of coke to the mix.

Total price for all this, 15 LE, which is less than $3!

Other than the food, a big attraction of Zizo’s is the setting. The tables of this spit and sawdust restaurant spill out onto the street, which is by far the best place to eat anyway.

Along with the spice of the food, you can soak up a typical Cairo street scene: insane traffic – including donkey carts and kids on motorbikes pulling leery wheelies – farmers herding their sheep along the road, cyclists balancing huge trays of local bread on their head, children running errands for their mother… all watched over by the imposing medieval gate, Bab al-Futuh. (This is one of the entrances to Muizz li-Din-Allah, which leads down to Khan al-Khalili.)

Go forth and enjoy, but don’t be surprised if you feel a slight… burning, the next day!

Tags: cheap food, feteer, fuul, halawa, koshary, liver, shawerma, sogoq sandwiches, taamiya, Zizo's

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