Monday, May 14, 2007

Naguib Mahfouz Cafe at Khan el-Khalili

My dad is in town, so took him to Khan-el-Khalili to browse and send some stuff back home as gifts.

I just love the Khan - the hustle bustle of the narrow streets, the hoarse cries of multiple vendors, the general bonhomie, the beautiful mosques and aesthetically pleasing arabic looking brown stone buildings (well, some of them) and of course the El-Fishawy cafe!

However, not having had any breakfast before leaving home, we were not in a mood for coffee. Even the thought of hot, butter & sugar pancakes was not appealing. By 12 o'clock, we were starting to feel ravenous. That's when I remembered the Khan Khalili Restaurant/Naguib Mahfouz Cafe - a restaurant and cafe run by the Oberoi chain, where I was sure to find something vegetarian.

The cafe is named after the famous Nobel Prize winning writer - Naguib Mahfouz - who purpotedly used to eat there almost every day.

Naguib Mahfouz was an Egyptian novelist who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature who managed to modernize Arabic literature. He is regarded as one of the first writers of Arabic literature, along with Tawfiq al-Hakim, to explore themes of existentialism. He wrote on a number of subjects including homosexuality, which were considered taboo in the Egyptian society. Prior to his death, Mahfouz was the oldest living Nobel Literature laureate and the third oldest of all time, trailing only Bertrand Russell and Halldor Laxness. At the time of his death, he was the only Arabic-language writer to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Cafe is nicely done up with brass tables and comfortable chairs / sofas. A little further inside is a formal dining area serving Egyptian food (I did not see the menu).

We ordered a salad consisting of babagannoush with baladi bread, a beef shwarma (LE18), Falafel (LE18) and an Om Aly (LE25). To offer souccur to our parched throats we ordered a lemon (LE10) (this is like a fresh lime soda sweet with a slightly tangy taste of the lemon rind which is mixed in) and a vanilla milkshake (LE16).

The milkshake and the lemon were just right and completely chilled. The baladi bread was fresh and the babagannoush was just right - not too sour as I have had in some other places. The felafel was fresh and hot served with a youghurt sauce and fresh salad. The beef shwarma was delicious with the beef cooked just right. Om Aly, being Om Aly, you can't really go wrong with it.

Though we did not try it, Shisha is available in natural and fruit flavours like apple, apricot, cantaloupe, grapes, cherry and strawberry. I was tempted to try the Egyptian drink Kharkhaday, made from Hibuscus, but its really an acquired taste.

There was also an Aniseed & Fenugreek drink (oh, oh!) which I was tempted to try to just figure out what such a concoction would taste like. But I decided I would be adventurous another day. Right now, I was going to satisfy the rumblings of a hungry stomach.

The walls have mashrabeya shelves which are lined with books (in Arabic & their English translations) by Naquib Mahfouz. The ambience is nice, the air conditioning very effective, the food absolutely delicious and the prices decent. I would recommend everyone visiting the Khan to have a meal / snack at the Cafe - its probably the only cafe in Khan offering delicious food!

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