Egypt: Cairo Cafe in Alexandria (Virginia)

By , December 25, 2013 11:51 pm

We went to the Cairo Cafe in Alexandria for our first foray into Egyptian cuisine.

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Neil & I with owner/ chef Fatma Nassef

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Like all of the best restaurants in the DC area, Cairo Cafe is tucked away in a strip mall in suburban Virginia.

Luckily our friend Caroline, who is doing a PhD in the same program as Neil at George Mason came with us. Caroline is Egyptian and helped us order the tastiest food.

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Caroline was our guide to authenticity.

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We had a delightful turnout despite the restaurant being pretty out of the way & us choosing to randomly go early Saturday afternoon. Ann W. & her friend even biked over from DC… now that’s PIG dedication!

We started off with Egyptian mint tea, Bazinjan Mekhalil– marinated indian eggplants that were extremely delightful, hummus and papa ganouj (chick pea & eggplant dips).

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Hot tea served in a tall glass

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Bazinjan Mekhalil

Foul mudames—or just ful (pronounced “fool”)—is a kind of meatless chili made of cooked and mashed fava beans served with vegetable oil. It is so ubiquitous in Egypt that for some there is rarely a meal served without it, including breakfast.

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Foul mudames

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Egyptian flafel, made with split flava beans

Koshari, Egyptian Lasagna, is made with rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with a tomato sauce, some add spaghetti garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. Koshari is the national dish of Egypt.

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Bonus = it’s vegan!

Everything down to the dessert was absolutely divine. We were literally the only people in the place (due to the odd hour we chose to dine) and the service was excellent. Fatma Nassef, the owner, was bustling back and forth from serving us to cooking in the back. The place is also a hooka bar, but being a crowd of largely Mormons, we did not partake. But, ever since seeing Alice and Wonderland, the Disney version, hooka has always looked as cool as a caterpillar.

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We did, however, indulge in the desserts. Yum!

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Egyptian Baklava

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Basbousa, a semolina, coconut and honey cake

Caroline told us that so much has changed lately in Egypt that it’s hardly the place she remembers from visits growing up.

This year the RFK Center gave the Human Rights Award to Egyptian human rights attorney Ragia Omran, so I got to spend some time with her. She was very involved in the revolution (a revolution she believes is in continual process to this day). She is featured in the film The Square. Ragia does amazing work, including women’s rights issues and the “Say No to Military Trials” campaign in Egypt. She’s quite an inspiration.

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