Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 September 2007
Issue No. 861
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

On the run

If you want to get the feel of a highway without leaving the city, here's your chance, writes Amira El-Naqeeb

Click to view caption
Safari, one of the new hot spots on the Cairo-Alexandria desert high-way

The idea of going to the outskirts of Cairo just to eat or drink seemed a bit ridiculous to me at the beginning. However, when I hit the road and got on the Cairo-Alex Desert Highway, a cooler breeze, fresher air and a sky where I could actually see the clouds were enticing enough to make sense of the journey.

I pulled over just before the toll station where I found an array of coffee shops, restaurants and shops on my right side that have sprung up at an explosive pace. The hip cafés or the cool coffee shops and restaurants -- I wasn't sure where to go. In the end I was literally led by the nose. It was the smell of something being freshly baked that made the decision for me. "Safari Restaurant. I'll check it out," I said to myself. I chose an indoor table since it was in the afternoon which at this time of year is not exactly an ideal time for an outdoor lunch. Moreover, shisha lovers were having a field day out there, and as a non-smoker I intend to keep my lungs smoke free as much as possible.

On the menu, the culinary delights hailed from around the world -- pastas, pizzas, delicious Lebanese fattosh, kobiba and hummos, Oriental and Egyptian dishes that make your mouth water, let alone the fetir corner. When I ordered, a fresh bread basket was placed in front of me, and it was then that I knew where the smell that dragged me into the place came from. "We use ancient ovens and we bake everything here," said Abdel-Daim Ahmed, the owner of Safari. While waiting for my food I took a look around. Simple fer forgé chairs, terracotta floors, artificial rocks covering the walls, and wooden beams atop, all add up to one theme -- nomadic, desert primitiveness.

After I finished my utterly delicious zaatar and cheese mana'eesh, it was time for dessert. I had an "insider's" tip on Safari's most famous dessert, greetan dates. I swear I don't have a sweet tooth but I couldn't put my fork down. It was seriously divine, with hellish consequences calorie wise. Caramelised dates, lying on a bed of coconut filling on a crusted base, drowning in caramel sauce. Need I say more? My partner ordered a nougat glacé which is another house specialty. While she was busy on the telephone, I took the liberty of nibbling on what was on her plate even though I couldn't quite figure out what it was because it was dipped in strawberry and mango sauce. As good as it was, I was satisfied that my choice was better than hers.

If you've gotten bored with going to the same old popular venues, there are a number of new outlets which have emerged in Cairo. Le Monde is a promising coffeeshop/ restaurant where you can have a quiet breakfast served starting from 9am. They have WiFi service, LCD screens and a variety of salads, sandwiches and good coffee. Since it's new, Le Monde is not that popular yet, so most likely it won't be crowded during the day, which gives you a great opportunity to work in a peaceful ambiance. Don't let the air of sophistication that surrounds it drive you away. At first glimpse, the leather sofas, polished parquet floors and cool pastel colours give you the impression of being in one of those places "where breakfast is for LE60". Actually, their prices are quite moderate. Salads range from LE8 to LE20, and sandwiches vary from LE11 to LE27.

When I entered I was led to a table and seated on one of their wooden chairs which proved to be backbreaking after only 15 minutes. I took the liberty of moving myself to one of the leather sofas upstairs, rested my back, took off my sandals, and crossed my legs waiting for my vanilla tea. "Woo, comfy". You can easily relax in such a world if it wasn't for the Arabic pop music playing in the background which totally disrupted the mood.

Pasta and pizza lovers are not left out. There is the famous Casino restaurant which has a venue on the runway. Casino has an indoor area which I don't recommend because it is so small, and the AC doesn't work properly. As for the outdoor terrace it could be nice at night during the summer. They also serve coffee, desserts and have WiFi service. The price range is also moderate. You can have an Olio oil pasta for LE19, and a fruiti di mari for LE39. A margarita pizza goes for LE19 and a chicken or mushroom pizza for LE25.

If you crave entertainment to go along with the food, that's where Solidaire restaurant comes in. Solidaire is a perfect place for families, where children can enjoy the outdoor playground or take a quick camel or horse ride. Solidaire is famous for its khima (tent) during the month of Ramadan, during which they offer an array of Oriental food, along with a versatile programme to entertain their guests. One of the most famous dishes is their mixed grill presented to guests on a coal grill, to remain hot and steamy, while the aroma works your appetite.

After having a glimpse of what a day spent on the run could be like, I took a U-turn. After 30 minutes I was back in the city. "Huh, short trip," I figured.

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