Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1242, (16-22 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Bon appétit!

Ghada Abdel-Kader meets chef Somaya Mohamed, creator of some of the most delicious and popular dishes in Egyptian cuisine

somaaa
somaaa
Al-Ahram Weekly

People often buy flowers or luxury presents to express their feelings for their loved ones, whether these are wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers or friends. But food can also be a way of showing love. “Cooking can express emotions. You can send a message like I love you, I kiss you, thank you, I’m sorry and so on through food,” says chef Somaya Mohamed, owner of the Fasahat Somaya restaurant in Cairo.

“My cooking story began when I fell in love and got married,” she comments. “I knew nothing about cooking at the time, but because I loved my husband so much I wanted to show him my love through cooking. I used to give him a delicious homemade meal everyday as a result.”

Fortunately, Mohamed has a very good visual memory. She remembered her mother’s recipes and cooked exactly like her. “I learned through practising,” she said.

She was also working as an executive officer in a publishing house and soon began to organise meals for colleagues on various occasions, including birthdays. “My friends encouraged me to leave my job and dedicate myself to cooking full-time. They told me I had a natural talent and that my food was delicious,” she said.

Mohamed then spent six or seven months looking for a place to open a restaurant. The rent in downtown Cairo was expensive, but eventually she found a small space that would suit her new restaurant. In October 2011 she opened Fasahat Somaya. “I am from the Bein Al-Sarayat district in Giza, which is a popular neighbourhood. Fasahat does not exactly mean restaurant. It is more like a communal space in the home, not the living room exactly, but a place where the family and guests can sit together to chat, eat, or spend time together,” she said.

The restaurant is an intimate salon with only three tables. There is an Arab-style sofa on both sides of the room, together with couches in a plain turquoise colour with armrests and red pillows on each side. There are also throw pillows in a mixture of red and beige with beautiful Pharaonic prints on them reflecting ancient Egyptian culture. On the right side of the room there is a display of vintage photographs, and on the left there is an old radio on a small shelf. In the back is the kitchen which opens onto the hall.

The design of the restaurant helps Mohamed to chat with her guests. The atmosphere is amicable, relaxing and warm, and the food is delicious and homemade, representing the best of Egyptian cuisine. Prices are moderate and inexpensive.

Mohamed has been running her restaurant for four years now. “My friends keep urging me to launch a bigger restaurant, but I love the restaurant as it is,” she says. “The artists Souad Abdel-Rassul and Salah Al-Murr did the interior design. And my friend Hadeel, who is a journalist, used to come in after work to help me paint the tables,” she said.

But anyone wanting to eat in Fasahat Somaya must be careful not to break the rules. Guests are not allowed to leave any food in their plates, for example. “I spend a lot of time cooking lovely meals for guests. If you pay money for food and don’t eat it this is wasting precious food,” Mohamed says. She gets angry at people who order more dishes than they need as this could lead to food going to waste. “Think about people who are hungry. Save some for them,” she says.

The restaurant is open from 5 to 7 pm each day, making it suitable for a late lunch or early dinner. The menu varies to allow visitors to enjoy something different every day. But there are two fixed days, Mondays and Thursdays. On Mondays, the restaurant serves chicken with mulukhiyya, mahshi (stuffed vegetables like cabbage, aubergines, courgettes or grape leaves) and rokak (minced meat pastry). Thursday is for Egyptian and oriental food like masmat (offal, including tongue, tripe, tail, brain, sweetbreads, etc.), kawarea (leg of beef), monbar (tripe), and fattah. The latter is a traditional dish made from roasted pitta bread topped with white rice and delicious garlic tomato sauce. Mohamed also serves kalawi matbukha (stewed kidneys), and raba dani (shank of lamb) with chocolate sauce.

“Changes to the menu depend on the ingredients I can get from the market. I post any changes every day on my Facebook page,” she says.

Mohamed doesn’t have a delivery service at present, explaining that “Fasahat Somaya is a space for family, colleagues and friends to join together to eat and talk. I love to receive my reward instantly when I see people eating in the restaurant together.” It also does not have other branches. “Guests come here because they feel at home and can see me preparing their meal. I only have one assistant, Manal Tawfiq, who is a student in the Faculty of Commerce at Cairo University. She comes in the afternoon to help, and I have no plans to open additional branches,” Mohamed says.

However, the lease on Fasahat Somaya expires at the end of the year, and Mohamed doesn’t know if the landlord will renew or not. She has no intention of renting a bigger place either. “I am not looking forward to having a larger place. The place I have is beautiful. It has everything I want: a small kitchen opening onto the hall and my guests happily eating near me,” she comments.

Despite her growing reputation, Mohamed does not intend to make TV cooking programmes either. “I am a harsh critic. I haven’t found a concept that would suit my personality,” she explains.


Making mombar

Chef Somaya Mohamed shares her recipe for Egyptian mombar with Al-Ahram Weekly readers.

 

Total time: 30-45 minutes

Servings: 5



Ingredients:

1kg cow tripe

1kg short-grain Egyptian rice

1kg tomatoes

2 pinches fresh dill, cilantro and parsley, finely chopped

3 hot peppers

1/2 cup of oil

Spices

1teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

½ kg of onions

Oil to fry



Method:

Clean the cow tripe by rubbing it with a mixture of salt and vinegar. Mix the chopped onions, tomatoes, dill and cilantro with rice, spices, pepper, salt and oil. Cut the tripe (mombar) into smaller pieces (about 15cm). Start stuffing it with the rice mixture, leaving space at the end to avoid the rice falling out.

Fill a pot with water. Season with black pepper and bay leaves and bring to the boil. Add the stuffed mombar and leave for 15-20 minutes, by which time the rice will be cooked and the mombar firm. Drain and let cool. Immediately before serving, deep fry the mombar until they turn golden brown and become crispy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve warm on a bed of parsley.

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