Most people living in Cairo above the age of 30 have no need for an introduction about the famous Naguib Mahfouz Cafe. For others who have never heard about the place, they are in for a treat. Nestled in the small roads of Khan El Khalili, the restaurant has been in operation for nearly 30 years. The cafe’s reputation is mainly due to its unforgettable name of the Egyptian Nobel Literature Award Writer, whose signature adorns the first wooden poll you see as you enter the cafe.
Coming up to the Cafe’ nothing on the exterior gives away the ambiance inside. A closed wooden door, with a modern placket and a security gate, gives the impression of entering a forbidden, high-security location. Once inside, you are greeted by male waiter’s in tarabeesh – a traditional Egyptian headdress outlawed by Gamal Abd El Nasser in the aftermath of the 1952 revolution – and the sound of an oriental live musical performance of anoon, mixed in with the loud bustle of a crowded cafe.
For those of us who enjoy oriental music but are not overly fond of loud cafe’s, Naguib Mahfouz offers two secluded restaurant locations close enough for you to hear the music, but private enough to enjoy talking to your dinner companions, which is where I preferred to sit with my brother and his fiance’. From the moment we sat down to our tables, we were hooked. The rustic Egyptian decor, coupled with the ambiance and the traditional Egyptian menu, transformed us to a time when women were referred to as hanem, (lady) and men were either a bey or pasha (lord).
Between the three of us, we ordered three different dishes, and none of us were disappointed by the food. We ordered the traditional Egyptian pigeons dish, mix grill with rice dish, and I sampled the grilled half chicken with pasta casserole or makaroona bashamel. The grilled chicken had just the right amount of herbs to create a savory but healthy taste, which was nicely complemented by the filling pasta casserole. The pasta had a small hint of cheese in the white sauce, giving a nice twist to a traditional taste. Every dish simply had the exact amount of herbs that complement the natural flavor of the meats.
To fully engage in the Egyptian spirit, you could follow the traditional wisdom to digest food, where Egyptians usually drink red tea with mint, and smoke hookah, both of which are offered in the cafe section of Naguib Mahfouz. There you can fully immerse yourself in the music and ambiance of a traditional crowded Egyptian cafe’.
If you ever find yourself in Cairo and want to taste local cuisine in an unforgettable locale, Naguib Mahfouz is definitely the place to go.