You can find falafel anywhere in 2022. From New York to Hong Kong, falafel spots have popped up everywhere as the popularity of this healthy, nutritious, and most importantly tasty dish has exploded. But in Cairo, falafel isn’t like the falafel you can find in falafel spots popping up in trendy neighborhoods across the globe, or for that matter, not even in countries like Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan, all respectively famed for their falafel.
The Cairene take on falafel, known here as ta’amiya, doesn’t use chickpeas like its Arab neighbors, or even Egypt’s second largest city, Alexandria. Instead, fava beans, also known as broad beans, are used along with a special mix of fresh herbs and spices. Cairene falafel is fluffy, light, and doesn’t soak up much oil, as its chickpea-derived cousin sometimes does. Biting into a ta’amiya, it is also apparent that it is not as dry as the falafel you can find in other Arab countries, meaning that unlike places like Lebanon, where a falafel sandwich is accompanied by numerous sauces and fillings to take away from the dryness, ta’amiya works perfectly on its own or in a sandwich with just a bit of fresh salad and tahina.
Alexandrians along with their chickpea-loving brothers and sisters in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan may scoff at Cairo’s use of the humble fava bean for its falafel recipe, but Cairo is onto something and people are noticing. Cairo’s own take on falafel using fava beans, known more commonly as ta’amiya, won the London Falafel Awards in 2016 and has been making waves year after year; Its latest appearance was in none other than the Oscars of the falafel world, the coveted International Falafel Awards.
For International Falafel Day on June 12th, we thought we’d put the spotlight on Cairnene ta’amiya, and have a look at some of downtown Cairo’s best foul and ta’amiya spots. While successful chains like Gad, Kazaz, El-Tabei El-Domyati, and Zooba certainly make a great falafel, we thought we’d have a look at downtown Cairo’s foul and ta’amiya carts. Foul and ta’amiya carts can be found all across Cairo and some of them are old wooden carts painted in bright colors and playful imagery, undoubtedly cultural relics that should be celebrated and preserved, and by popular belief, are understood to make the best foul and ta’amiya.
Near Attaba Square, a beautifully painted foul and ta’amiya cart can be found in a secluded spot just off Haret Zoghain Street. With an array of all the important Egyptian breakfast staples, freshly made ta’amiya chief among them. It’s a great place to pop by if you find yourself looking for breakfast in the area.
Falafel may seem like an odd meal to eat to those coming from outside of Egypt, but that’s how it’s done here, and it makes a great breakfast. With shade, seating, and a lack of car traffic, Awlad Yaseen is a good place to fuel up and get ready for the day.
Al Sheikh, more commonly known as Foul Abdul Nasser
Al Sheikh, or Foul Abdul Nasser as I’ve always heard it referred to, is a personal favorite of mine. While the utilitarian metal cart and tables to eat without much shade leave much to be desired, its foul and ta’ameya are without a doubt a contender for the best in Cairo.
The friendly guys running the cart know how to put together a great mix of foul topped with chili oil, spices, and freshly cut onion and chili, and their falafel is continually delivered fresh by a place up the road so they are always at their best. With scores of loyal customers, Al Sheikh always has a ton of people placing orders and often runs out of food relatively early, so make sure to get there on time.
On Falki Street, between Hoda Sharaaway Street and Mohamed Sabri Abou Alam Street, there’s another great foul and ta’amiya cart offering a filling and tasty breakfast in a relaxed setting. As one of the more popular foul and ta’amiya spots in downtown Cairo, you may have to wait a while and shout your order through a mass of hungry customers, but it’s well worth it.
In addition to its great Cairene falafel, this cart also does a fantastic foul with a perfect blend of spices and their chopped boiled egg served with tahina and spices is particularly good. Their ingredients are always fresh and their large loyal customer base can attest to the quality of their food.
Shaded by trees are several standing tables to eat, which give you a great vantage point to slowly eat your breakfast, watch the hustle and bustle around the foul and ta’amiya cart, and soak up the Belle-Époque architecture of downtown Cairo.
On Al Falki Street, nestled between the Greek Campus and the beautiful but decaying hundred-year-old covered market called Souq Bab al-Louq, is a foul and ta’amiya cart run by an enthusiastic young guy.
With a few tables laid out on the sidewalk and an all-important umbrella for those sunny mornings, this cart, in particular, is a relaxing spot to have your breakfast, and thankfully lacks the large queues of other carts around downtown Cairo. His pickled eggplant is particularly good and makes a great addition to your plate of ta’amiya.
Although not technically in downtown Cairo, Foul Mahrous in Garden City deserves a mention for its great ta’amiya and expansive menu. Unlike the other spots on this list, Foul Mahrous unusually only serves in the evening and is a great option if you get the craving for foul and ta’amiya for dinner.
This foul and ta’amiya spot is on the quiet Dr. Mohamed Fawzy Street in Garden City and tables laid out on the sidewalk provide a good place to eat and relax after a long day in the hustle and bustle of the city. Foul Mahrous is noticeably more expensive than all the other places on the list, probably related to the fact that it has begun to attract some tourists eager for authentic Egyptian street food but in a setting away from the bustle you normally have around foul and ta’amiya carts. However, the inflated price is still certainly worth it and Mahrous Foul deserves all the praise it gets.
WE SAID THIS: Google Doodle Is Celebrating Falafel With A Savory Animation.