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Restaurant review: The fat of the feast
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 13 - 12 - 2007


Restaurant review:
The fat of the feast
Gamal Nkrumah tracks down the perfect Eid Al-Adha hideout
Never was a dish so misunderstood and misrepresented as fattah. First of all, it conjures up images of a fattening feast. For English speakers, this sense is compounded by semantics: fattah and fatter. Second, there are several regional variations. The Lebanese fattah, for example, is radically different from the Egyptian variety. At Le Caire 1940, you are treated to the Egyptian dish with courteous aplomb.
There is no gold-standard fattah. Each and every cook prepares this delicious dish in a particular way. The key ingredient is garlic, toasted bread, rice and tomatoes. Meat, too, is an essential ingredient, and the choice is yours; it can be cooked with chicken, lamb or beef.
In the popular imagination, it is a dish that is very much associated with the Eid Al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice. A magnificent course when prepared to perfection, it is also a dish that can go horribly wrong. The only fattah I dislike with a passion is the calves knuckles variety. It can be gooey, sticky and disgusting and I was determined not to have it for the Eid. As a matter of fact, I only tasted it once and vowed never to try it again. It was my first and last time of sampling the revolting "delicacy" -- for many people it is an absolutely riveting affair. I am not too keen on the chicken variety, either. The beef can be tasty, especially if it is a juicy shank. But, my all-time favourite is lamb fattah. The meat is flavoursome and succulent, and so it was in Le Caire 1940, Heliopolis.
The other popular Eid dish is ruqqaq (literally layers). This particular dish is made of wafer-thin layers of pastry stuffed with minced meat and soaked in a rich meaty broth. The whole is then shoved into the oven and heated for 20 minutes or until the meat is tender and the layers of savoury pastry wafers have absorbed the natural meaty juices.
Eid Al-Adha is essentially about the ritual slaughter of a sacrificial animal, either an ox, calf or sheep. It commemorates the biblical and Quranic slaughter of a ram by the Prophet Abraham in obedience to God. The eating of meat is therefore characteristic of the feast and most people eat it at home and in abundance. The more meat, the merrier. Few venture to eat out in restaurants, but if you do, I strongly recommend Le Caire 1940 of Heliopolis. And, for the squeamish or the vegetarians, there are plenty of dishes on offer that cater to their tastes. At any rate, the Eid is really for the omnivorous creature and most of the festive season's traditional dishes are a delicious, albeit highly calorific, mix of meat and carbohydrates. Sweets, too, are in plentiful supply on Eid dining tables.
The Eid is a time for indulgence, and the Heliopolis branch of Le Caire 1940 is a perfect place to spend the Eid evening. It is rather more spacious than its Zamalek counterpart, in addition to being cheerier and far more feisty. In short, more appropriate for the festive season. Eid Al-Adha is the major religious festival in Islam. This year it falls just four days before Christmas, so it is a double feast. You can have your Christmas turkey too at Le Caire 1940.
It is indeed, the perfect place for a couply Christmas. Perhaps it is not as stylish as the older Zamalek establishment, but it nevertheless boasts several exceptional advantages. While the range of items on the menu is exactly the same as its Zamalek namesake, the portions at Le Caire 1940, Heliopolis, are rather more generous. The ambiance is, in my humble opinion, fit for the Eid, while the Zamalek outlet is perfect for a romantic dinner. Boasting more open space than its cosy Zamalek counterpart, the atmosphere at Le Caire 1949 in Heliopolis also doubles up as a café.
Le Caire 1940
96 Omar Ibn Al-Khattab Street, Almaza, Heliopolis, Cairo
Dinner for two: LE275
Tel: 27355226


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