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Breaking down the barriers
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 19 - 03 - 2012

CAIRO - The door is always open and people come in and out all the time, asking Somaya what's for dinner.‘Fasahet Somaya' or ‘Somaya's Backyard' is a very small downtown restaurant that serves traditional Egyptian food and you feel that there's a story behind the place.
It's not just a restaurant, it's simply a home for all Egyptians – as is the whole of downtown, as a matter of fact.
Downtown is the heart of Cairo. If you take a long stroll through this district, you will find that most people know each other, while young people sit with ageing intellectuals in the cafés on the pavements, drinking their tea while discussing Egypt's future.
Fasahet Somaya, a small restaurant opened by Somaya, a very humble 42-year-old Egyptian woman, after the recent revolution, reeks of downtown!
The place is cosy and warm, with its walls decorated in a very simple Egyptian style, with stickers advertising revolutionary campaigns such as ‘Kazebon' (Liars), a campaign directed against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and posters made by young artists, of whom the revolution has been the making.
“When I was young, I didn't know how to cook. I only learnt when I got married and travelled to Italy with my husband. We stayed there for ten years and I tasted the most delicious food, taking pains to learn how to cook every dish I tried,” Somaya said.
“The Italians always helped me whenever I asked how to make a certain dish. Soon I knew how to cook all sorts of things.
“What helped was the fact that my husband was working in a famous restaurant there and he taught me the tricks of the trade,” she added in an interview with the Egyptian Mail.
When Somaya, a Faculty of Commerce graduate, returned to Egypt, she firstly worked as an executive manager in a steel company, before landing a job as an executive manager in Merit Publishing House.
Then the revolution happened, that changed not only Egypt's future, but also Somaya's lifestyle.
The manager of Merit Publishing House, located very close to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, got his staff to help him provide revolutionaries with medicines, water and food, all for free.
And Somaya it was who cooked the food for the revolutionaries. When the 18-day revolution was over, many people, so impressed with her delicious food, suggested to Somaya that she ought to open a restaurant.
“At first, I was so afraid of going for it, especially as it's so expensive to rent a place near Tahrir, but many people gave me a lot of support,” she said.
“This restaurant is not only for Somaya, as it is also for everyone who helped me find this place, as well as furnishing and decorating it. I owe them a big debt of gratitude.”
Fasahet Somaya is in a narrow alley; the premises had been abandoned long before Somaya decided to open hear restaurant there. “This alley was frequented by workers who came during their dinner break to take their tea at the small café opposite, but now my restaurant has changed the dynamic of the place, giving it a more cosmopolitan spirit, with many people, Egyptians and foreigners, coming to sample my delicious Egyptian cuisine,” she said proudly.
Fasahet Somaya has also played a very important role during the critical events that have happened since the revolution, for example the incidents in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and outside the Cabinet headquarters.
When things started to get out of hand again, Somaya's restaurant was used as a hospital to treat the injured.
Somaya, who does all the cooking herself, offers a particular dish on a particular day of the week – for example, pasta on Sunday, a vegetable dish on Saturday and so on.
“I'm really happy with my small restaurant, as it allows me to get close to the people. Food is a great way of breaking down the barriers between Egyptians and foreigners too,” Somaya stressed.

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