Can somebody tell me why I never tried this in Egypt? Why I had to be introduced to this Egyptian staple by an Indian girl living in Dubai? Granted, she’s no ordinary Indian girl living in Dubai – she’s Arva Ahmed, of Frying Pan Tours, but still. This should be something that Cairo promote as Giza, the Khan el-Khalili Souk or the Coptic Quarter. It’s a national treasure.
I’m talking about Feteer (pronounced, in my Australian accent, as “fuh-teer“), a flaky bubbly cushion of crispy pastry that can be filled with anything from honey to beef and olives. Funnily enough, it always seems to contain Kraft cream cheese. Not the gourmet Philly stuff from the supermarket fridge, but giant tubs of preservative-filled, room-temperature, hyper-processed goo, glistening with unnatural pearlessence. It’s slathered in drippy lardy ladelfuls as a base for every other flavour. To my surprise again, it works a charm.
Helio Lounge, a new Egyptian cafe with an interesting take on the cuisine had me and a couple of other bloggers around for a lesson. The first bit seems quite easy.
The next step is where it gets tricky.
Then the wafer-thin dough is (usually) folded upon itself once or twice, and fillings are smeared across, of course starting with the cream cheese. When filled, it’s folded into an envelope, a little like a calzone would be.
Then it’s popped into a furnace – which again I will liken to pizza production – much like a wood-fired pizza oven. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s out again. Pocked with charcoal-dusted bubbles of air, oozing with delicious white cheese, and absolutely steaming with heat.
It’s not just about the food itself, which is pretty darned good. It’s about the experience. Walking into a joint like Al Amor in Hor al Anz on a Thursday night at about 10pm is a heart-starter in itself.
It’s hot – there are three ovens pumping out the degrees. Supper-hungry patrons queue three-deep and three-wide. The marble is slick and slurried with the water that stops it from sticking, and the dough slaps louder than the beat of a drum. The cooks work quickly – at least one feteer each per minute goes in the oven, just in time to bring one out, and check on the other one that went in a minute ago.
It’s a constant movement – sprinkle, roll, fling, slap, fling, slap, stretch, spread, sprinkle, fold, heave, ho, plop and then finally cut inside the cardboard box. It’s then thrust at you, and you have the arduous task of waiting until the feteer is cool enough to touch – a very long 2-3 minutes.
Finding Feteer in Dubai:
- Al Amor (also known as Al Amoor and Al Ammor) – The one recommended by Arva, and so far, my favourite feteer. The Koshari also comes highly recommended. They have restaurants in Hor al Anz and Karama. Basic setup – plastic chairs and tables, cheap, awesome.
- Al Karnak – More famous for their falafel and Umm Ali, but you’ll also find plenty of feteer. Satwa.
- Soarikh – Arva got pretty excited about their “Foul with obesity” (read more) – an Arablish translation of “Foul (beans) with butter”. They also make some slapping good feteer.
- Dar el Kamar in Marina have a mixed reputation – you either love it or hate it. Fancy as far as Egyptian restaurants in Dubai go.
- Geddy has a cult following. This Barsha eatery near Lulus is about to open in Dubai Marina and give Dar el Kamar one hell of a headache.
- Abu el Sid only make sweet feteer, but they’re in a mall and easy to find – besides, the rest of the food is very good.
- Al Qaherah 1940 has a very good reputation among foodies as being the best Egyptian place in Dubai Marina, but there’s a couple of new openings, so there’s going to be stiff competition. Sit-down, fancyish.
- El Pasha is a waterside and well-priced venue in JLT. Lunch buffet and small range of feteer.
- Hadoota is my local, and like Dar el Kamar, a little plusher than the roaside cafe style of the others. They have a fairly extensive menu, and some fantastic falafel.
- And finally, Helio, where they make a more modern style of feteer, that they call ‘Helios’. It’s smaller, and made in rolls rather than flat, cooked in a convection oven, and the Kraft cream cheese is nowhere to be seen. They also make a stuffed falafel ‘Helio’ (Taameya), which combines two great Egyptian tastes in one. Great decor and nice Marina views.
Other Egyptian food to try:
- Koshari – a melange of carbs – lentils, pasta, rice, sweet tomato sauce, and topped with crispy onions. True Egyptian street food. If you want to skip the fateer and just head for this, then try King Koshari.
- Falafel – ground chick pea or foul (fava beans), seasoned with cumin and coriander and sometimes other spices, sometimes breadcrumbed, sometimes with sesame seeds, then deep fried. Eat hot with hummus or tahini or in a sandwich. ‘Foodee’ likes the eatery Foul W Hummus for her hit, and she’s tried falafel all over town, so she should know.
- Foul – you’ll see foul medammes on menus everywhere. It’s fava beans, cooked with onions and spices. Foul Alexandria basically means the same, but with hot sauce.
- Mashi Hamam – Pigeon, stuffed with either rice or cracked wheat, then grilled until skin is crispy. Scrawny but good.
- Kebdah – Chicken livers, fried and spiced.
- Besara – A bit like foul, but broad beans rather than fava beans. Fresher tasting. Good.
- Mesa’ah – like the Egyptian version of Moussaka. Sliced egplant, grilled, then layered with onions and other bits and pieces and cooked in tomato sauce in the oven.
- Mombar – sausage made of lamb intestine, stuffed with rice and herbs and spices.
- Sahlab – also known as salep, a sweet milky drink (or sometimes porridge) made of the powdered tubers from orchid root.
Food tours in Dubai
- Contact Arva at Frying Pan Adventures. She is the one and only (and she’s so good, we don’t really need anyone else.)
Eating feteer in Cairo:
- If you get to Cairo, and you want to try a bit more great food than I did (I succeeded in doing little but getting a supreme dose of Salmonella), then try giving Radwa an email. She won’t take you to a dive and make you eat raw fish from the Nile like my dodgy guide did (I should have known. He looked like a gangster and kept on trying to sell me perfume). Instead she will take you on a tour of Cairo much like Arva does here, through some quarters of history and some food much fresher than the ancient streets. If she’s not available, maybe have a look at these guys or ask your hotel concierge. If I find a city nowadays that doesn’t have a food tour, I’ll eat my boots. (which would probably be better for me than that raw Nile fish.)
- If you want to do it yourself, have a look at this blog – it gives you a list of most of the majors. Tricks for selecting street food that won’t make you sick? Look for a queue that is disproportionate to the crowd elsewhere. Bread is usually pretty safe, as are items that are cooked in front of you (derr…. no raw fish) and look at what everything is being cooked in to help you decide. If you’re paranoid, avoid the likely ingredients to carry excess bacteria – eggs, chicken, fish, raw leafy greens, potatoes, berries and of course anything that might have been washed in impure water.