The falafel is crunchy, crumbly (as opposed to dry), as green as a Granny Smith and, most importantly, fresh. The only thing is – it’s not technically falafel, it’s taameyya. “They’re Egyptian falafels,” says Cairo Takeaway’s owner, Hesham El Masry. “There's a lack of representation of Egyptian food [in Sydney]. Middle Eastern food is quite similar across the board, but people tend to put everything in the Lebanese basket.”
El Masry says Egyptian food has its own history, dishes and food culture, and that’s exactly what he’s hoping to bring to Cairo Takeaway. The restaurant-takeaway shop is modelled (the design’s by Andrea Katehos, El Masry’s wife) on the feel and flavours of Cairo’s street stalls. Outside there are cane tables and leather stools, and inside, a counter of fresh ingredients, a drinks fridge with Arabic iterations of popular soft drinks, a qidra (a tagine-like earthenware pot, pronounced “edra”) and in plain view, the falafel deep-fryer. “This is traditionally how they do it, they wouldn't have any glass, though. There's no regulations, just a deep fryer on the seat pumping out falafels,” says El Masry.
In Egypt there’d be one vendor making falafels, another grilling meat over charcoals and another selling bread. El Masry has brought all the most popular street dishes together. Along with the falafels, which come wrapped in a pita pocket with greens, tahini and pickles, there are rolls stuffed with charcoal-roasted lamb, garlic chicken or bronzed cauliflower. And plates of dips, meat and salad. For those looking to try something different, opt for Egypt’s national dish, koshari. The base is rice and lentils with thin wheat noodles, chickpeas, spiced salsa and crispy fried onions on top. “It’s a cheap peasant food, but it’s very delicious,” says El Masry.
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For breakfast on the weekend, Cairo Takeaway swaps beers (from neighbours Young Henrys and Wayward Brewing Co) and grilled meats for karkadé (hibiscus tea), baked eggs with Egyptian sausage, slow-cooked fava beans and pasterma (a Middle-Eastern air-dried beef) rolls. To keep the recipes as authentic to Cairo as possible, El Masry employs the best Egyptian chefs he knows, his mum and her friends. “I have to, she's been cooking for so long. I love the food. I grew up eating it,” he says.