Local Food. Feted by George Fawzi and Amani Fouad, the owners of Cairo based Excel Travel who hosted our Egyptian excursion, our small group of agency owners assumed we were having a quick cocktail, a hello and good bye with the gracious couple and their management team. Egyptian hospitality is legendary, and we were very surprised by the sumptuous catered dinner in their gorgeous garden. Plus, they included the GM’s and their spouses of the local five-star hotels and Amit Lakhanpal, the GM of the Oberoi Beach Resort, Sahl Hasheesh Red Sea, Egypt, truly a five-star evening. The perfect send off after a glorious Egyptian Journey.
On my list of dining spots was the historic café Naguib Mahfouz Café operated by Oberoi Resorts. This amazing historic cafe is a welcome respite from the masses in the busy bazaar. Without my guide, I would have never discovered the location, Amit had offered to make me a lunch and dinner reservation, insisting I must not miss this celebrated gem.This restaurant and café was originally called Khan El Khalili, but Naguib Mahfouz’s continuous visits, and his winning of the Nobel Prize inspired the name change, it’s tucked away in the mysterious labyrinth of Khan el Khalili Bazaar.
The cafe opened in 1989 and is a tribute to the famous Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. Today, it’s run by the lavish Oberoi Hotels, but the elegant arabesque ambiance transports you back to the days of Old Cairo. It was established in 1989, the same year Naguib Mahfouz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. It became a favorite spot in Cairo for Mahfouz himself, and is very close to Al-Gamaleya area, the area where he was born. He even had a favorite table where he used to sit whenever he visited. After he passed away, the café owner put Naguib Mahfouz’s pictures on the table and decorated it with many of his books.
Cross the threshold from the ancient bazaar into another time zone. From the stunning decorative door to the classic staff uniforms, the brilliant lighting fixtures and the colorful carpets, there’s even a shoe cleaner sitting in one of the corners of the café. The café is an embodiment of the Fatimid era. The waiters are adorned with Tarboosh hats and outfitted in full regalia, the sweet smell of Hookah pipes permeate the air. Old Arabic music plays in the background and guests quietly chatter while enjoying hibiscus tea or indulging in Egyptian Chicken Shawerma. A juice bar offers frothy chilled drinks, essential in the Cairo heat!
Located in the heart of Khan el Kahlili, the Naguib Mahfouz Café is an oasis from the lively chaos of the bazaar. Naguib Mahfouz’s pictures line the walls, the titles of his books engraved in wood, complimented by exotic arabesque décor.
Who was Naguib Mahfouz? Naguib Mahfouz was a celebrated Egyptian writer considered to be one of the first contemporary writers of Arabic Literature. Born in Old Cairo in 1911, most of his early works were focused on short stories in his beloved city. Mahfouz published 34 novels, 350 short stories, many movie scripts, newspaper articles and theatrical plays. Most of his tales, including plays for the stage, explore the themes of existentialism.
Writing for well over 70 years, he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988, the first Arabic writer ever to be honored by a Nobel! He died in 2006 at the age of 94. Leaving a lasting legacy with his published body of work that is still very popular in Egyptian and foreign films today.
Visit the café if you are touring the bazaar for a pause and a petite repast and return in the evening to the elegant restaurant. In the evening, arrive late as the city truly wakes up for dinner late in the evening. Once the clock ticks 9 or 10 pm, sit back and enjoy charming local oriental music with singers performing classic songs. An extensive menu offers delectable bites and full dinners. Linger and soak in the atmosphere! A broad menu of local dishes is offered: Lamb Kofta, Hawawshi, Baladi Oriental Sojouk, Meat Shawerma, Chicken Shawerma, Alexandrian Liver.
5 El Badestan Lane, Khan El Khalili, Down Town, Cairo, Egypt.