Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mohammed Ahmed

Never has a restaurant been as hyped as Mohammed Ahmed in Alexandria. I probably heard about it on my first night in Cairo and didn't stop hearing about it until the day I left. Every time I sat down to enjoy a fuul sandwich or bowl of fuul, someone would chime in and say, "You should try Mohammed Ahmed's fuul in Alex." I made sure to thank the person each and every time such words were uttered.

Despite the hoopla, it was still my attention to sample the famed fuul. I just needed to get to Alex; something that turned out to be a lot easier said than done. After months upon months of excuses, I finally made it up to Egypt's second city. My host: Luli. Along for the ride was Luke and Annika. It was time to feast magnificently.

Rumour has it that the recipe for Mohammed Ahmed's fuul was actually created by a Jew. At that time (a hundred-plus years ago), what is now Mohammed Ahmed was run by the same Jewish man. Eventually the guy was forced to leave town. The recipe then found its way to Mohammed Ahmed, who changed the name of the cafe to that of his name. Please correct me if I'm wrong, Luli.

I had no idea what to expect. Would the place be a fuul stand, a cart, a cafe? Would it just have fuul or would it boast a complete menu? Luli navigated us through the unintelligible Alexandrian streets until we reached the venue. I soon learned that we would be eating in what looked like a rather commercialized establishment. I'll admit to being a tad disappointed that we wouldn't be eating on the street, but I was not here to judge the environment, only the fuul.

We sat down and let Luli get to work on ordering everything on the menu. And I mean everything. I think we got at least one of each thing. Fried cheese, shakshuka (fried eggs and tomatoes), ta'amiya (falafel), tahina, baba ganouq (eggplant spread), among other things. For the main event, I ordered fuul eskandroni accompanied by an omelette.

What came was much different than I had anticipated. The fuul beans were arrayed on a flat dish and left completely whole (no mashing). Creamy tahina was drizzled over the dish along with chopped tomatoes. I couldn't wait to dig in, so I put my omelette on top and mashed the mixture. My utensil this time was shami (Levantine) bread, as opposed to the usual baladi bread found in Cairo.

The first bite was one of surprise and bewilderment. There was nothing powerfully flavoured about the fuul, nor did it live up to the hype. The tahina, mind you, was revolutionary in a way that the Egyptian street food scene has never witnessed. It gave the fuul an extremely light flavour.

I walked out of the restaurant full beyond belief. It was indeed a good day.

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