Visiting Abu Shakra, an Egyptian food restaurant in Abu Dhabi, is like dining in Cairo.
This working class restaurant evokes Egypt’s crowds and frenzied pace. In its crowded kitchen space, a single cook grabs from assorted bowls of hummus, fried eggplant, and French fries, all sitting within reach on the counter.
Even its main location – on the ground floor of a faded apartment tower with paint peeling from its concrete facade and wires dangling from dusty windows – would fit in more in old Cairo than in the UAE’s modern capital.
Abu Shakra’s food is as authentic as it comes.
The menu is filled with Egyptian staples like molokhia – a viscous, dark green soup made of mallow leaves and garlic – and bamia, an okra soup served in a tomato sauce with stewed lamb or beef chunks. Abu Shakra also serves kebab, kofta, and Om Ali, a traditional Ottoman dessert made of creamy bread pudding, raisins, and cinnamon.
No wonder Egyptian expats feel so at home dining at Abu Shakra, which has been in business since 1981 (making it one of the city’s oldest restaurants, nearly a decade older than the venerable Persian food Isfahan Nights).
“It’s all Egyptians who come here,” says Mohamed, the restaurant’s manager, who is from the Abbasiya district of Cairo.
Abu Shakra is best experienced at breakfast. The restaurant gets relatively full, and the waiters scramble to handle the steady stream of customers, most of whom order take-out.
They serve foul – a bowl of boiled fava beans in a soupy tomato base with tahina swirled on top – and taameya, crispy falafel patties with a sesame-coated exterior.
The plates come with a traditional selection of mixed pickles, or torshi, and a plate of fried vegetables including cauliflower, eggplant, green chilies, bell peppers, and French fries (the fries are served with everything, even with hard-boiled eggs).
Although Abu Shakra’s cooks serve up foul in a traditional Egyptian bulb-shaped metal pot, something about the foul just doesn’t taste the way it does in Cairo.
“It’s the beans,” Mohamed admits with a slight twinge of disappointment. “I think we get these from the UK, and it’s just not the same.”
The ingredients may not be Egyptian, but it’s hard to find a better bowl of Cairo-style foul in Abu Dhabi.
For a hearty meal with authentic flavors and gut-busting portions, it’s a hard breakfast to beat. Especially for the price.
Abu Shakra: see the menu
Address: Khalifa (Istiqlal) Street near New York University Abu Dhabi’s downtown campus in between cross-streets Khalid bin Al Waleed Road and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum (2nd) Street, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Telephone: +971 2 631 3400