Legend has it that in Fatimid Cairo there lived a poor and humble man that was known across the Ottoman Empire for his amazing dishes and generous hospitality. The sultan, dressed as a poor man, went to him and spent two days enjoying the culinary genius of Al-Sayyed (the master) Abou El Sid. When he returned to his palace he invited Abou El Sid to become the royal chef. At first, Abou El Sid was happy to be in the royal palace, and was honored by the Sultan’s invitation. He soon began to miss his humble origins though, and requested from the Sultan that he be allowed to go home. The Sultan put the secrets of his recipe as the price of his freedom. Abou El Sid refused, and after much struggle finally escaped the palace, compiled all of his recipes in a book and hid them in a safe place. Centuries later, the book was found and became the inspiration for Egypt’s most popular authentic restaurant, named after the incredible host and chef, Abou El Sid.
Now, the recipes have made their way to Kuwait’s Gulf Road, entrance to Green Island. While the story above may just be a legend, the hospitality and amazing food described are quite real, and hold true to Egypt’s tradition of incredible hospitality. From the moment you step through the iconic wooden doors, you are transported to a glamorous era of timeless music, exquisite taste and warmth. The walls are lined with paintings of iconic legends like Faten Hamama, Abdel Halim Hafez and of course, Abou El Sid himself, in the background the incredible show stopping voice of Um Kalthoum. You are seated on wide golden chairs similiar to those found in most classical Egyptian homes, or you can choose to sit on a deep burgundy velvet couch, either way it feels as if you have come to your favorite auntie’s house for a family gathering.
The ambiance is one that the legend himself would have been proud of, but it is the food that will keep you coming back for more. Whether you are there for a hefty dinner or a light bite of mezzas, the dining spread (sufra) at Abou El Sid will make any Egyptian grandmother proud. For those less adventurous there are the typical, but delicious, grape leaves, white cheese with tomatoes and bessara (a blended fava bean and coriander dip). You can also opt for the Abou El Sid Salad, a mixture of smoked eggplant, green peppers and tomatoes with a bit of vinegar and olive oil, or the lentil dip made with onions and garlic.
One of our personal favorites was the traditional Kishk, made with caramelized onions, fried flour and dollops of yogurt to create a smooth texture, that makes for the perfect appetizer dip. If you are looking for something a little meatier to start with, try the kobeba, a minced meatball covered with cracked wheat. If you are feeling adventurous, and like a delicious tasting dish, the Mumbar is a must have. Only for the strong stomached, this is a traditional rice stuffed large intestine cooked in a tomato sauce. The lining is boiled long enough for it to be slightly chewy, and then sautéed quickly for flavor, and is a delicious start to a meal.
No matter what you choose, the salads are accompanied with a basket of fresh made traditional Egyptian bread, the backbone of the country’s cuisine. The hearty and thick pita-like bread is used as a utensil for delicious appetizers, or to make sure you get every drop of sauce from your main dish.
Ask any Egyptian who is away from their mother what he or she misses most about her, and more often than not it will have something to do with her delicious home cooking. They’ll tell you of the amazing Bamya (okra), that she makes special with veal chunks and tomato sauce and just the right amount of spice from a chili pepper. Or Molokheyah (jew’s mallow) with white rice and roasted chicken that bursts with garlic and coriander and has that delicious hint of tomato sauce. They may regale you with tales of their mother’s Fattah dish, made with just the right amount of bread, rice and tomato sauce. Or recount late night eating Koshary, a pasta, rice and lentil dish topped with tomato sauce and fried onion strips. Now, Egyptians can make new memories with these timeless dishes at Abou El Sid, with main dishes that take them back to childhood memories, and give everyone else the thrill of a meal made with boundless love.
The chefs have also perfected favorites like Hamam, a stuffed pigeon that most people eat like a sandwich, then nibble on the meat around the tiny bones that burst with a medley of deep spices like coriander and cinnamon. If you want something more traditional try the veal chops on a bed of mixed rice. The juicy meat pieces are placed on a bed of rice made with raisins and nuts, and fried with onions and spices. For the eggplant lovers they have created the perfect Mesaka’a dish. The sliced eggplants stew in a tomato sauce with spicy peppers, whole tomatoes and minced meat. While it is served with a bowl of white Egyptian rice, it’s just as good with their fresh baked bread.
At most restaurant reviews we would tell you to leave plenty of room for delicious desserts, but at Abou El Sid desserts are light enough to share at the end of any meal. The rice pudding and Mahalabiya are cream custards (one with rice), which are cold and light without too much sugar. For the pumpkin fans their Kar Assaly is a delicious blend of pumpkins and raisins topped with a delicious cream, also served cold. If you have a little more room the Oum Ali is the perfect dessert of flaky dough immersed in a warm, sweet cream with nuts and raisins to top it.
So, if you are looking for the tastes of Cairo that remind you of your childhood, or just want an authentic taste of Egypt, Abou El Sid is ready to host. Take an afternoon to bask in their incredible hospitality and enjoy the pleasures of a Sufra Masriyah (Egyptian dinner spread).
Abou El Sid is located at the entrance of Green Island on the Arabian Gulf Road. For more information, call 2226 4525 or visit their website www.abouelsid.com . Follow them on Instagram @abouelsid_kw.