Beyond its delightful baladibread, Cairo isn’t known for the quality of its breadmakers. Unlike the French in Vietnam or Lebanon, those stuffy Brits never inspired a love of yeast in Cairo’s kitchens. While baladi bread is delightful, there is more to be found in the bread universe. And while surprisingly delicious baladi bread is on offer nearly everywhere, quality versions of more diverse breads have traditionally been hard to find.
Thankfully, this is all starting to change. While European-style baguettes and loaves are hardly new to the Cairo food scene (Flamenco, Bread Basket, Seoudi, or Fino, have been offering them for years, to name a few) they have hardly done justice to the glory that can be found in a fine loaf.
The first to change all of this was Gourmandise, the café on the ground floor of the First Mall in Giza, which serves up delicious baguettes, alongside grain, olive and old fashioned loaves. The quality of Gourmandise is attested to by the fact that they have locked up the French market in town. If you want to find quality bread, following the French is not a bad tactic. A rash of openings have subsequently followed Gourmandise’s example, including the recent arrival TBS in Zamalek, and Fromagerie in Maadi.
But what about the more distant cousins in the bread family? In particular, bagels. There has always been Jared’s. But these bagels are too light, too unsubstantial, too, one could almost say, baladi, to do justice to the real, gloriously weighty, New York City variety.
Well, bagel aficionados, weep no more. We stumbled across a new place a few days ago, Munch & Bagel, opposite the Yamema Center in Zamalek. Munch, which is the brainchild of returning Egyptian expatriate Ahmed and his Polish wife whom he met in New York, have opened up an otherwise non-descript shop, sandwiched between sporting goods stores, banks and pharmacies, along an otherwise non-descript block.
Munch & Bagel’s homemade bagels are substantial. There’s hardly room for the hole in the middle, and their weight is closer to that of a rock than water, yeast and flour. They come in a variety of incarnations, including plain, sesame, onion and poppy seed. They can be served traditionally with cream cheese, or with a variety of other accompaniments on offer. We’ve only tried them twice, so we’ve yet to figure out all the various permutations, but we stumbled across a homemade tuna concoction that is scrumptious. If bagels aren’t your thing, there’s much more available, including homemade muffins, Belgian waffles, pancakes and salads.
Deprivation of foreign goods has always been part of the Cairo experience. My wife still hoards toothpaste assuming that the stuff won’t be around next time she stops by. But the deprivation line is becoming harder and harder to maintain. Cairo has great bread, now great bagels, what’s next, world-class donuts? Nothing against that gloriously fusty House of Donuts, but there’s considerable room for some innovation here. Any Cairo foodies ready to take up the challenge?
Details: Munch & Bagel, 2 Taha Hussain St., Zamalek. Tel: 02735 4392. Open every day, 8am-midnight, Thursday to 1am. Bagels 5LE each; sandwiches under LE20. Delivery available inside of Zamalek, Agouza and Mohendasiin.