For better or worse, Cairo’s taste buds are growing more discerning. The combination of the ever-increasing exposure of Egyptians to things foreign, and the general rise–for a certain, tiny segment of the population–in disposable income is leading to the ongoing expansion of unique and sophisticated tastes around town.
The result is a profusion of high-end stores catering to discerning–and frequently expensive–tastes, serving up niche, mostly foreign-inspired, products. The croissants at TBS, the bagels at Munch and Bagel, the ice cream and breads at Gourmandise, the carrot cake at Sugar and Spice, the chocolates at Patchi, the delivery options available via Voila or Delicatesse du Monde, to name but a few, are all are examples of this upscaling of Cairo’s taste buds.
While your parents may have haggled over piasters at their favorite taameya stand, today’s consumers are willing to invest comparatively massive sums to gratify their delicate tastes.
It was only a matter of time before someone added cupcakes to the ever-expanding list of Cairo delicacies. Cupcakes have long been available in Cairo, but never like this. With the opening of Nola, along Brazil Street in Zamalek, the bar for local cupcake purveyors has been dramatically raised.
Nola, freshly opened, currently only in its “soft” opening stage, is the brainchild of dessert entrepreneurs Nour and Leila. The name Nola is a result of running the two names together. They have taken over the space formerly occupied by Radio Shack.
As has been noted in this column previously, this part of Zamalek is undergoing a bit of a renaissance. In the course of the past few months, within a few blocks of Nola’s location along Brazil street between 26th of July St. and the Algerian Embassy, a range of high-end establishments have either opened or been upgraded, including the Sugar and Spice bakery, a newly revitalized Organic and More store, the high-end chocolateer Celebrations, and a new branch of Diwan bookstore, among others.
Nola bakes all its goods on premises. The kitchen is upstairs; downstairs is the storefront, with a small seating area. A Nespresso machine serves up various espresso-style coffee options, but this is almost an after-thought: Nola’s focus is very much on the cupcakes themselves.
As you’d expect from a place devoted to cupcakes, there’s considerable variety on offer. Nola cleverly separates their offerings into three categories: delicious, unique and healthy. Of course, most of the glories are found on the delicious side: vanilla, chocolate, carrot, blueberry. The unique section isn’t far behind: peanut butter, tiramisu, lemon meringue, apple, banana.
But don’t discount the healthy side–even healthy cupcakes can be substantial on taste, including a variety of sugar-free, vegan and low-fat offerings.
In my estimation, a store dedicated to cupcakes in a town like Cairo is a bit of a stretch. Unlike New York, where you have a massive built-in, dedicated cupcake fan-base–ensuring that world-famous places like the Magnolia bakery not only survive but thrive–I’m not sure that Cairo has the requisite number of cupcake-crazed clients willing to make a dedicated visit to Nola just for cupcakes.
If Nola is to pull this off, then the cupcakes themselves have to be fabulous. And, in this regard, they may have succeeded.
On a visit, we sampled broadly from the selection on offer. The chocolate cupcake was a bit dry, a failing beautifully compensated for by delicious frosting on top. The lemon meringue cupcake was superb, moist and zesty, with a delicious meringue on top. The carrot also was a tad dry, again well compensated for by delicious frosting. The banana cupcake was a delight: moist and sweet, yet with a grainy, organic feel, as if it was fresh from your grandma’s kitchen–assuming, of course, that your grandma is Martha Stewart.
I’m wonderfully enthusiastic about everything that Nola stands for: a niche store serving up a single item beautifully; a re-investment in Cairo’s urban core, part of the exciting revitalization of this part of Zamalek; an increasing insistence on quality within the local food scene.
I sincerely hope that Nola is able to make it, and inspire upcoming generations of Cairo's entrepreneurial foodies to continue to expand and diversify the tastes on offer. As a result, I urge each of you to affirm the popularity of this column by heading down to Nola to check it out.
Nola Bakery, open daily from 10 AM to 10 PM. Cupcakes around LE10 each.
4 Brazil St., Zamalek
Tel: 2736 6494
Website: www.nolabakery.com (currently under construction)