Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Can Cairo street eats be the next global foodie phenomenon?

By Leone Lakhani, for CNN
updated 10:51 PM EST, Sun January 12, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • For many residents of Cairo, the best food is street food
  • It is not about style; it means to be quick, cheap and filling
  • Zooba cafe in Cairo turns street food into fine dining

Editor's note: Follow the Inside the Middle East team on Instagram

(CNN) -- In Egypt, the words "street food" and "gourmet" don't often go hand in hand.

Street food is not about style; it's meant to be quick, cheap and filling. However Chris Khalifa, a 30-year-old owner of Zooba cafe in Cairo, has tried to change that.

He saw a trend elsewhere in the world: chefs hit the streets and serve dishes out of food trucks.

"I noticed no one had ever tried to do this with Egyptian street food," said Khalifa. "I try to create a brand around a more gourmet Egyptian street food."

But instead bringing gourmet food to the street, Zooba turns street food into fine dining. Located in Cairo's upmarket Zamalek neighborhood, the cafe serves classic street fare like koshari and falafel with a new twist.

The dishes, like spinach-infused "baladi" bread or sweet potatoes roasted with a blowtorch, are prepared by professionally trained chefs, using top-quality ingredients.

Read more: Egypt's street art revolution

Cairo's thriving art scene

Khalifa's business partner, Moustafa El Rafaey, handles the creative side of running the restaurant. Trained at a culinary arts program in the United States, he initially found cooking Egyptian cuisine was quite daunting -- and foreign.

Egypt's farming revolution

"I was scared to be honest," said El Rafaey. "I had (a) good international background. To leave all this to cook... Egyptian food was a bit scary for me."

I put smiles on people's faces with my food
Moustafa Elrafaey

To develop the restaurant's menu, El Rafaey traveled across Egypt. He mastered local recipes, tried new flavors and searched for best ingredients. He relishes his experience, saying that preparing food is like creating an artwork.

"Anything that puts a smile on your face is an art. When you watch a good dance or listen to a good music that makes your smile," Elrafaey says. "And I put smiles on people's faces with my food."

"When we started, I honestly had no idea how people would respond to a gourmet 'ful,' 'tameya' or 'koshari,'" said Khalifa, who quit his banking job to start the restaurant. "The response has been good, people have been coming in."

Business is so good that they are thinking to expand, opening a second and a third branch of Zooba in Cairo. And perhaps one day, in Dubai or even London -- which means taking Egyptian street food to the world.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:57 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The smell of traditional dishes served during Ramadan fill the house of Iman, a Lebanese mother of four.
updated 7:22 AM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Unmanned aerial vehicles aren't generally thought of as technology that improves lives; the UAE wants to change that.
updated 9:49 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
How an Iranian musician took ancient Persian poetry to the top of the U.S. charts.
updated 3:36 AM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
How will the elevators work in the world's tallest building?
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
When Saher Shaikh first moved to Dubai, the rights of the city's labor population was the furthest thing from her mind.
updated 6:00 AM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
It's not quite greening the desert, but an ambitious plan for an underground park could transform Abu Dhabi.
updated 7:06 AM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
CNN's Ben Wedeman explores ancient footpaths in the wilds of the West Bank.
updated 6:51 AM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Inside the Middle East meets photographer Garo Nalbandian who has captured life in Jerusalem's Old City for more than half a century.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
The Middle East's is home to some of the world's most endangered animals.
updated 10:25 PM EDT, Sun May 18, 2014
Archaeoastronomers (yes, there is such a job) think they know why Petra was built the way it was.
updated 11:40 PM EDT, Wed May 14, 2014
What's it like to stay in Wadi Rum, one of the world's most stunning natural wonders?
updated 12:49 AM EDT, Thu May 1, 2014
The British Museum in London has taken a unique look under the bandages of its mummies using CT scans.
updated 10:37 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Explore the attitudes to Hollywood films from six different countries in the region.
ADVERTISEMENT