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Monday, 16 December 2019

Bites and chat at El-Seit Hosniyah: A glimpse of a grandmother's menu

Ahram Online delves into the colourful traditional menu of a Cairene restaurant that brings back nostalgia of a grandma’s lunch table

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 18 Jun 2015
Photo: El-Sit Hosneya
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El-Seit Hosniyah could safely be translated as “Chez la grand-maman,” because when the food is brought out it instantly brings back memories of a grandma’s lunch table.

Those who have to eat out often will know exactly that feeling of a sudden craving for home-cooked food, in abundance and in a diversity that goes beyond what has customarily been a stew of potato and veal cubes with white rice and a mixed green salad on the side.

It could hit several people who work or hang out together for their meals at the same time. It could happen around 3pm, when El-Seit Hosniyah is about to serve the many dishes it has on its colourful and inviting menu.

“The menu is good enough, or maybe it is bad enough, to make one really hungry. It looks like it has come out of my grandmother’s lunch table in Tanta all those decades ago,” said one clearly starved lady in her late forties to two younger lunch companions.

With a firmly approving nod, and an “I know what you mean” smile, a young lady in her early 20s and a gentleman in his mid-30s agreed.

“It does look like that — exactly like that. Home-cooked food, at the table of a grandmother in Tanta. My grandparents lived in Tanta too,” said the young lady.

Because it is an inviting a menu, the two ladies and the gentleman, all hungry, take their time with its divisions of tawagen (oven baked stews), fattah (rice and crispy croutons marinated with soup and fried garlic, with many toppings ranging from beef to chicken) and kawreih (cows feet).

The "main dishes” and the "grills” section of the colourful menu don’t hit anyone as typically "grandmother’s material," because at the table of la Grande-maman every dish is a main dish and the grills are not that many. Consequently, the three who were hoping for a dip into their grandmothers’ dishes agree to dismiss the shish-tawouks and the cutlets.

Photo: El-Sit Hosneya

They also agree to order the kind of variety their grandmothers would offer: some cold starters; boiled and spiced potato cubes; boiled black lentils; a green salad.

“We used to have the boiled black lentils as a meal in and by itself that would be served with olive oil, balady (common) bread at the house of my other grandmother — the one who lived in Cairo,” said the middle-aged lady.

“Yes, we used to have this for Friday breakfast sometimes, also at the house of my grandmother who lives in Cairo,” said the younger lady.

“Really?” asked the gentleman whose hometown is on the borders between Giza and Beni-Suef, in Middle Egypt.

The hot starters — mashi, moumbar and keshk — offered as a better reminder of grandmother’s feasts. “Homemade quality,” was consensually announced.

The moulokhaiyah with white rice and boiled-fried chicken breasts looked so inviting, even for the lady who in her forties never really ventured into a bowl of the green high-iron thick soupy vegetable.

The potato stew with veal and the side rice-with-vermicelli was very tasty and prompted the highest words of satisfaction from everyone at the table.

The vermicelli with meatballs was the one dish that was fully eaten, as such offering itself for the top position, a rating that it could share with both the mahshi and keshk in the hot starters section that were also demolished.

Despite the fact that these all-in-all nine dishes were too much for three people to finish, no matter how hungry, dessert was not going to be skipped.

“This is the kind of meal where one really over-eats, but still goes for dessert and tea with mint and coffee,” it was agreed.

During the wait for the final part of the meal, and almost drugged under the effect of the rich food, the small crowd comfortably shared childhood memories: a father who used to cook with his wife for his two daughters and later got into cooking with his eldest daughter; a father who used to come back from work to immediately serve lunch that was instantly followed by a cup of tea on the balcony; and a father who used to eat so little that it was very difficult for him to convince his children to eat their meals also.

The mahalabiyah, oum ali and caramelised pumpkins delightfully interrupted the retrieval of sweet memories. The overall rating of the last course was well above average.

The bill of close to LE500 was compatible with the setting, the service and the quality of food that could have really sufficed for four or five people. But the willingness of the waiters to pack the large leftovers to be passed on to Cairo street kids was reassuring that the eternal grandmother’s motto of, “No food should go to waste when so many people are hungry,” is kept alive.

For Ramadan, one of the keen waiters announced, the menu remains the same, but with extra setups for group iftars (the breaking of the fast), “which is usually groups of co-workers, because families generally eat this type of food at home.”

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