It's too hot to even contemplate a high-calorie cooked plate, but you are too hungry to settle for a snack or a small salad. Or maybe it's simply Iftar time, as you wander around Cairo’s inevitable food court of Zamalek.
If you are in the mood for a fresh and filling meal, then “inSeason”, the ultimate salad, fruit and juice bar, is the right destination.
It is especially so if you are in the easy-going company of a young woman friend who is keen to explore and willing, if slightly disappointed, to put aside the juice and talk about Cairo’s Sufi gatherings.
“They have all the vegetables and fruits in the world, and they all look so neatly cut,” the friend announces, as she looks through the fridge's appealing choice of vegetable snacks, green wraps, fruit salads, yogurt blends – including the oh-so-inviting parfaits. "They definitely all look of good quality and are obviously fresh."
Beyond the juices in the fridge, an elaborate menu details 10 choices – not only orange juice or an orange-and-carrot blend, but also chilled choices of “Liver Scrubber”, “Fountain of Youth” or “System Reboot”.
But not all is available because, as Mohamed the waiter said, “If it's not in season and if it's not fresh, then it's on the menu, but not in the fridge”.
The Liver Scrubber is announced to be “super rich in antioxidants”, and it lives up to the promise of “a smooth and sweet tasting juice” of apple, beet, carrot, lemon and “just a kick of ginger” – just 127 calories, specifies the menu.
The System Reboot, at the price of LE 30, promoted on the menu as great for the blood circulation, is a good -- even if not immediately amusing -- blend of aloe, pineapple, bok choy, apple, chard, kale, ginger and lemon.
The choice of salads is splendid, and also reassuringly low in calories.
And you can also build your "own bio salad’, with “instructions" on the menu reminiscent of IKEA's for assembling beds and cupboards.
The two tired and hungry ladies – one "super hungry" – choose the signature salads.
“How big is the salad – how filling?" they ask the smiling Mohamed "Should we consider one of your oven-baked potatoes on the side?”
“I suggest you order the salad first, and then decide,” he replies, with an even bigger smile.
Having announced that the first three choices are unavailable, either because the ingredients are finished or out of season, Mohamed eventually promises that the ‘Greco-Roman’ is good. It is LE 57 for 351 calories, as the menu specifies, along with other details about the salad's carb, fat and protein content.
“So there are several Sufi schools here in Cairo," says the younger friend, who has been to many Sufi classes in Cairo and elsewhere around the country. "Some of their Sheikhs host weekly classes, and allow non-followers of to join in.”
“Why don’t you join once? It's always so inspiring. There's always a short sermon if you wish… No, no, it's not preaching… It's a talk about a spiritual issue… then there is a chance for people to pray and to eat something and chat."
"The objective is to help people to closely connect to their soul,” she says convincingly, before bursting into laughter at her older friend's disapproving look.
The arrival of the humongous salad interrupts them.
“Big enough?” the waiter asks, with a confident smile.
“Good enough?” the customer replies. "That's the question."
“Good enough” it is indeed, with its perfect mix of sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, feta cheese, fresh mint leaves and candied walnuts – although perhaps the pomegranate vinaigrette is a little too much.
But this does not interrupt the discussion on the trend of religious lessons in Cairo, especially over the last couple of decades.
“It's mostly Sufi schools, and they don't preach -- and they don’t usually take place at a mosque," says the younger friend.
“Not just," says the older friend. "There are also so many traditional preaching gatherings that spread Wahhabi ideas so alien to our society. They eliminate our Egyptian social norms in favour of more Gulf-flavoured norms.”
In about 45 minutes, and despite the “inSeason” bar's uncomfortable seating, the salad is fully consumed, and a light dessert is in order.
A choice between the obvious mix of freshly cut fruits and the parfaits is easily settled in favour of the latter. Both friends agree that they look very inviting, as well as being low in calories, and taste at least as good – if not even better.
Having happily followed “nature’s lead” at “inSeason”, you always need a good coffee at the end of a good meal.
In Zamalek, you are close to many cafes for two double espressos, and a conclusion on how good it is that Sufism is in vogue to keep Wahhabism from seducing new young crowds.