“When you get off at Ahram metro station, you need to walk as if you were heading to the Mar Morcos Church; it is there on your left hand side before the second intersection leading to the church.”
These were the directions I gave my friend Sally on how to get to the newly opened El-Dahaby restaurant, which serves an upgraded version of typical Egyptian street food.
This meant, I thought, sufficient choice of the kind of food that would match our Lent fasting diets.
The expectation proved to be true: a diverse selection of falafel, foul, fried eggplant and French fries, and a particular Lent menu that has inviting items including a dish of mushroom fattah (rice, fried mushrooms with garlic, and fried pitta bread), lentil soup with fried vermicelli, and a vegetarian pie.
Sally was pleased with the choice and with the simple and neat setting of the small restaurant.
Having ordered, and started with tea – because unfortunately there is no lemonade and no tea with mint -- Sally grabbed the book I was reading while waiting for her: Mekkawy Said’s Joy Sellers – Stories and Reflections.
“Is it a novel? Ah, no, it is a selection of articles; I love his writing – I can still remember full passages of his novel ‘The Swan Song’,” she said.
I showed her a particular article that I was reading: “Please Drop Me Next to the Church.”
“It proves exactly what I was telling you, that socially discriminatory attitudes are far from being a by-product of the Muslim Brotherhood's one year in office,” I said.
Sally read through the five-page article, while a pleasant and smiling young waiter served the bread basket and traditional salads: pickled tomatoes and tehina.
“It happens all the time; it is not just about bus and microbus drivers who feel offended if you ask them to drop you next to a church as opposed to if you ask them to drop you by a hotel or a supermarket; it is also some taxi drivers,” Sally lamented.
“But I think whatever anti-Coptic sentiment there was in society, it became much worse during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, and if they had stayed for more than one year things would have been worse, because they were willing to be vocal about their dislike of Copts, whereas anyone else would just be too embarrassed to demonstrate this sentiment,” she added.
I told her that I thought it was always better for societies to be open about their biases so that they could fix them.
I told her that we surrendered too fast to our hidden fears and we overlooked the very interesting point that Said is offering in his books:
Muslims don’t know enough or maybe don’t know anything about Christians, and this is why they look at them with hidden skepticism.
This turns into unkind statements such as: my doctor is a Copt but he is a good man; or, my boss is a Copt but he is very principled.
We enjoyed the ultimate siyami (fasting) feast put on our table at the delightful old-fashioned popular restaurant, contained in aluminum dishes and simple paper plates.
The food was really good. The falafel was particularly nice: crispy, not too oily and not too heavy as would be the case with the ordinary foul and falafel restaurants. Sally particularly liked the sandwich falafel and fried eggplant sandwich, while I was very happy with the spicy falafel sandwich.
“I think we could have given the Muslim Brotherhood a chance had they not actually maximised our fears; I cannot get over the day the Cathedral was attacked,” Sally said.
“Certainly this was the sentiment of some, especially from the younger generation – but I think the vast majority wanted them to go; you have to admit that there was a lot of lobbying to vote for Ahmed Shafiq during the second round of the presidential elections because of the fear of the Muslim Brotherhood,” I said.
“Do you believe it is only four years since the campaign for the presidential elections of 2012? It feels like it was last century,” Sally said.
Having enjoyed our meal, we decided to take the advice of the waiter and try the siyami dessert: a petit-pain sandwich of crushed peanuts and honey.
Offered with a fresh serving of tea, it was very good. “This is a much nicer and lighter version of the peanut butter,” Sally noted.
As we paid the bill that came to a little over EGP 150, Sally read through the menu one more time.
We agreed to come after Easter, when the fast was over, to enjoy the inviting breakfast of fetir meshaltat (puff pastry spreads) with cream, cream cheese and honey.
El-Dahaby is located on at Baghdad Street, Cairo.