The best restaurants are those that you stumble upon, and that is exactly how I came to know about Cairo Takeaway. I was wandering through Newtown a few months ago after dinner, when I spotted an ancient-looking pot through a non-descript door, filled with falafel floating in golden oil. Naturally my interest was piqued, and a quick peek inside revealed a cosy, homely restaurant that seems to specialise in Middle-Eastern food, if the falafel vat and counter of fresh salads and pickles were to be believed.
I’m not a big fan of heading out to the St Kilda area. Not only is parking expensive and scarce, the only public transport option is the temperamental tram network that often results in waits of upwards of 20 minutes after 8pm. Luckily, there’s only a few restaurants out that way that I’m extremely keen on trying, so I don’t have to brave the trip out too often. Uncle is one of the restaurants on that short St Kilda to-visit list, but before I could make my way out there, they’ve done everyone a solid and opened up a second branch on Collins Street in the CBD.
Ok, so, get this: I had booked a long-overdue dentist appointment with my regular, preparing for an arduous and expensive afternoon of teeth cleaning and scraping. I get there, sit down, and 10 minutes later, this unfamiliar bloke comes out and goes ‘do you remember me?’ (I obviously didn’t). Seeing the dumb look on my face, he followed up with ‘don’t you? It’s been a long time; high school?’ And then I realised he was in fact, more familiar than I had initially realised. Long story short, that’s how I ended up giving $355 to someone whom I had last seen as an annoying 13 year old classmate.
I’m going to confess to a bad habit of mine: I stop off at Al Alamy about three mornings a week for breakfast instead of making my own like a grown-up. And the worst bit is, I can’t find anything wrong with doing that. After all, a spinach and cheese pie fresh from the oven within 2 minutes covers all 4 bases of the holy quadrilateral – healthy, cheap, tasty, and fast. When I’m peckish for middle-eastern baked goods after work however, I’m out of luck. Or so I thought. Recently I realised that just around the corner from Al Alamy sits Zaatar, which is open for all three meals of the day.
I’m not quite sure what Arabic cuisine is like. In fact, I didn’t even know that Al Alamy was Arabic until I went and did some research. Meaning ‘world of foods’, Al Alamy is true to its name; a cross between a vast playground of exotic groceries and an ethnic bakery/cafe, it’s enough to make any foodie’s eyes glaze over. For just the change you find under your couch cushions, you can grab a Zaatar Pizza ($1.5). A soft doughy base is brushed with olive oil, rubbed with 11 secret herbs and spices and scattered with sesame before being folded in half and slotted into the oven with its siblings. The result is a beautifully pungent pizza with the fragrance…