Akher Saa, آخر ساعة – Cairo, Egypt

I had the fortune of visiting Egypt before the turmoil erupted and one of the top questions I’ve been asked is  -“Is there anything to eat there?” I had similar concerns heading out but I returned with a rounder belly and a knowing nod.

Akher Saa [آخر ساعة ] is but one of the many eateries we visited there and is a joint frequented by many a local. There is no sign in English outside but the crowds are a sure indication of the popularity at this 24-hour eatery.

The open-air cooking area lures you in with full-bodied wafting scent, almost curling a finger under your nose and hooking you in. On sight, the promise of an endless supply of meat kicks that stomach grumble into full gear, turning it into a frightening roar.

Noticing our curious stares, the ‘cook’ beckons us in with a quick flick to the meat and burger buns indicating that these are familiar foods and we should give it a whirl. And a whirl we did.

Settling at one of the tables we eagerly flicked through the menu only to find that every dish was in Arabic and we could not understand a single character on it. Refusing to settle for anything less we scanned the menu again and decided that a picture paints a thousand words and selected our main courses based on the images in the menu.

For the local experience at ordering, push through the multitude of men to order at the tiny window in the take-away section where you will then be issued a ticket. Proceed to the high counter up front on the left side of the restaurant and vie for a server’s attention. Apparently the locals rarely dine in the indoor cafe next to the order counter. I never found out why, perhaps the benches on the sidewalks have a romantic appeal..

Every main course you order is accompanied with baladi bread [a local Egyptian bread which is round, 15-20cm in diameter, 1-2cm thick and baked with whole wheat] and turshi [Egyptian pickles] which i believe is a common custom in the country. Much like the servings of varied pickles and side dishes at a traditional Korean table.

We tried rationing our intake of baladi breads but the condiments and side dishes combined with our famished bellies meant that we eventually ordered or rather, was served a second serving of the whole wheat breads.

The next couple of minutes was that of utter silence as our main courses arrived and we tucked in savoring every charred flavor of the meat, inhaling the buttery-soft rice with every mouthful, mixed with a refreshing crunch of raw lettuce to tie all the flavors together. The result was nothing short of sheer bliss.

With a satisfied pat on the belly, we took in our surroundings for the very last time. It was actually our last meal in Cairo as we packed up the next day and make our way to the airport. The end was no short of the beginning where the people of Egypt continue to dazzle us with their hospitality and friendly smiles.