FoodLife & Style

Malek al-Gambari: Shubra’s king of seafood

The various Kings of Egypt may be a distant memory, but Cairo’s King of Shrimps is still alive and well. My family and I stumbled upon this delightful restaurant (its name really is the King of Shrimps, written in both English and Arabic as Malek El Gambari) on our way home from a visit to the Crystal Asfour factory in Shubra al-Kheima. Conveniently located adjacent to the Rod al-Farag metro station, Malek has spawned branches in Mohandessin, Moqattam and 6th of October City. But I can’t imagine the satellite branches have anything near the authenticity of the original.

As its name suggests, Malek is all about seafood. Only three items are available, and you needn’t bother consulting a menu, which doesn’t exist. You may order calamari, shrimp of various sizes, and fish, all of which can be served up grilled or fried. The shrimp are ordered according to size. We ordered medium, which turned out to be some of the largest shrimp I have ever seen. You may also buy “jumbo” and “super jumbo” shrimp, which, based on the size of medium, must be truly enormous.

As you’d expect, the meal began with a selection of salads and fresh bread. The tahina and pickled eggplant were excellent. A selection of seasonings, elegantly and colorfully arrayed around a platter, was also brought out.

The main dishes, as they started to roll in (we came as a large group and massively over-ordered) were delicious. First to arrive was fried calamari, not the standardized chunks that you find in many upper end restaurants, but an unfiltered selection of various bits and pieces, from substantial steaks to tiny tentacles. These were delicious. Next came the shrimp, fried and grilled, which, in spite of the place’s name, were mildly disappointing. (Full disclosure, I’m not a major shrimp fan, and others around the table, including the kids, devoured the fried, if not the grilled, variety). Finally came the work of art, an opened and grilled enormous Arous or Sea Bass, elegantly spiced with tomatoes and onion. This was the dish of the day. It’s too bad that it was brought out after we had already stuffed ourselves with what came before. However, we’ve been snacking on it back at home, and the taste only improves with time. For dessert, the mahlibeyya was good, but nowhere near as great as at places like Abu Tarek.

Malek al-Gambari is no frills. Tables are simple, Kleenex is provided by the box in place of napkins, and Christmas decorations still adorn the walls. There are many good fish places in Cairo, and I’d hesitate to compare Malek with any of its more sophisticated rivals. But the food is excellent, the ambience is hearty, and its location in this happening part of Shubra, as well as its easy-to-access location next to the Rod al-Farag metro station, may make it a worthwhile excursion.

Details: 25 Shubra St., next to Rod al-Farag metro. Tel: 2202 5798. Open daily from 11 am to 4 am. Extravagant ordering may approach LE100 per person.

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