In the management world, it is often said that the best service is provided well, fast and cheap, but that only two of those are possible at once. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of quarter chicken meals. Some meals though — the great ones — come close to perfection, like a chicken Icarus, venturing close enough to the sun to have its wings perfectly cooked.
There are many delicious chickens around central Cairo: Om Dahab, Somaya’s, the Sudanese in Opera Square. Yet, my search is for a particular type of chicken dish, one that is available with three simple words: “Wagba, robeya, ferekh” (meal, quarter, chicken). Upon uttering those words, not much more should need to be said in order to gain entrance into a world of poultry joy, hopefully complemented by rice and salad. Some might say that this is too specific a requirement, but these people probably also think that there was no difference when Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen.
This is a semi-definitive guide to quarter chicken meals in Central Cairo. This is #ChickenQuest.
Value: 2/5 Mangas
Taste: 2/5 Mangas
Ease: 2/5 Mangas
Have you ever spent time in a white collar prison in a Western nation? Do you want to know what the food would taste like? If so, order from Chicken Tikka. One of the few restaurants with a quarter chicken meal on Otlob, this is an attractive order when hungover in bed on a Saturday afternoon, not having to interact with another human via telephone being the key factor. However, upon ordering, the 75 minute threshold for delivery does little to cure the pain after a night of abusing Stella.
This is a hearty meal. Though labeled a “snack,” it includes a sizable helping of basmati rice, a side of previously frozen vegetables — a semblance of health — and a quarter piece of chicken in a shape that may or may not be natural. There is even a piece of “pouri bread” and garlic sauce, to keep up the appearance of this being an Indian meal. Hopefully when you order, the garlic sauce will not have exploded like a bull in heat that has eaten only antipasti for the last month. The rice is quite greasy and tastes faintly of butter and dry erase marker. The carrots, peas and green beans are as drenched in the defrosting process as Churchill’s Martinis had vermouth. The chicken itself is ok, but ridiculously salty. This wouldn’t be a huge factor if the meal came with an icy coke, but alas, it does not.
In the end, this meal will get you very full. This doesn’t mean it’s good and you might feel a little ashamed about what you have just done. Think of a good lie when your friends ask you what you had for lunch. Clocking in at LE32.50, it is not good value for money, especially when you consider that expenditure could net you 32.5 falafel sandwiches in any one of Cairo’s countless street outlets.
Don’t order this meal unless you are in Tora Prison awaiting trial.
Value: 2/5 Mangas
Taste: 3.75/5 Mangas
Ease: 3/5 Mangas
Cairo Kitchen is an extremely bourgeois take on the quarter chicken meal. At a cost of around LE35, it is not cheap, no matter how rapidly the pound falls against the dollar (side note: The idea of a quarter chicken based counter currency in Egypt needs to be explored. I’m looking at you, Christine Lagarde).
It is also fairly reprehensible to eat at a place that charges more than LE10 for Egyptian street classic koshary, even if it is made with things like unsubsidized pasta. However, if you are able to get over the idea of eating gentrified poor food in a country with an extreme inequality of wealth, Cairo Kitchen is far from the worst call to make.
The ordering process can be a little convoluted, as the meal comes with the option of two sides, of which there are many on the menu — many of which, it turns out on ordering, are unavailable. The chicken itself is quite good and has a decently crispy skin crust, and it is cooked with rosemary, which is a nice touch. They place the chicken on top of a half slice of baladi bread as well (I’m going to stop commenting on overpaying for baladi food), which soaks up the grease/flavor of the chicken. It makes for a decadent end to the meal.
All in all, this is a meal you can eat and feel fairly healthy about, at least by Cairo standards. If you want a guilt-free quarter chicken meal with little to complain about, this is it.
Bonus: Comes with free tupperware. I suppose this is subsidized by the LE16.5 lentil soup …
Value: 5/5 Mangas
Taste: 3/5 Mangas
Ease: 2.5/5 Mangas
Felfela is a restaurant full of wonder and innovation. No other place allows you to make a custom chicken shawarma that involves Syrian bread, hot sauce, cheese and fried onions, but this is a story for another time …now, to quarter chickens.
Somehow, Felfela knew my address based solely upon the first four digits of my phone number, which makes me think they might be affiliated with the mukhabarat (secret services) but at their prices I don’t mind. This is a meal that is very good value for the money.
Delivery takes a while, but you will be rewarded with an amount of food that would refute any claims of food insecurity in Egypt (note: don’t be fooled). The meal involves a quarter chicken, vermicelli rice, beans, bread and a side salad that is fresh but also tastes a little like plastic. You’ll want to add your own dressing.
The chicken itself is clearly not rotisserie. Tepid and lacking crispiness, it isn’t great. It is fully cooked though, which is always a bonus. The beans and rice are quite good as well. In the end this is incredibly good value at LE14.
Pro Tip: Felfela has some ambiguous promotion that nets you free soda. Having ordered an additional falafel sandwich and a coke to complement my chicken meal, I was greeted at the door by a bonus coke. Given a falafel sandwich is LE1.5 and a coke LE4, this is a clever way to game the system.
Value: 4/5 Mangas
Taste: 3/5 Mangas
Ease: 3/5 Mangas
Kazaz is both a place of value for money and a place of darkness. A simple solution for a meal while stranded in the gastronomic wasteland of Talaat Harb Square, it delivers value and food that isn’t horrific. However, besides their lentil soup, the food isn’t all that good. A frat boy on study abroad might go as far as to call this combination of large portions and low prices “Stella Fuel,” but we will not go down this path — no matter my affinity for Ahram beverages and cheap quarter chickens, I am a man of culture.
For LE25 you can get yourself a quarter chicken, rice, orzo soup (sit down only), beans, baladi salad and bread. The chicken lacks a crisp skin, but it is a large piece and even has a weird yet appealing sweetness to it. The orzo soup is fantastic, the beans lukewarm and quite good as a topping for the rice. The baladi salad can be refreshing or taste like soap, depending on the day of the week. This is also an intensely salty meal, and most certainly screams for a frosty coke, or six Stellas. Having said that, after a day exploring the bowels of downtown in the hot sun, some sodium intake could be good for you. If you have high blood pressure, not so much.
Kazaz also has excellent AC and really low ceilings, so if you ever wanted to know what it would be like if “Being John Malkovich” had been filmed in Cairo, you get to experience that as well.
Value: 5/5 Mangas
Taste: 4/5 Mangas
Ease: 3/5 Mangas
Recently renovated and with a slightly different rice recipe, El Touansy lays claim to the best quarter chicken meal in central Cairo (disputable). Taste and value are a rare combination. However, El Touansy pulls this off in spades.
At LE12, this meal gets you a sizeable quarter chicken, yellow rice (not basmati), salad, surprisingly good french fries, bread and spicy tahina for dipping. The chicken is made on the rotisserie on the street, and has some of the best skin around. It is the poultry equivalent of Dalida’s voice. If I were the Khedive of Egypt, I would have commissioned an opera about this skin. The salad is a little lackluster, but the tahina makes up for it.
The seating is small and hot, and they have a propensity for blasting music in the background when attempting to place an order by phone, but this does not take away from the overall experience. Most of all, this meal is certainly better than 12 falafel sandwiches, which really is the barometer of all cuisine.
Bonus: There are a fair amount of what might be called “Power ups” to go along with this quarter chicken meal — for an additional LE3, for example, you can get two pieces of kofta thrown into the mix.