I want to share a little tip I’ve learned whilst out travelling the world. This one is no-brainer and an absolute never-fail. Write this down.
When your local friend/local guide (those two terms are interchangeable in the Urban Adventures world) purchases two full shopping bags of sandwiches to take home for the family, the in-laws, and even the neighbours, then that is a sandwich you just have to try.
This exact scenario played out on a recent trip to Cairo. Not only was the city (indeed all of Egypt) pretty much devoid of tourists — meaning we had the best of everything pretty much to ourselves — but after a stroll through Islamic Cairo, our guide, Hend, asked if we’d mind shooting across the street from one of the old city gates so she could grab some sandwiches for her family.
And that opened up the glorious world of Papa Abdo.
Be warned, you are not going to recognise its worthiness and fame from its exterior appearance. It is a roadside restaurant on a reasonably busy road. It will, however, almost certainly have that other identifying feature of greatness: it is teeming with happy locals.
Like most of these types of restaurants, it serves an amazing array of dishes, but we had come for the sausage Eskandaria (or Alexandria sausage sandwich). In Egypt, “Eskanderia” is code for spicy and you can get many dishes, from falafel to fowl, in this style. Naturally, we went for the house speciality.
Now, don’t be fooled by its appearance when it rocks up. Admittedly, the sandwich is underwhelming in appearance. It is a thin hot dog-style roll with sausage (mmmmm, delicious sausage) ladled into it. The bread is kind of on the sweet side, which really balances out the saltiness of the meat, creating sandwich perfection. And apparently, it is normal to order up big here. No one was coming for just one sandwich. Four of them is considered normal for a snack! I don’t mind a bit of heat, so I threw in a pepper from the side plate of condiments, which also included potato and pickled vegetables. No regrets there, the pepper wasn’t super-hot.
Like most places, Papa Abdo does a bit of everything, from shawarma to shrimp to shish taouk, and even my favourite, hawawshi. But it is the Alex sausages that sit top of the menu. Hend recommended the brain sandwich (did I say she was my friend?), which I admittedly balked at. But I did try the liver sandwich, and it was equally amazing.
To re-live the experience, I checked online and was surprised to find the menu in English. (To give you some perspective on how great the deals are on that menu, the exchange is about eight Egyptian pounds to one US dollar.)
Having previously lived in Cairo for a number of years, I couldn’t help but feel the pang of opportunity lost that Papa and I had not met earlier. But one thing I’m sure of is that we’ll meet again. Papa Abdo is open 24 hours and I get the feeling it is really rocking at about 2am.
Papa Abdo, El Azhar: 1 Said Street, El Guish Square, El Zaher (opposite the Shaareyah Gate in the old city that hosts Khan el-Khalili Market).
Pssst! We’re thinking of starting an Egyptian street food tour that includes Papa Abdo. Sound tasty? Email us at email@example.com and let us know if this is something you’d like to experience in Cairo!