Cairo's First Truly Vietnamese Restaurant Has Come to Maadi
We had to check it out - and it's fantastic.
Ho Chi Vietnamese Healthy Food is one of the newest additions to Maadi’s popular Road 9. Stationed in an unassuming building above Baskin and Robbins, the décor is simple, and meditation mantras set to gentle melodies create a serene ambiance. A floor-to-ceiling window allows the soft afternoon light to shower the low tables and cushions, which are perfectly positioned for a scenic view of the day’s happenings. We are given a warm welcome from Mohamed Sharara as he takes us to a table of more familiar proportions, as his wife, Nguyen Thi Ca Thuong – the culinary genius behind the operation – promptly comes over to explain the menu and concept behind the restaurant. Named after Vietnam’s famous revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, the restaurant provides a traditional Vietnamese experience – and this is a culture that takes food seriously! Nguyen explains that Ho Chi provides healthy food, made with the freshest ingredients and without chemicals or MSG - the damaging flavour-enhancer so often added to South East Asian cuisine. “There is a sense of harmony in Vietnamese food,” she tells us, “and the recipes I use are passed down and improved through generations. Typically, we use ginger, lemongrass, and basil, and we prefer to use honey rather than sugar to sweeten.”
You should never make the stomach too full – about 70 percent is just right.
Widely considered one of the world’s healthiest cuisines, Vietnamese food combines five fundamental tastes and uses complimentary textures - but the food itself is only half of it. Nguyen explains that water is usually drunk before the meal, which is served in a series of small plates. “You should never make the stomach too full – about 70 percent is just right. We eat several small dishes which use different textures, starting with the lightest. In winter, we begin with something to warm the body and get the blood moving – spring rolls and a soup, perhaps – and then to balance the blood, we’ll move on to a salad.” Mohamed proudly adds that his wife, as well as studying cooking in Vietnam, has a background in physical therapy and alternative medicine. “The food is very light, so you can keep eating and take in enough nutrients without getting fat!”
Dining here is a complete experience. Nguyen and Mohamed value their customers and place no pressure on them to order – Mohamed stresses that he doesn’t mind if they don’t order anything; “we just want positive vibes and we love talking to customers.” Between them, the couple, who are evidently very much in love, speak six languages, meaning that they can cater to the diverse nationalities that visit the restaurant. “We want to introduce Egyptians to Vietnamese culture and we are one of the only Vietnamese restaurants in Cairo. But as well as Egyptians, we are very popular with people from all over the world.”
Our food arrives promptly, and the first course is a large helping of beef, seafood, and vegetable spring rolls. They are not too crispy, but unusually hearty, with the beef and seafood rolls well-filled with a generous proportion of meat. They come with a delicious sauce, and for those who are often left exasperated by so-called ‘hot’ dishes that fail to include anything vaguely reminiscent of a chili, these bad boys have a good level of spice for a starter. What comes as a surprise is the pepper – a welcome addition, which makes for a well-rounded dish.
From then on, the food keeps flowing. Vietnam’s famous Pho Ho Chi tastes extremely fresh, with bean sprouts and onions giving the noodle dish some crunch, while the beef gives it a rich flavour. The Tofu soup is a lighter alternative; made with fresh basil, chili, lemon, and seaweed, it tastes somewhat like a summer garden, the lemon giving an otherwise sedate dish a hint of sharpness. The Vegetarian Vietnamese pizza makes for an interesting addition, similar to an omelette, but thicker and more wholesome, served with a not-offensively-sweet homemade sweet and sour sauce.
The heavier dishes which arrive towards the end are a delight – and surprisingly colourful! A huge plate of vegetarian noodles is splattered with colour, while the seafood salad brings some entertainment to the meal. Extraordinarily fresh, with hints of chili, ginger, and garlic, it is served alongside crackers doused in fish sauce which crackle as you eat them.
A huge plate of vegetarian noodles is splattered with colour, while the seafood salad brings some entertainment to the meal.
After all that, we must admit that we were absolutely stuffed and could only manage a coffee for dessert. Coming with strict warnings about its strength, we guzzled some well-balanced bean juice – no bitterness, just natural sweetness – and headed out. Five hours later, we were still buzzing and bouncing off our chairs.
It is clear that Nguyen and Mohamed have put a great deal of thought into Ho Chi Healthy Food, and wed say they have been extremely successful in cooking up food that best represents Vietnam’s delicious cuisine. It is certainly a welcome change to the Maadi Road 9’s usual far of fast food, desserts, and coffee.
Call Ho Chi on 02 27513101 or just show up at Road 9, Maadi.