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Tex-Mex in Cairo: a Revolution Within a Revolution
Photos and Text by Kevin McAfee
If it just so happens that you find yourself traveling just South of the inner city bustle in Cairo, you may encounter the perfect fix for home at La Sombra Tex-Mex restaurant. While living in Dallas a few years back, Rene Rangel visited Cairo multiple times when he decided to try an entrepreneurial endeavor that likely never crosses the minds of most Texans. From San Benito to Dallas, and from Dallas to Cairo, Rene is not your average Tex-Mex restaurant owner. “I guess the number one question a lot of people ask me is why Cairo? And I say well, there’s no Tex-Mex restaurants here and there’s too many in Texas!” smiles Rene over a plate of scratch fried corn nachos and a fresh squeezed lemonade.
Cairo, like most big cities apart from their known monuments of interest, has much more to offer than the sphinx and pyramids that make it world famous. Maadi is a notably eclectic neighborhood layered with people from all over the world. Just down the road from where recently ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s sons currently reside in prison, stretches Road 223 in Maadi, where on any given day you might hear French, German, and English all on the same block, and nestled among its various shops, you will find La Sombra Tex-Mex restaurant. Make no mistake, this neighborhood is as sophisticated as it is beautiful, and it’s no coincidence that places like La Sombra find their way here and continue to exist even during such an unpredictable time in Egypt.
From El Paso to Nacogdoches, from Brownsville to the panhandle, you pretty much know what to expect on the menu at a Tex-Mex restaurant. What makes a Tex-Mex restaurant in Egypt so compelling is that items like gourmet corn chips and tortillas don’t find their way between the cumin and coriander on the spice racks in local Egyptian markets. Keeping that in mind, you will find a uniqueness that you seldom experience in a typical Tex-Mex joint.
“We got from your combo plates – beef fajitas and chicken; we have chicken and beef quesadillas, we have big burritos, veggie tacos, and we even make fried burritos – kind of like a Chimichanga but my mother taught us another way to make it …”
Sure the selection may be relatively typical for this genre of food, but the unique location of this Tex-Mex restaurant forces creativity among ingredients. All of the corn chips are hand made and flash fried, every tortilla is homemade, and both the salsa and queso are sorted out among the same natural ingredients that compose the rest of the scratch made food at La Sombra. Ultimately, you will find yourself paying about the same amount as you would at a local Chipotle for a homemade and high quality all-natural meal while comfortably seated in a sophisticated neighborhood in a part of the world that is currently setting the example for emerging democratic societies in the Arab world. Curious?
As you may have noticed somewhere between weather and sports, Egypt underwent a drastic change in political direction when the people stepped up to their inherently corrupt leaders and demanded president Hosni Mubarak and his entire regime’s resignation. Inspired by the uprising in neighboring Tunisia, in late January 2011 Egypt began setting the standard for a change toward a free and democratic society that has never been seen in the region, and that process is still in its prime.
Between the ensuing civil war in neighboring Libya, similar protest based clashes in Yemen and Bahrain, and the ongoing civil unrest in Syria, there is no doubt that this region is bound for a drastic change in favor of human rights and freedom not unlike the American revolution. Despite how unfortunate and confusing the whole scenario may seem on the news, Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square tend to be resilient and unified in the idea that a progressive democratic society is the only way for Egypt to move forward in the world.
The recently regime employed police are currently establishing a civil basis with the public, civilians continue to go to work and carry out their daily endeavors, and protestors by the thousands continue to peacefully occupy Tahrir Square with the expectation that what remains of former president Hosni Mubarak’s cabinet, otherwise known as the high cabinet of the military, will meet their demands.
There are countless varying ethnic, political and religious factions living in Egypt, especially in oh so eclectic Cairo. What one thing might mean for the 10 percent Coptic Christians living in Cairo may mean something completely different for the majority Muslim population, and will likely mean something entirely different for the western expat community. Though uprisings and protest may on occasion impede a given workday for the average citizen of Cairo, Rene and his Egyptian wife currently reside peacefully here in Maadi, where, like most of the city, everything is business as usual. There are countless foreign companies, many relating to the petroleum business, keeping enough pockets filled in neighborhoods like Maadi to create demand for a business like La Sombra for plenty of time to come. Rene is optimistic about the future, but seems well aware that his entire reality could change just as soon as it did when he decided to come here and open a Tex-Mex restaurant.
“I’ve been here three and a half years. It all just depends on this revolution. Of course Egypt’s in a state of shock right now and they don’t know which way this country’s going and that definitely has a big effect on the expat community so we’ll see”
With the perseverance of good folks like Rene, the forward thinking of the Egyptian public, the continuance of peaceful protests, and perhaps a little luck, the currently low market for tourism in Egypt will rise again, and one day you might find yourself over a plate of tacos or nachos in the newly formed democratic republic of Egypt.