Hookah’d on Aida

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“Do you want shisha?” was the greeting at Egyptian restaurant Aida, in Northbridge.

A little odd to be asked what we wanted to eat before seeing a menu, we thought.

But despite being flavoured with peach, guava, lemon or mint, you don’t eat shisha, you smoke it (and it’s not like a smoked haddock either).

Throughout the Middle-East you’ll see men, and sometimes women, sucking on hookah pipes at cafes—it’s the Arab world’s version of the pub, a place to meet friends and hang out.

Being non-smokers we declined the shisha ($25 for two people).

But I was intrigued at the idea of smoking in a restaurant in a city with the fiercest anti-smoking laws in the world.

It turns out there’s a separate room at the back, strictly for shisha, so I wandered off to check it out and discovered a mini-slice of modern Egypt right in my own backyard, a divey fishbowl of a room with bare tables and groups of mostly blokes huddled over hookah, conversing in low tones.

The co-owner, who goes by the nickname of El Omda (the sheriff) deliberately steered away from creating a trendy cafe, wanting to replicate a bit of his home country.

Each evening the restaurant prepares dozens of hookahs (with disposable pipe) and the accompanying tobacco that sits on top, while a small brazier nearby heats up coals in readiness for customers to light up.

Back at our table my guests were getting restless but they settled down to sipping a bottle of mango juice ($5) imported from Egypt, while I guzzled a guava version.

The pastries were delicious, and didn’t have the teeth-aching sweetness of others I’ve tried.

They were delicious but pricey for the size.

My guests were keen to try the chicken breast ($25): Even my non-meat-eating senses twitched as a mouthwatering aroma of flame-grilled and spiced chook wafted by.

Tender and flavoursome was the verdict of the large fillets.

The D’Angers shared a grilled fish samak mashy ($25) and an Alexandria falafel ($15).

The Egyptian fish was an equal for the chicken, a delicious morsel, coated in herb-and-spiced flour, and flame-grilled.

The falafel was a bit dry to my taste, but the other ‘alf was happy to wolf them down.

Each dish comes with salad, dips (one mouth-searingly hot) and a generous serve of warm pitta bread.

We couldn’t leave without trying the Egyptian sweets, ordering a selection of filo pastries and a couple of pieces of a chocolate slice ($5 each).

The pastries were delicious, and didn’t have the teeth-aching sweetness of others I’ve tried.

And an Egyptian coffee, brewed with herbs including cardamon, was the perfect antidote to the rich fudge-like chocolate slice.

Served in a traditional pot and poured into tiny cups, the thick, sweet beverage was fantastic.

by JENNY D’ANGER

Aida Cafe
283 William Street, Northbridge
9328 7677
open 7 days 5pm til late

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