Thursday, 16 June 2011

Cafe Le Caire

(Note: This is not a 100% vegetarian eatery. Their interpretation of a vegetarian diet includes eggs and dairy product.)

One Man's junk may be another Man's treasure. This saying is particularly true in email advertising. Every morning, my first task of the day in my office is to delete such emails before I start to read the ones relevant to my work. I choose to remain subscribed because once in a while, there may be some offers which interest me.

This time, the lucky ad that catches my attention comes from Groupon. Normally their food related advertisements end up in my trash folder, since the participating eateries usually serve conventional meat based food. Cafe Le Caire, the eatery featured in Groupon, is no different, however the second point of its highlights reads “Vegetarian options available”.

Situated along Arab Street, Cafe Le Caire specializes in Middle Eastern cuisine. Since this is not a culture I am familiar with, I can only rely on its menu to infer what their dishes are like. After all this cafe claims to serve authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. It seems like quite a number of their dishes, particularly the dips and salads, are made with plant-based ingredients, like chickpeas and sesame seeds, hence no modification is required to make them vegetarian. Olive oil is their preferred form of fats and spices are used to flavour the dishes. Hopefully that translates to little or better still, no MSG added. Although the vegetarian/non-vegetarian split is not even, with the scale tipping more towards meat based dishes, there are enough choices for the vegetarians. Upon request, they are also willing to omit cheese or eggs from some of the dishes to cater to the vegans.

The Food

Mezze is a good set meal to introduce Middle Eastern cuisine to someone new to it. Comprising of an assortment of dips, salads and pickles, they are served in small quantities so that one gets to sample as many different kinds of appetizers as possible, while leaving enough stomach space for the main course. At Cafe Le Caire, seven items from their dips menu are chosen to make up their mezze. All of them are generally suitable for the vegetarians. The only questionable item is Gibna Mahrus, which contains feta cheese. According to the waitress, it could only be substituted with one of the other six appetizers, instead of a totally different dip or salad of equal or lesser value. What a boring alternative! In the end, the dish was ordered as it was.

Mezze, S$ 16.00

Anyway, here’s the dishes, with the menu description in italics (Starting from top right hand corner).

1. Gibna Mahrus - Tangy feta cheese and tomatoes dip.

One has to like cheese to enjoy this salty and milky dip. There was hardly any tomato flavour. On hindsight I should have taken the waitress' advice to get this replaced.

2. Arabic Salad - Refreshing mix salad of feta cheese, green and black olives, capsicums, tomatoes, cucumbers and pine nuts.

When served as part of this mezze, feta cheese was omitted, much to my delight. As promised in the menu, this salad was indeed refreshing, making it an appropriate counterbalance to the richer dishes. Sighing at the cheesy Gibna Mahrus, I deeply regretted not exchanging it away for an extra serving of Arabic salad.

3. Babaganush - Dip made of oven roasted eggplant pureed with tahini, a sesame seeds paste. Served on a plate with olive oil drizzled.

According to the menu, this dish is one of the boss' favourite. I shared the same sentiment. The smokey flavor exuded by the roasted eggplant blended surprisingly well with the touch of sourness provided by the lemon juice, leaving me yearning for more.

4. Plate of Tahina - Smooth and thick sesame paste of ground sesame seeds

I was no stranger to Tahina. Afterall, I had a jar of Melrose brand Tahini at home. However I had to admit that this freshly in-house produced version was smoother and the bitterness was even fainter.

5. Hummus - Smooth chickpea dip with hints of tahini and mixed spices. Drizzled with lemon and olive oil

I would not be surprised if the mixed spices used here turned out to be the ones used in Indian cuisine. Without the lemon juice, I would have thought I was eating some chickpea masala. Nevertheless, it was satisfying enough for me if I stopped searching for that something special.

6. Hummus bil Tomato - Soft whole chickpeas with tangy tomato cubes and small cut chilli. Just a little spicy.

Contrary to the menu description, this dish was not spicy at all. In fact, it reminded me of the tomato paste used in Mediterranean dishes, such as pasta and pizza. Strong tomato flavor always works well with me, and this dish was no exception. Being a tomato lover, adding more of the "tangy tomato cubes" would significantly improve the dish for me.

7.Plate of Olives - Plate of green olives with pickles

These dishes, especially the dips, are meant to be eaten with the Arabic bread, which is inclusive in this set. Arabic bread is simple unleavened bread made of flour, water and salt. Since no yeast or leavening agent is used, the bread is quite tough to bite. Luckily whoever invented the recipe way back then had the common sense to flatten it. For a food that was not meant to be eaten on its own, I could forgive the bread for being plain and uninteresting.

Although Mezze did not manage to get a perfect score from me, it still ranked high with the better vegetarian dishes I had tried so far. It certainly did an above average job in the taste department. What I thought was even more praiseworthy was the creative Middle Eastern cooking method in turning the unassuming plant based ingredients into novel looking dishes, thus tempting me to pay more than usual just to try it. No regrets doing so though.

Foul mesdammes, S$ 4.50

Foul mesdammes - The national breakfast dish of Egypt. It consists of slow-cooked fava beans that have been partially or completely mashed.

At Cafe Le Caire, the creamy texture of this dish indicated that the fava beans were completely mashed. With a robust flavour that attributed to the use of aromatic spices, foul closely resembled a finely minced meat stew. This satiating dish definitely deserves its title of national breakfast dish of Egypt. At S$4.50, it is one of the cheaper yet filling dishes on the menu. Do remind the waitress to leave out the egg if it is forbidden in your diet.

Salata Laban Ma’na’aana, S$ 6.00

Salata Laban Ma’na’aana - Freshly cubed cucumbers topped with refreshing yoghurt.

Unlike the rest of the dishes, this cucumber salad was served cold. Submerged in a pool of plain yogurt, each individual cube inherited the tartness of the fermented milk. Pleasantly refreshing at the first few mouthfuls, the excessive amount of yogurt dressing made it a little sick as I progressed further into the dish.


If not for the S$25.00 voucher I paid $12.50 for, I would consider having a meal at Café Le Caire a luxury. Besides I am someone with a light palate, so I do not see myself eating such foods on a regular basis, no matter how delicious they are. Still it is a place worth considering to have a vegetarian meal on special occasions.

Opening Hours:-
Bus Service:-
MRT Station:Bugis


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great post as always Prefer Vege,

    There can sometimes be flavour similarities between Middle Eastern (even Mexican) and Indian food. Mainly (in my opinion) to do with cumin. This spice is used liberally by the aforementioned cuisines in a lot of curries, dips, meals.

    Interesting to see your take on different cuisines. Will you be sampling any of the Indian vegetarian places in Singapore in the future?

    Great work!


  3. I'm glad you like this post, because for some odd reason, I find it a little sloppy.

    Regarding the similarity, I suspect the same thing, although I tend to confuse cumin with fennel seed. Cumin sure adds a really nice flavor to food, plus it's quite a healthy spice to include in our diet.

    I thought writing about different cuisines would make my blog more interesting. If time permits, I would definitely want to try Indian vegetarian food cooked by the Indians. Somehow the Chinese imitation just don't quite cut it. Whether I would write about them is another thing. You have done an excellent coverage of the Indian vegetarian food in Singapore, that I would rather leave it to you. Besides I don't want to be accused of copying your style.