Egyptian startup showcases beauty of Cairo’s food heritage

The idea of the startup grew out of disappointing experiences in other cities. The two founders craved better culinary memories, and that is what they wanted to offer visitors to Cairo.
Updated 07 September 2019

Egyptian startup showcases beauty of Cairo’s food heritage

  • Bellies En-Route is a small company that specializes in food tours in the Egyptian capital
  • Mariam Nezar and Laila Hassaballa had to work hard to navigate their way around their biggest obstacle: paperwork

CAIRO: The best way to experience cuisine during a holiday is to eat out with a local. That way you will avoid the “touristy” places, and the establishments that are overpriced and not worth going to.

Many online review sites are available for research, but nothing beats heading out with someone who knows their way around. Mariam Nezar and Laila Hassaballa of Bellies En-Route, a small company that specializes in food tours in Cairo, share the same belief. It was their experience of being disappointed in restaurants during their own travels that inspired the two graphic designers to introduce the food-tour concept to the Egyptian capital.
“We experienced the problem of going to a new city, trying restaurants based on online reviews, and eating food that was mediocre or disappointing,” Nezar, 30, said. “We craved much more when it came to culinary memories.”
Having both gone on food tours abroad, and coming across a podcast that featured tour operators from around the world, Nezar and Hassaballa, also 30, were inspired to start their own venture.
Since this was a new idea to Egypt, the pair had no shortcuts. They started out by creating a Trip-Advisor listing and joining a few food markets and events to spread the word about Bellies En-Route.
Soon, guests started booking tours online and rating them, helping the business grow. “We remember our very first tour,” said Nezar. “We guided two lovely ladies from Canada called Kim and Alicia. They were amazing and gave us so much support, and our first five-star review. “Our first dollar was spent on the tour, and then we added more
because we were undercharging and not even close to covering costs. In our first whole year, our profit was $5.”
Nezar said: “We were able to create a prototype that helped us quickly gather feedback without spending tons of money and then enhance our tour rapidly, all with the customer experience in mind.”
Confronted with unfamiliar bureaucracies and protocols, Nezar and Hassaballa had to work hard to navigate their way around their biggest obstacle: Paperwork.
“Our biggest challenge was definitely registering the business and getting it legalised,” said Nezar.
“It was challenging to find the right lawyer who understood our idea and believed in it, and we also struggled to find information regarding the restrictions we would have because we are not a travel agency nor a tourism business.”
The duo want to encourage other travel entrepreneurs to take more risks with innovative ideas that would rouse up Egypt’s tired tourism economy.
“Egypt is a major tourist destination that is on lots of bucket lists,” Nezar said. “However, because we’re so used to having tourists visit, we have been offering the same experiences in the same way. We should be creative and offer niche experiences that serve other types of travellers.” She believes Egypt can deliver that unique offering.
“Where else in the world do you have culinary influences from Europe, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Persia and India? We might not have been the first to make shawarma or mahshi, but they came here a long time ago and we turned them into the Egyptian versions we love today. Seeing how local they are, we have become experts at making them.”

This report is the first of a series being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

Afghan, US forces kill Taliban governors, fighters

Updated 16 September 2019

Afghan, US forces kill Taliban governors, fighters

  • Joint operations planned to prevent attacks ahead of polls

KABUL: Afghan forces backed by US forces killed two senior Taliban leaders and at least 38 fighters of the hard-line insurgent group in joint airstrikes conducted in northern and western regions of Afghanistan, officials said on Sunday.

The operations, launched on Saturday night, were aimed at foiling attacks planned by the Taliban on Afghan forces, said a senior security official in capital Kabul, adding that clashes have escalated following the collapse of diplomatic talks between the US and the Taliban.

The Defense Ministry in a statement said that the Taliban’s designate governor for northern Samangan province, Mawlavi Nooruddin, was killed along with four fighters in an airstrike in Dara-e-Soof Payeen district.

But the Taliban denied the governor had been killed.

“He (Nooruddin) is alive,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman said in a statement.


Taliban deny the governor of Samangan province had been killed.

Last week, insurgents killed four Afghan special force members in a car bomb blast.

Afghan officials say around 100,000 members of the country’s security forces are ready for polling day.

In a separate incident, Mullah Sayed Azim, a Taliban designate governor for Anar Dara district in western Farah was killed in a joint Afghan and foreign force raid.

“Sayed Azim was killed along with 34 other insurgents in Anar Dara,” said Mohibullah Mohib, a spokesman for Farah provincial police.

Senior security officials in Kabul said several joint operations will be launched against Taliban and Daesh fighters to prevent attacks on Afghan forces and civilians ahead of the presidential polls on Sept. 28.

Fighting picked up in several parts of Afghanistan last week after US President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancelation of talks with the Taliban aimed at withdrawing US troops and opening the way to end to 18 year-long war in Afghanistan. 


Troops for polling day

Afghan officials say around 100,000 members of the country’s security forces are ready for polling day. Nasrat Rahimi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry said on Sunday that 72,000 security personnel will be on duty around the 4,942 polling centers across Afghanistan while nearly 30,000 additional troops will serve as reserve units.

Defense Ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said security forces have recently taken back eight districts from the Taliban and that operations are underway to secure around 20 others.