The humble hamburger, God’s gift to American cuisine, and now, the world. Invented at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, named after the Baltic seaport town of Hamburg, Germany, and made famous by the fast food chains of the 1950s, hamburgers became the quintessential American food. As Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) observed, “What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the last forty thousand.”
Americans are said to eat on average 150 burgers every year. Omar Ozalp and Mohamed Mourad like them too.
Two years ago Omar and Mohamed went off in search of the perfect burger. First they tried everything Egypt had to offer. Not entirely satisfied and hungry for more, they then went to London, where they ate their way through the city, found the flavours and textures they were looking for, and hired some chef-consultants.
Back in Cairo they secured a steady supply of chilled grain-fed beef from Brazil, Australia and South America (that’s fresh, not frozen) and started trying recipes. If they couldn’t find the perfect burger, they would make it.
They tested; they tested; they put on weight. For six months. In the meantime, they found an outlet on the corner of Ahmed Heshmat and Marashly Streets in Zamalek, a central kitchen in Agouza, and a manager with 16 years in the burger business who has trained up the young staff properly.
Omar and Mohamed want to introduce the burger culture to Egypt. They have a plan. It is called Mince.
Mince opened at the beginning of September and has been busy ever since. The restaurant is clean and minimalist with high corrugated sheet metal walls and a huge window that allows customers to watch their food being made in the spotless kitchen. Attention to health and safety standards are paramount for these guys and they’ve got nothing to hide. The restaurant is modern yet cosy and inviting. They even have a couple of tables set up outside. Usually full from what I can see.
The hard work and attention to detail has paid off. These burgers are works of simple beauty. You can construct your own, or try one of Omar and Mohamed’s ready-made creations. A rarity, pun intended, Mince knows how to cook burgers to order. Most Cairo restaurants do only well-done and that’s a shame. The meat was exquisite, the best that I have tried in Zamalek so far.
Although a bit under-seasoned to my taste, in need of some salt and pepper, some garlic powder, maybe a dash of Worcestershire sauce, most won’t notice, especially with the choice of five cheeses (including goat cheese and Swiss), eleven toppings (think pan fried mushrooms, beef bacon, grilled pineapple, even baked beans) and eleven sauces (honey mustard, a punchy guacamole, harissa, garlic mayo, etc.).
My favorite is the smoked burger: with smoked cheese, caramelised onions and, surprisingly (but it really works) raspberry jam. They also do a juicy honey mustard grilled chicken breast sandwich with mature cheddar. The buns for the sandwiches, made from an original recipe, are prepared twice daily exclusively for Mince at the Flamenco Hotel bakery. They are light, soft and buttery. But if you are on a diet you can order anything breadless with a side salad and there is a veggie option for the non-carnivorous.
The house fries I thought were average. Some work needs to be done there. But the sweet potato fries were magic. The coleslaw, made fresh daily, was also superb. In fact with the exception of the French fries Mince uses all fresh ingredients, locally sourced, and everything is made fresh daily.
That means nothing is kept overnight and there are no additives and no preservatives. Everything is made from scratch every morning. I know of no other restaurant in Cairo that can make that claim. This is a quality operation all the way.
Plus they have some killer cookies made by Nadine Azzam (Baked A Cookie Co.) and, one of my favourite touches, a refrigerator full of Coke in the old-fashioned bottles. Having a burger with a cold bottle of coke is one of life’s simple pleasures and gives the Mince experience the feel of a classic American diner.
Omar and Mohamed aren’t the only ones who noticed a niche in the market, the competition for best burger is on; but the burger culture has arrived in Cairo, the burger wars are on, and Mince is a top contender.