We got into Brazil this past Thursday afternoon for a two week business trip, and one of Francisco’s Brazilian co-workers, Dani, was nice enough to show us around during the weekend. We hit up a traditional Arab tea house that first made its mark in the city in 1982. I figured we would sip on tea and watch some belly dancing, but it was much more of an experience than that.
Khan el Khalili, named after one of Cairo’s major markets, is located in an unassuming, quite residential area in Vila Mariana, but can pass as someone’s home if it weren’t for the valet parking attendant and small, lit sign. Once you walk in, you’re transported into an ornately decorated 12 room labyrinth hypnotized by the music, endless details and a tempting mixture of aromas leading you to an exotic, comfortably cushioned room with low tables, and Egyptian motifs meeting your eyes at every look.
We took part in an oriental tea ritual which turned into a feast! With three options to choose from, varying on the amount of food, we began with a large basket of assorted breads, including sweet bread and cookies to accompany 5 dips together with Middle Eastern mezzes like hummus and baba ghanoush side by side with Brazilian flavors like fried, sweet plantain marmalade.
We chose the option with 5 additional appetizers instead of the 10. We each got kibbeh, cheese and chicken coxinhas, a bolinhio, and an empanada. Our last course was a string of desserts from traditional rich, honey-drenched sweets like baklava and basboosa, Brazilian sweets like quindím, chocolate cake, and strawberry gelato. All of the desserts were brought out one at a time on a tray for everyone to choose whether they would give into temptation or not. Oh yeah, the tea! We each got two cups of tea and could choose between either hot or iced, from exotic Egyptian and Syrian teas to fruit blends and mate.
In the midst of tents, tapestries, carved windows, overhanging stained glass lamps, frescoes painted on the walls, the Khan el Khalili filled up each room one at a time where guests could lounge for hours picking at food and chatting in preparation for the belly dancing performances. Booming music suddenly blasted from the speakers, and a series of belly dancers swooped in from behind a curtain from the adjacent room with their colorfully decorated costumes dipped in stones and jewels catching the light and shining with every move.
We all sat there captivated by the way they their bodies made such fluid movements mocking every percussion sound with their hips and belly. Belly dancing undeniably emits sensuality and femininity. If it’s your first time experiencing a performance, you might not know how to react in such an intimate setting, but everyone in our room seemed to enjoy the show and clapped along to the beat of the music.
Every Sunday the Khan El Khalili hosts the Nights of the Harem where the most renown and experienced belly dancers put on an hour long show. Belly dancers come from all over the country to take dance classes and perform here as the restaurant also grants internationally recognized certification for dancers.
- Belly Dancers perform from 8-10 PM. If you get there early and stay late, you can see up to two performances.
- The tea ritual is about USD$30-35, including cover charge for the belly dance performance, which is about half an hour long with 4-5 different dancers.
- The Nights of Harem has a cover charge of about USD$12, without the tea ritual.
- If you go with a group of friends can book a private room.
- There were also two rooms for shisha, the outside terrace and the shisha lounge inside.
- Here is Khan el Khalili’s Facebook Page
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