I am a picky eater who is also not a foodie. Being this person in my group of friends, who are abnormally passionate about food, is not that easy, but it is fun.
Since it was my first time in Gouna, I decided to trust their judgment and try Zia Amelia, a little Italian joint in Downtown Gouna.
The moment I walked in, I noticed it was a high-end restaurant with a warm atmosphere and soft candlelight. People seemed to be from different ages and nationalities; one can easily spot a small Egyptian family on vacation, foreign couples on a romantic getaway, elders who are just enjoying their time, and residents of Gouna.
Once seated, we were offered complimentary bruschetta and fresh Italian bread. This atmosphere indeed made me feel like it was a hotspot of cultural fusion because of how culturally diverse the guests were. However, the prices reflected that it might not be for everyone.
Main courses such as Scaloppine Al Marsala, Cotoletta Alla Milanese, and Filetto Di Manzo, their prices range between EGP 275 to EGP 490. Meanwhile, pasta and pizzas range from EGP 130 to EGP 180. Obviously, as young adults on a budget, we all went for pasta and pizzas.
From each bite of the Capricciosa pizza (EGP185), I could taste a perfect fusion of the Italian parmesan, dough, and the choice of spices altogether. What sets this place from every other Italian restaurant in the area is their pasta al dente’: Zia Amelia produces it in-house.
Though the prices may be high for some, Barbara Bulgarelli, the Italian owner of the restaurant, explains the challenges associated with sourcing quality ingredients, particularly as it is not always feasible to import Italian goods to Egypt and they are either rare to find or too expensive to order in large quantities.
I tried as many different dishes as I could. The menu seemed to reflect different parts of Italy and varying culinary traditions and included options such as a dish from Sorrento named ‘Gnocchi di Patate Alla Sorrentina’ and authentic Italian pizza from Naples among other Italian specialties like ‘Melanzane Alla Parmigiana’.
The quality of the ingredients certainly shines through in the myriad of dishes on offer. I tried the Fagotto pizza for the first time and I honestly did not understand the waiter’s question when he asked me if I wanted it opened or as a “star” form which I later decided on.
The Fagotto pizza is basically a wrapped-up pizza that literally shapes into a star. Its outer dough is crispy – but not too much. Once opened, I found cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and mozzarella all combined in a way that doesn’t make it soggy, while somehow bringing all the ingredients together in perfect harmony.
My favourite part was the soft-crispy ratio of the pizza itself; the mozzarella stretched and the dough was rich.
The Rigatoni Zia Amelia Pesto (EGP 190) is another dish we tried and liked. The portions might seem little at first glance, but once the parmesan was added, it is safe to say it is definitely worth trying.
The Penne Con Salsa Di Pomodoro E Basilico is another dish consisting of penne pasta with red sauce and basil, the latter being a game-changer according to my friend.
When I asked my friend to describe her lasagna (EGP 220) in one word, she chose “glorious”. However, she highlighted that the only problem is that its price did not match its portion size: it was a bit small and left her wanting more.
The Story of Zia Amelia Restaurant
“It is a piece of Italy right in the heart of Egypt!” That is how many customers describe Zia Amelia.
Egyptian Streets spoke to Barbara about how it became one of the most popular venues in Gouna. What started off as a humble business with limited staff and few dishes, has expanded to a team of more than 34 waiters, three areas of dining, and, most importantly, great pizza!
After working on a diving boat for 20 years, Barbara’s father, Riccardo, opened Zia Amelia in 2012, primarily as a place where he could cook for friends and family. He had initially moved from Italy to Egypt in pursuit of his passion for diving; on his journey, he would cook for guests and crew which led him to develop an affinity for cooking as well.
“My father is the kind of person who follows his dreams. If he wants to be a diver, he will move to Egypt and buy a diving boat. If he wants to become a cook, he buys an old restaurant and decides to start a family business out of it,” Barbara explains.
Zia Amelia is named after Riccardo’s aunt who was like a second mother to him. “Zia Amelia was not just an aunt to my father, they were so close because his mother was always working. So, he spent most of his childhood with her,” says Barbara.
When I asked Barbara about her favourite part of the job she said it is definitely how she gets to meet a wide range of people dining at her restaurant.
“You can see people from different nationalities in one place and they might have different religions, lifestyles, but they are all here accepting one another over food, this is my favourite scene to watch,” says Barbara.
Zia Amelia managed to open one more branch at Marina in Gouna as a coffee shop named Cafe Jeandeau and Barbara and is hoping to open more branches to spread its warm, welcoming atmosphere.